How To Use Social Media To Do More As A Broadcast Journalist

Social media and broadcast journalism

Social media provides multiple platforms for promoting a TV or radio station, its programming, and its on-air talent. Social networks are also great places to engage with viewers and get new story ideas. However, recent trends show journalists are finding new ways to do even more with social media.

Using Facebook Comments to Reduce Trolling

As journalists, we’re all committed to free speech, and we want to know what our audience thinks. But we’ve all probably seen some version of this social media disaster: A TV or radio station posts a story on its website, and before you know it, readers are hurling all-caps obscenities at each other. Or maybe there’s one anonymous poster who keeps spewing abusive hate speech in the comments section.

How do you encourage healthy debate while avoiding these problems?

According to a recent Washington Post article, some news organizations resort to shutting down comments on some or all topics, but many broadcasters find the majority of comments are too helpful to dismiss.

An alternative is to require posters to use their Facebook account to share their opinions. When the Huffington Post chose this route in December of 2013, its director of community later told the Washington Post that they had a large reduction in trolling and spam, and an uptick in more intellectual debates.

Keep in mind that while requiring Facebook comments can help reduce trolling and abusive comments, it won’t get rid of them entirely. A determined troll can always make a fake Facebook account, and some people aren’t shy about arguing with strangers as themselves.

That’s why you should never put up a post and forget about it. Someone from your news organization should be monitoring the comments section of all your posts.

Also be sure to engage with your audience. Ask commentators questions about their responses, and, if necessary, post reminders that abusive language or spam will not be tolerated. Most trolls, spammers and flame-war inciters will move on if they see that your organization’s site or social media platform is actively monitored by staff members. If they don’t, you can quickly remove posts that violate your company’s comment policy.

Maintain interest in a story by adding questions to the comments section several times a day. Examples include: “Many of you have commented that {subject of story} responded inappropriately in this situation. What would you do differently? Do you think he/she should apologize?” Or, “We’ve noticed a lot of comments that the city council is focusing on the wrong issues. What problems do you wish they’d address instead of this one?”

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How to Use Social Media for a 21st Century “Voice of the People” Story

“Voice of the People” packages are a great way to keep viewers engaged, by sharing their friends’ and neighbors’ opinions on a topic. This format is a great way to localize a national news story, especially if you work at a TV station in Podunk and its unlikely the president will return your calls for an interview about the latest bill he signed.

However, if you’ve spent any time working on “Person on the Street” segments, you’ve probably run into some problems—especially if you work in a smaller market.

You walk up and down the street or shopping mall with your camera and try to get people to talk to you, but many of them are in a rush to be somewhere else. Others are happy to be interviewed, but when you ask them about the economy, they babble for five or six minutes about Kim Kardashian’s latest hairstyle. The next person wants to know why your station doesn’t do a story about how their bowling league just won five games in a row.

Often, the only people you can get a usable soundbite from are the retirees who drink their coffee at the same table in the food court every day, which is great for your first “Voice of the People” segment. But your news director wants comments from different people for each story, so next week you’re back to square one.

How are broadcasters dealing with these challenges?

In today’s world of social media, the latest trend is to take Facebook or Twitter comments about a topic or previous package and use them for “Voice of the People” segments. This allows you to share comments from people who were too busy to be interviewed on the street, as well as those who are simply camera shy or worried how they’ll look on TV. Most reporters find they get a wider variety of viewer comments online than in person.

There are many different ways to use social media comments for “Person on the Street” stories. Some broadcasters use the VO/SOT style, where an anchor reads the comments while video rolls. You can also add comments to a package that includes in-person interviews with the subject or an interested party. A national story can be localized with network video and comments from local viewers.

When using social media comments, the usual journalistic principles apply—you want to show all sides of the story, not just one. Try to pick comments from different sides of the issue. If possible, show a variety of reasoning for each opinion—“I’m opposed to this tax because it hurts low-income workers”; “I’m opposed to the tax because I think the city is going to waste it on the wrong things”; “I’m opposed to the tax because I’m still waiting for the last one to benefit my small business”.

Mining Social Media for New Story Ideas or Angles

Monitoring your station’s posts on social media and its website not only helps to discourage trolling, it also gives you the opportunity to see what your viewers care about. This can provide ideas for new stories, or new angles on an old story.

Obviously, you have to take social media comments with a grain of salt, and you don’t want to waste time chasing down every lead. That guy who claims he was abducted by space aliens and met Elvis on the spaceship shouldn’t be taken seriously, but the next poster might have an interesting point about a current topic.

If someone appears to have a legitimate point about a news topic, it might be worth spending a few minutes researching it. Also pay attention to what concerns viewers the most. Is it a particular clause in a new law that most people find problematic? What’s the biggest complaint about each candidate running for office?

Keep these tips in mind when monitoring your station’s social media presence and website. You never know when an award-winning story idea is going to pop up in the comments section.

 

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