Public radio with its community service values has traditionally pressed for close connections with listeners — encouraging them as volunteers, inviting their participation in events, and turning to them for membership support. Now this contact can go deeper using social networking and other interactive opportunities. And it should continue to emphasize “offline” contact.
Social networking simply allows people to do what they’ve always done — seek and share advice, band together for greater impact, or simply see what others are doing. But now, using the Internet, they can do these things more efficiently and powerfully.
As established journalists, we may have an especially important place in social media because there one’s influence is based on proven credibility and reliability. In a word: Trust.
MySpace and Facebook are two of the most popular social networking sites. They aggregate people around affiliations of their choosing and invite users to share personal profiles and pictures and opinions and generally communicate with each other in novel ways.
Public radio has been growing some of its own social networking services. APM’s “Gather” is an example. Public Interactive’s “Public Action” is another. In October, 2008, NPR unveiled its own online community system and invited all member stations to participate.
The growing involvement of journalists in social networking creates new challenges in defining our ethical expectations of them there. NPR issued a set of Social Media Guidelines that can help local stations abide by similar norms.
A local newsroom may serve a social network by being a contributor. Perhaps more importantly, a newsroom can benefit by being cited in a social network — provided the citation is positive, authentic and widely relayed.
Our traditional news model goes to pieces on the Internet. Heretofore, we communicated as “one-to-many.” This gave us great control over the content, the construct and the timing of our news. Now online, the terms of service are in rapid flux.
Consumers expect information “on-demand” and are gaining increasing power to search, sort and select accordingly. Profoundly for us, anyone with easy access can publish his or her own version of news. Professional journalists vie in the same space as bloggers, marketers, agencies, activists, politicians, crooks and ordinary citizens.
The challenge for journalists is to seize on the opportunity presented. The opportunity now exists to collaborate with people as a means to serving their journalistic needs.
Examples abound. Journalists can now ask large numbers of people open-ended questions to sift out those who have the best stories. See Case Studies → MPR: Public Insight Journalism
Some newsrooms let the public watch their editorial meetings via internet cameras.
Many invite non-journalists to submit “user generated content” for Web publication.
Some news departments have sponsored “citizen journalist” experiments to tap the wider interests and possibilities that might be found among non-traditional news observers.
Wikis allow the entire community of users to co-publish online content. Wikipedia, Wikimedia, Wikiversity are but a few of the startling examples of what can be accomplished when everyone contributes (and keeps each other honest).
In 2008, NPR encouraged wider sharing of its online news content by allowing open access to API — Application Programming Interface — basically, the computer code that can be embedded on-line. A blogger, for example, may want to play an audio file from NPR.org. The API assures proper playback of the original file no matter the site where the code appears.
Using widely available (and often free) “Web widgets,” you can make one of your news stories findable via Google Earth… or as part of a video game… or to be aggregated with many other stories on the same topic or by the same reporter. The fungibility of data allows unending variations to emerge.
Let’s not forget the power we have to form and support the “offline” community. The more we build the virtual community around our news and broadcast services, the more people may hunger for actual community — which local stations are well-placed to provide. The ultimate social media may still be the town meeting, the brown bag lunch, a local lecture or an after-hours newsroom cocktail party.