Why “social journalism” is much more than community building

Last week CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism held a panel titled “Social Journalism and Engaging News Audiences.” CUNY, which has recently applied for a new Social Journalism track for graduate students, brought in five innovators in social journalism to speak about the current models of editorial thinking on social platforms.

The panelists were Anika Anand of Chalkbeat, Amanda Michel of The Guardian, Zach Seward of Quartz, Amanda Zamora of ProPublica, and Markham Nolan of Vocativ.

Dr. Carrie Brown, the new Executive Director of the proposed M.A. in Social Journalism, led the discussion, with began with the idea that “social journalism” is a malleable idea that is just starting to be solidified. “There’s not a great vocabulary to discuss this,” she said. “‘Social Journalism’ sounds like you’re just a journalist on social media. It doesn’t get to the meat of the activity.” Dr. Brown, and the rest of the panel, focused on the idea of “social journalism” as a service to help communities meet their needs and solve problems.

I believe that social journalism can be that and much more — a new way to understand the world and find stories that have previously been untold. Anika Anand of Chalkbeat has spent much of her career trying to figure out the elements to engagement, and she has come to the conclusion that one “engagement editor” or “social media editor” can never do social journalism for an entire newsroom or team. Individual journalists should be responsible for their own engagement, Anand says — they know their topic and their sources best.

The idea of individuals acting as “social journalist,” like the “social media editor,” is a necessary step in the evolution of social media. Social has become integrated in the distribution of our industry, yet a gap still exists between a true editorial integration between the utilization of social media throughout the reporting process.

The work of Amanda Zamora at ProPublica is a model I look to when working within my own newsroom. Even before the stories are reported, Zamora and her team are working to help connect people to the topics. For their Patient Safety series, ProPublica launched a Facebook group for people to share their own experiences, an effort that led to over 600 tips and guided the team’s reporting for the series. The Facebook group, now over 2,300 members strong, has evolved into a home for people to discuss issues of patient harm and other health care issues.

With the leadership of “social journalists” like CUNY’s panelists, the principles I believe are the foundation of social journalism — engagement from story conception onward, social listening, community building — will become engrained in every newsroom in the country. The next generation of reporters, producers and editors will use social media for inspiration, education, conversation, and distribution. I look forward to the day when “social journalism” is just… journalism.

The livestream of the panel is here and my notes on the entirety of the 90 minute panel are on my Facebook page.

(Photo credit: Natalie Fertig)

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