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Ask the Expert: Jen McClure of SNCR talks about the relationship between social media and journalism

Jen McClureLast month, Jen McClure, founder and president of the Society of New Communications Research (SNCR), and Don Middleberg, SNCR senior fellow and CEO of Middleberg Communications, presented an informative webinar to discuss the results of the 2nd Annual Middleberg/SNCR Survey of Media in the Wired World, sponsored by Marketwire. The purpose of the study was to examine the ever-changing relationship journalists have with social media. In this installment of Ask the Expert, I had the opportunity to ask Jen a few questions about the advent of social media and its impact on journalists.

1. What kind of work does the Society for New Communications Research do?

The Society for New Communications Research (SNCR – pronounced like the candy bar) is a nonprofit research and education foundation and think tank founded in 2005. The organization focuses on the advanced study of the latest developments in new media and communications, and their effect on traditional media and business models, communications, culture and society. Our volunteer Fellows include a leading group of futurists, scholars, business leaders, professional communicators, members of the media and technologists from around the globe. They work together on research projects, educational offerings and the establishment of standards and best practices. Over the past five years of our existence, we’ve had more than 100 professionals participate in our fellowship program.

2. What would you suggest to people who are trying to reach journalists through social media?

When you say “people,” I assume you mean PR people. :-) I think PR people have a tremendous opportunity in this era of social media and would advise them to take the following steps:

  • Familiarize yourself with social media tools and technologies and incorporate them into your work.
  • Fuse traditional tools and practices with new social media technologies.
  • The first step to using social media in PR is not broadcasting your message, but rather to listen, listen, listen. Then, figure out how and where you can participate in conversations and add valuable insight and knowledge, and establish thought leadership.
  • Understand how to use social networking and other social media to build relationships, collaborate, engage in online conversations, and share your expertise, but don’t ignore building relationships through traditional channels such as face-to-face meetings, phone calls and email.
  • Become a storyteller. Use photos, video, blogging, and other social media to tell your story in new, interesting, and authentic ways.

3. What tips would you give journalists who are new to social media?

Again, I think starting by using social media channels as a listening tool is the best way to begin to understand how social media works and how it can be a valuable new tool for journalism.

4. What statistic/trend surprised you most in this year’s research?

Last year, our findings split along demographic lines. While younger journalists were adopting social media tools at a much faster rate and were much more positive about their impact on their profession, older journalists were much more skeptical of their value and their adoption lagged. This year, across the the board, adoption soared with nearly 70 percent using social networking, 66 percent using blogs and 48 percent using Twitter. Attitudes of almost all the journalists we surveyed were very positive about the impact of social media on journalism — with 91 percent of our respondents telling us that new media and communications tools are enhancing journalism. There was also a noticeable increase in the number of journalists who stated that their newsrooms encourage and enable them to use social media tools and technologies in their work (78 percent).

5. Are more people considering bloggers to be journalists?

That’s an interesting question. We have to remember that blogging is just a technology platform — one which is increasingly being used by professional journalists. So in a way, the better question is: Are citizen journalists and corporate bloggers considered journalists? And to that I would say, yes and no. A lot of journalists blog. Conversely, a lot of bloggers are not professional journalists, but if they are documenting current events or news stories, they are committing acts of journalism, whether they are aware of it or not. And, journalists are increasingly paying attention to bloggers. As our survey indicated, nearly 80 percent of the journalists we surveyed believe bloggers are important opinion-shapers and, increasingly, we see popular bloggers featured as pundits and subject matter experts in the traditional news media.

In addition to individual bloggers, companies, non-profit organizations and even the government are becoming their own news outlets with their blogs and other social media channels. We’re all able to be publishers of our own work in this new world of social media and online communications, and with that comes a new responsibility.

The line is starting to blur for consumers of information, and many journalists would say that’s a dangerous thing. Traditionally, at least in modern American journalistic history, it’s been the journalists’ role to be the watchdog for the public — the seekers of the unbiased truth. With news organizations in trouble, thousands of journalists laid-off each year, and so much instantaneous news and information out there, it’s sometimes difficult to tell what is vetted as journalism and what it not. This scenario makes new media literacy really crucial.

6. Based on the 2009 Middleberg/SNCR Survey for Media in the Wired World, what trend do you predict will rise, fall or change in 2010?

I think we’ll continue to see Twitter grow in importance both as a listening channel as well as a distribution channel for journalists and media. In terms of distribution, it’s almost like a news ticker — a great new way to share headlines and link to more detailed stories. I think we’ll also continue to see an increase in the use of online video, especially citizen-generated video. As news continues to become more collaborative, I think we’ll see more traditional media organizations incorporating online community elements into their online properties.

A big thank you to Jen McClure for taking the time to participate in Marketwire’s Ask the Expert interview series.

Are you a PR pro? Are you savvy in social media? Are you in-the-know in investor relations? Are you a media professional who’s been transformed by the digital revolution? We’d love to interview you for our Ask the Expert series! The Ask the Expert interview series is Marketwire’s way of delving into the minds of industry leaders and experts, asking them the most salient and pertinent questions that affect PR, IR and marketing communications professionals. Please contact Nick Shin (nshin [at] marketwire [dot] com) for consideration.

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