One of my favorite posts on this site — for not the quality of its writing but the entertainment of its content — is an entry from two years ago titled, “10 Turn of the Century Predictions, and 10 Lessons Learned“.
In it, I examine the crystal ball work done by the staff of Entertainment Weekly in 1999, as they spotlight ten “companies and visionaries leading the electronic charge”. These range from innovations in music (POP.com) to gaming (godgames.com) to interactive television (mixedsignals.com).
Don’t worry if you don’t recognize the three web sites I just mentioned; they no longer exist.
Some of Entertainment Weekly‘s predictions turned out remarkably right, and others proved woefully wrong. My conclusion, upon re-reading the issue? “It should remind us what we thought the media landscape would look like — and how similar yet different it actually appears today.”
I think of the article — and my subsequent post — when I encounter the new forms of media expected to transform my job as a journalist.
Many individual journalists I know today still struggle with both how to incorporate social media and which ones to incorporate. Most have invested at least somewhat in Facebook and Twitter, with both providing some return in terms of followers, shares, and conversations. Beyond that, for most in my field, it’s a crap shoot.
None of these options, mind you, existed when I started in the businesses a dozen years ago. But a journalist, already working with a limited time frame and hard deadline, must constantly make choices as to which audience needs to be served. Do I spend a few minutes crafting a Facebook post? Do I take a minute here and there during the day to update Twitter? Do I shoot an iPhone video and send it back for the web site? Or do I eschew all of it and use that time to research and develop my daily story?
That does not even get into a trio of social media options that seem to be beyond most journalists’ reach: Instagram, Vine, and Periscope.
The first two are massively popular among certain circles but present inherent ceilings for storytellers. In the case of Instagram — which offers social media sharing strictly for photos and short videos — a journalist cannot include a functional link in a post. So those using it to showcase their latest stories — a primary goal for many in the industry — will find themselves constantly frustrated.
As for Vine, it is just two years old and already seems like a fad that has passed. Witness another of my posts from 2013, detailing the evolution of the six-second video app’s popularity during the year. I can remember a time at my station when managers seemingly mandated Vine posts, but that flamed out quickly as we all learned its limitations. I acknowledged as much at the time, writing, “One wonders if, at this point, it has reached a certain ceiling; many seem to see it as a tool for breaking and behind-the-scenes news but not much beyond that.” To this day, Vine remains just that; I can think of few stories I do that could product a compelling snippet of context-free video. This means I post far less frequently, which inhibits my ability to develop a following.
Periscope seems to be right now where Vine stood in 2013 — an emerging form of media that news professionals are attempting to harness for their own field. Last week, the live-streaming service posted to its sister site Medium (both are part of the Twitter family tree) that it had reached 10 million users. It included graphs that showed its audience growth, trumpeting an active user base that has quintupled in the last two months. Anecdotally, I actually saw someone Periscoping from a street corner in Atlanta last week; despite standing next to her for 30 seconds at a stop sign, I still could not figure out who she was or why she felt compelled to live-stream that very moment.
Despite all that, I know very few journalists who use Periscope professionally — and, if they do, with any sort of regularity.
It seems like a potential tool for traditional reporters, who do not need to worry about shooting video or photos with a camera. For those of us who work as MMJs — an ever-expanding percentage in today’s TV and print worlds — the idea seems counter-productive. Why would we put down professional gear, which will be used to produce footage for a broadcast audience, to live-stream to a far smaller group? I have not heard a single manager put any emphasis on Periscope, and I cannot say I disagree. Much like Vine, it seems like another arrow in the journalist’s toolbox that holds a very specific purpose. In both cases, the main benefit is the association and synergy with Twitter; when I do see an opportunity to use Vine or Periscope, I know I will simultaneously reach my Twitter followers.
What, then, is a journalist to do? Seemingly annually we are told we should invest in a new form of social media, yet we are also constantly (and correctly) reminded that whatever we post will reflect on our personal brands. Is it wise, then, to have a Vine account you never update, or an Instagram account gone dormant? If you use Periscope twice a year, will anyone even notice? Most of all, who has the time to serve this many media masters?
The solution, I feel, comes down to one question:
How do you best serve your audience?
I tend to approach each medium with the situation in mind. If I am at a press conference, I know I will be able to offer far more by live-Tweeting than I could ever fit into a TV package. (I also know my hands will likely be free to be able to Tweet.) If I am working on a promotable story, I know I should post a photo or teaser video to Facebook to alert my followers there. If I shoot a particularly powerful photo or video in general, I know I should invest the minute or so to upload it across the board.
I have found very few situations in the field that have necessitated Instagram, Vine, or Periscope, but I have utilized all enough to be aware of their respective capabilities.
Mostly, I try not to get too high or low with social media. I am still relatively young in this business, but I have experienced enough trends and fads to avoid riding each wave right away. At the same time, I sincerely believe that mastering the right social media is critical to developing and reaching our audiences in ways traditional media cannot fathom.
And anything that expands our reach should be exciting to storytellers.