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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

News outlets think outside the box to use social media in innovative ways



Political news giant C-SPAN has found an innovative approach to reporting on what Congress is discussing – with a tweet.

C-SPAN2 is using the breaks during Senate debates to display tweets from members of Congress. The live Twitter feed runs down the television screen, “incorporating anything that Senate or House members tweet from their official government accounts,” according to Poynter.

Like C-SPAN, other news outlets also are coming to understand that taking advantage of social media means thinking outside the box. Whether it's using digital technologies for or covering violence, or using liveblogging and social networking to cover the news or get around censorship, news media are forging ahead with innovative uses of social media.

In fact, social media have become so essential to the news process that media outlets have started hiring editors and staff members dedicated solely to social media ventures, according to the American Journalism Review. News companies also have begun issuing guidelines on appropriate uses of social media for journalists.

"Newspapers are setting the trend for using social media and showing how even though they have been slow to adapt, they’re now racing ahead and using social technologies in innovative ways," according to Simply Zesty, which noted that in a July report, The New York Times, followed closely by the Washington Post, were at the top of the list of top 50 companies on Twitter. And Reuters has been dubbed the "king of Tumblr."

British newspaper The Guardian announced the launch of its Twitter-based search engine, available at @GuardianTagBot.

Simply tweet a question using the @GuardianTagBot tag, and it will send a link of the latest Guardian coverage that best matches your query. A quick tweet with the phrase “daily ipad newspaper tablet” yields immediate results, reports Daily Maverick. Still in its beta form, the service will “fall asleep” after responding to around 3,000 tweets a day.

And it's not just Twitter: Fox News has announced that it will use Google+ Hangouts (group video chats) for some of its election coverage, said Poynter. Already KOMU-TV in Columbia, Mo., has used Google+ social network's Hangouts for interactive broadcasts, reported TV Spy. Earlier in November, The New York Times also began using Hangouts.

N0tice, another Guardian project still in beta form, is an online community noticeboard. The site, which is currently an invite-only format, is “a place where you can share news, post details about forthcoming events or let people know you have something to sell or share,” according to the Guardian.

Apart from social media, news media also are going digital with apps. For example, USA TODAY recently became the premier news provider for the social magazine app Flipboard. This version of USA TODAY will give users news updated on a 24/7 cycle.

The Cincinnati Enquirer also has created its own online community in Porkappolis. The app provides users with a social hub where they can “‘check in’ to locations to read reviews, find deals, locate friends, get ‘inside information,’ earn badges, win prizes, share photos and send updates to Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare.” But this isn’t the first online community that the Cincinnati Enquirer has experimented with. In 2007, the publication created its own website, Capture Cincinnati, an exhibition of local photography that eventually became a coffee-table book of the same name. The Enquirer began using social networks like Twitter and Flickr to facilitate community involvement. However, the project is no longer running.

Also in 2007, PBS launched PBS Engage, a self-described “laboratory for experiments with new kinds of media.” Through Engage, the non-profit broadcasting network hopes “to get the public more involved with public broadcasting.” Engage allows its users to generate and upload content via social media – videos, photography, blogs, comments on programs, and even encourages discussion with producers and reporters directly. Visit Engage’s gallery of all user-created content here.

Such innovative uses of social media have led PBS to a higher degree of “public participation, including a cooperative partnership with YouTube to encourage viewers to ‘Video Your Vote,’” which helped push its web traffic to record numbers reported the American Journalism Review. And according to Google Analytics, in 2008 – just one year after Engage was implemented – PBS received more than 20 million unique visitors in one month, setting a new monthly traffic record.

In a similar fashion, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has also created its own social site, MySTLtoday. The site aims to provide users – like Engage – with an online community where users can share “stories, photos, videos and thoughts.” Each week the Dispatch publishes excerpts from MySTLtoday.

Interestingly, the surge in attention to social media comes after much initial skepticism -- although in some cases perhaps warranted considering how social media also has been used to spread rumors.



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