For years broadcast journalists have used social media to announce new stories or new information on a previously covered topic, generate interest in live TV broadcasts, engage with viewers, and even get tips on breaking news. But today’s ever-changing social media landscape increasingly offers even more opportunities for news reporters.
Taking Charge of Comments
Many broadcast news sites have adopted a policy of only allowing Facebook Comments, which requires audience members comment via their Facebook profiles. The main reason for this switch is to discourage trolling and inappropriate comments. While broadcasters want viewers to share their opinions, comments that are offensive, clearly intended to invoke a flame war, or are excessively profane can drive viewers away from a social media post in a hurry.
The idea behind limiting comments to Facebook profiles works on the assumption that people are less likely to start screaming insults at each other when everyone knows who they are.
This works for some news sites, but there are drawbacks. A seriously invested troll can always make a Facebook account under a fake name. Another downside is that some viewers might want to post anonymously about deeply personal topics, like health problems or sexual assault.
Monitoring Website and Social Media Chatter is Key
A recent Gigaom article noted that trolling is often influenced more by the tone of early comments to a story than the method for allowing comments.
It went on to suggest that while using Facebook comments is not harmful to a news site, assuming that doing so relieves the broadcaster of the duty to monitor its comments page is.
The most important thing to remember is that someone from the news organization should monitor social media comments on all platforms—Facebook, Twitter, the station’s website—on a regular basis. Not only does this help discourage trolling and out-of-control arguments, it can also provide new story ideas or angles.
A New Take on “Person on the Street”
Monitoring social platforms is also integral to another way broadcasters are doing more with social media: Updating the “Person on the Street” or “Voice of the People” story.
“Person on the street” interviews have been around since they were called “man on the street” interviews, and the basic premise hasn’t changed. In the past, reporters would visit a busy public place, like a street or shopping mall, and wander around, asking strangers if they’d like to comment on a current news topic.
In a perfect world, the reporter would get a wide variety of soundbites from a diverse cross-section of the local population.
Obstacles in Traditional “Person on the Street” Stories
This isn’t a perfect world, however, and this method of finding subjects for “Person on the Street” stories doesn’t always result in the hoped-for wide variety of subjects.
Often, people on the street are in a hurry to get somewhere and don’t have time to talk to the press. Others are camera-shy or having a bad hair day. People who are eager to be interviewed sometimes have an agenda to push, or go off on an unrelated tangent. Journalists sometimes find that the same three or four people always want to be interviewed, but no one else does, and “Voice of the People” packages need different subjects for each new topic.
Using Social Media to Find New Inspiration
Thanks to these challenges, it’s no surprise that many broadcasters are using social media as their “street.” It’s increasingly common for package tags to include one or two Twitter comments on the issue. Reporters may even include social media comments from previous coverage of the story in a package or interview.
This can help reporters develop new questions. For example: “Many of our viewers expressed concern about how this new legislation will affect our city’s small businesses, Mr. Mayor. How do you respond?”
The Ideal Solution for Small-Market “Voice of the People” Packages
“Voice of the People” is an ideal option for small-market reporters trying to offer a local view on large, national stories.
Instead of wandering a shopping mall and interviewing the same three or four people about a different topic every week, the small-market reporter can pull opinions from the station’s Facebook post on a subject. Many people who don’t have the time or desire to be interviewed on the street will take twenty seconds to type a comment about a topic they find interesting.
Social media is also a treasure trove of new story ideas or angles. You don’t want to chase every lead, and the internet is littered with inaccuracies. However, some comments on a station’s website or Facebook posts can reveal a related story or a new perspective on an issue.