The impact of social media on newsrooms

CBS News anchor Sean McLaughlin says Twitter and Facebook have changed the essence of how journalists do their jobs.

Anyone in public relations or journalism would have trouble challenging the statement that social media has delivered massive, unprecedented changes across all forms of media (and every publication still in existence). Its impact on the very foundation of how newsrooms operate has been monumental.

According to CBS News anchor and reporter Sean McLaughlin, the changes not only affect the gathering and production of news, but also job responsibilities across the newsroom—nay, across the entire organization.

During last week’s #PRprochat, we were lucky enough to have McLaughlin as our guest. Here’s what he had to share…

(Please forgive the occasional lack of flow; each paragraph is pieced together from tweets and the resulting brevity of characters is sometimes obvious. You can read the full chat transcript here).

(Editor’s note: In the name of faithfully rendering the chat, we are retaining the all caps, exclamation points, and other excesses that we usually temper.)

Q1. Over the last few years, what are the biggest changes you are seeing in the newsroom?

A1. Desktop editing & web publishing – posting on social media sites are FULL CUSTOMER SERVICE by interacting with our viewers hourly! You must be able to strike a balance and multitask. Otherwise, journalism is not the biz for you. Even when a station has several social media managers, a station should never sacrifice being correct for speed. Many people compliment your work – but many criticize you or someone’s post at a drop of the hat – LOTS of negativity some days. It’s part of the job. If you present the facts from both sides and are fair, you then have no problems. You just have to engage with people – they just want to have a VOICE. We give it to them!

Q2. How has social media changed you gather and produce news?

A2. Old days – we spent all day on the phone setting up a story – waiting for callbacks. Now we send one tweet out, and seconds later you have experts. Too many experts can be a problem, but that’s when you rely on those personal relationships you have built with PR pros. It’s still a personal relationship world. Social media can actually help you weed out the posers- remember you leave behind a huge digital footprint.

Q3. What social media platforms have impacted you the most, and why?

A3. Twitter’s speed and Facebook’s incredible engagement. Biggest impact for newsrooms, in my opinion. Facebook engages viewers to speak their minds and share with others – that’s huge for us to drive them to watch. Facebook may tip us off to something happening, or its an instant tip line from your friends to you. Photo-sharing during breaking news has been a huge bonus for all newsrooms – but must verify! Remember 77% of people watching are also using a smartphone, tablet, PC…. must engage that second screen viewer! KPHO anchors and reporters are directly involved in CBS social media; we are all administrators and receive constant continuing education. Meredith is a big believer! (kudos, Meredith!)

Q4. What is your take on being pitched by PR pros via social media. Helpful? Not?

A4. Yes – pitches via social media are concise and immediate. Plus, if it is a DM, it could be exclusive. It’s all about relationships! You can learn a lot about journalism or the station just by following/friending their pages – that’s a start. It’s always good to interact weeks before a pitch attempt. [Give me a] Head’s up on both Twitter and Facebook – followed by a one-page email. That way it can be shared up the chain… but if it’s breaking news, pitch on Twitter. Know the station and their shows to tailor your pitches. You can find out their “vibe” or “brand” by doing that. Pitches are improving with technology. But the same things still keep happening – too long, not a TV pitch, pitching something that is not “turnable” THAT DAY.

Q5. As PR pros, what are the most important 3-4 things we should know about a newsroom?

A5. No newsroom is the same. Personalize relationships with journos, follow/interact with them, be ready to do a story IMMEDIATELY! Every pitch should now include some sort of web element! We are responsible for posting on social media and websites. Pictures/video clips on pitches go a LONG ways to help us visualize the story on our air, website, etc. Find the brand of each station – even each newscast. That way you can tailor your pitches for more success. Plus, pay attention to the news of the day! If you have a tie-in expert, etc., bring it! Also, a concise email is much easier to return than a cryptic phone call.

(A great point added by Jeff Butera (@ABC7Jeff) – “And if a gigantic breaking story is happening that day consuming the entire newsroom, don’t bother pitching a different story!”) McLaughlin’s closing tweet? A fantastic call to action.

Carrie Morgan is a 20-plus year public relations veteran based in Phoenix, specializing in digital PR. A version of this story first appeared on the Rock The Status Quo blog.

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