Determining what communities want and need in social media coverage seems to have generated a new media role: community manager.
According to information in a March 21, 2011, article by Ben LaMothe, Why Newspapers Need Community Managers on the 10000 words blog, the term may offer a way to brand online news coverage.
LaMothe cites the Econsultancy blog for the term and its use as a way to engage the community, set overall strategy and create branding for the media’s products.
Modifying such a role in online scholastic media might serve two essential purposes: differentiating between objective and subjective content and helping establish a “brand” for student online publications. A community manager might develop strategy for reaching and involving the communities and making daily updates: performing the medium’s public relations.
Some schools using the concept of community manager haven’t yet gotten anticipated results.
Meghan Morris, editor-in-chief of The Spoke in Pennsylvania, said her publication has an “operations manager,” but the role has not worked as she would have liked. She said she has found it hard to surrender the role. “In the future, this idea of ‘community manager,’” she said, “would be part of the web director or business manager’s role. Dealing with irate parents, facilitating focus groups or other ombud duties will remain the role of the EIC.”
Ted Noelker, managing editor of multimedia at Francis Howell Central in Missouri, said his publication launched its website and communications editor position at the same time to handle promotional aspects. He, too, said, he ended up doing much of the work of the position. “It is such an open-ended job,” he said. “It’s hard to cover all they need to so without being too narrow or too broad. It’s an important role, one that’s been tougth to fill.
LaMothe called the community manager a “must-have position” for a news organization. “The comments, your Facebook page and your Twitter page are all public-facing, and they deal directly with your readers on a daily basis,” he writes. He also says the position must be separate from the newsroom.
Anaika Miller of Foothill Technology High School in California agreed with Morris and Noelker about issues. “It has just become easier for me to handle public relations,” she said. “This works for our site, but in a professional newspaper, I bet the position could be utilized better if it were somebody’s focus/only job.”
All three referred to the position as one of public relations. Miller said no one at her school solely maintains the job because the workload is too light.
Minnesota adviser Jeff Kocur said the community manager role was similar in his school, with the editor using her Facebook status to push stories direct people to the publication’s site. He said he would consider adding a community manager position to his staff. “This person would be responsible for outreach and public relations in addition to writing stories and doing the exchange papers,” he said. “They would send out twitter feeds and facebook updates to push people to our site and manage online reader surveys. This would be an editor-level position, and they would still write stories.”
These staffs perceive a need for such a position, much as LaMothe and others urge. How the position is utilized, who fills it and what its ultimate role is, however, remain a work in progress.
Historically, a public relations role has been a hard one for scholastic media. Creation of a “community manager” might enable more community involvement as journalism grows in its use of social media. How that position develops and how it is differentiated from news reporting should be an ongoing discussion.
Ideally, a “community manager” role should be cleanly separated from that of news journalist, including separate sources and posts for public relations and news. To ensure the public understands journalism’s varied roles in a democracy, we must be transparent about what we say and what information from each source means.
Accomplishing that may not be quickly achieved as scholastic journalism increases its use of digital media. Clarifying the role of a “community manager” or similar position is a step toward scholastic journalism’s successful use of social media.
In the first part of this series, Marina Hendricks, a commission member and student in a social role of the media class, talked about how scholastic media might create tools in the growing use of social media. Now, others in the class offer additional comments and suggestions.
This piece will suggest guidelines – and hopefully raise questions – about principles behind such tools in three key areas: information gathering, reporting and promotion, perhaps the most problematic new area of social media use. Overall, students in the class say the legal and ethical principles guiding social media use are the same as traditional, or legacy, media.
Key areas students focused on and their comments:
• Information gathered online should be independently confirmed offline. Interview sources in person or over the phone whenever possible. Students would verify claims and statements. This includes crowdsourcing.
• Correspondingly, the instantaneous time element makes it more difficult to verify spot news, so be upfront about non-verified info. In fact, don’t run anything on social media students have not verified.
• Specific links (not just click here) should be provided to attribute the source/attribution for any online resources used or indicated.
• Be transparent with the audience as well as sources. Let them know how you contacted people, in what context you gathered the information and how you verified it (or didn’t).
• Student journalists who insist on avoiding social networks are likely to miss good opportunities and great stories. If all your sources came from the Internet, they would skew toward the more affluent and educated. When you interview people digitally, you miss a lot of good information. Journalists must strive for diverse representations of sources in their stories.
• These new tools can generate story ideas, allow readers more interaction with the reporters, and increase the reporter’s ability to find sources and network. These are certainly excellent additions to the tool belt of resources reporters have available to them to do their job.
• Social media will not replace traditional reporting; its primary purpose should be in making initial contact with subjects or verifying quotes and facts after an interview.
Objectivity and credibility in reporting
• When using social networks, nothing can call into question the impartiality of student news judgment. Student media must never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism. … This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online.
• Ensure informed consent. It’s easy for sources to misunderstand your intentions. It is your responsibility to tell them who you are, what you are doing and where your work will run. Take special consideration with children and other vulnerable people. When contacting children, make sure they connect you with a responsible adult.
• Breaking news posts – all news posts – must be approved by a student editor. No exceptions.
• The student media site will not publish images from social media networking sites.
• Typos, biased language and even possible outright privacy breaches posted by individual reporters, acting without a system of checks and balances, will call into question the professionalism of student media and challenge its credibility.
• If the audience perceives biased or unfair coverage, they will no longer trust the student media as news sources and the capacity for elevating community dialog to issues of importance will be lost.
Promotion of student work
• Professional material (reporting and leadership) should not mix with private or promotional materials.
• It is important and valuable to promote our work through social networks. Student journalists bear most of this burden. But the newsroom as an institution is responsible for some of this work. When promoting your work:
- Be accurate. It’s easy to sensationalize or oversimplify.
- Be clear. If you are not a good headline writer, seek some training.
- Always include a link and make sure the link works.
• Journalists must recognize that everything on their social media has the potential to influence their reputations and by extension newsroom credibility.
- Don’t post information that could embarrass you or your newsroom, even if you believe your page is private.
- Use the tools, such as limited profiles and privacy settings, to restrict access to your most private information.
- Recognize that your actions can be misinterpreted. You may sign up for a group to get story ideas, but people may see you as a fan. State your intentions often, in wall posts and other notifications. When appropriate, tell groups when you are signing up that you are looking for story ideas.
- Manage your friends and their comments. Delete comments and de-friend people who damage your reputation.
- Social media could also enhance our outreach to the community. Using tools such as Twitter and Facebook, we can push students to our website by letting them know what stories we have recently posted. We can advertise when we are next distributing our newspaper. We can solicit story ideas, invite letters to the editor, or request feedback while we are in the process of putting our paper together. From a strictly practical standpoint, social media can allow us to let others see the great work we are doing more frequently, and, hopefully, engage them in a more earnest discussion about our role in the school.
- Social media opens journalism to be a more two-way form of communication. Reporters can find the people they need and readers can interact with the people their story had an impact on almost immediately. They may not like everything sources or readers tell them, but at least there is feedback.
Resources used for these points
• “Social Media and Young Adults”
• Newspaper social media policies: Out of touch
• Journalists use of social media
• Using email as a reporting tool
• Online journalism ethics: A new frontier
• News organizations work to set social media policies
• Online journalism guidelines: guidelines from the conference
A tip of the hat to these 10 wonderful students, all journalism educators or commercially working journalists, who helped sort through these and other resources: Andrew Christopulos, Traci Hale Brown, Marina Hendricks, Judy Holman Stringer, Trevor Ivan, Lori King, Kate Klonowski, Jeff Kocur, Dino Orsatti, Chris Waugaman.
What points would you add, subtract or question?
by Marina Hendricks, SPRC commissioner
For “Social Role of the Mass Media,” a Kent State University online graduate course, John Bowen asked us to draft a position paper on social media as a tool for student journalists. I found it easier to think through the assignment by approaching it as a hypothetical letter from an adviser to students. Here’s the result.
Before we launch our Facebook page and Twitter feed, I’d like you to think about how you will use them in your coverage of the school community.
Keep in mind that our editorial policy applies not only to our print edition and website, but also to our social network platforms. As a result, your Facebook posts and tweets must be accurate, objective and fair. Information you collect from or share via Facebook and Twitter must be checked and verified – with no exceptions. This is especially critical for breaking news. You must get it right, even when it takes time to verify facts. Your audience depends on you for accurate information and trusts you to provide it. You don’t want to jeopardize that trust. Once it’s gone, it may never return. And readers and users will go with it.
Just as important, you must practice transparency. For readers and users, that means letting them know where you obtained information and under what circumstances. For sources, that means telling them how you plan to use information they provide. And as always, refer to the policy for guidance on anonymous sourcing.
Be vigilant about Facebook and Twitter content that is libelous, obscene, materially disruptive of the school process, an unwarranted invasion of privacy, a violation of copyright or a promotion of products or services unlawful (illegal) as to minors as defined by state or federal law.
Speaking of promotion, remember that you are in the news business, not public relations. You wouldn’t include rah-rah statements in print or online stories, would you? The same rule applies for social media content.
We’ve talked a lot about the responsibilities associated with being journalists. As tempting as it sometimes is, we don’t use our power of publication to promote personal agendas or settle scores. The instantaneous nature of social networks makes that even more tempting. However, I know you will continue to use the same exceptional judgment you bring to our print and online publications by remembering at all times that you represent (school publication name). I know your posts and tweets will reflect your professionalism as journalists.
Our Facebook page and Twitter feed give us two new ways to reach our school community. Use them to start conversations, seek feedback and provide another window into our newsroom.
Finally, take a look at our editorial policy and see if there’s anything you want to update with respect to our social media platforms.
Good night, and good luck …
Resource: “Online Ethical Considerations,” provided through Social Role of the Mass Media, Kent State University, spring 2011
Today is the day to join other scholastic media across the nation as they take the TAO Pledge – a promise to your audience, your administrators and yourselves – that you will be transparent about who you are as student media, that you will be accountable for your mistakes and open to other points of view.
The Pledge, a service of the Washington News Council, aims to provide a symbol of media communities can trust. With the explosion of new media sources online, a TAO of Journalism FAQ explains, many citizens are even more confused about who they can trust in the mainstream media, independent media and the so-called blogosphere. Surveys also show that institutions and individuals that are transparent about who they are, accountable for their performance and open to citizen input are the most trusted.
Student media that take the Pledge register to have their school media included on the list of TAO Pledgers, receive downloadable art of the TAO of Journalism seal to use in their mastheads and temporary tattoos of the TAO Seal for each staff member.
The pledge takes three minutes, max, to fill out; student publications should use this form. And it takes just another two minutes to snap a picture of your staff signing it, then upload it to the SJW Flickr page, just like these California student journalists did.
When you sign the Pledge, you can also complete a Facebook comment form at the bottom of this page that will also appear on your Facebook page.
The Journalism Education Association has endorsed the TAO of Journalism Pledge as one way student media can instill trust in their programs.
Whitney High journalists (Calif.) take the Tao of Journalism pledge Feb. 9, 2011.
Student journalists who practice ethical journalism and want assure readers, viewers and school administrators of their commitment to excellence, can now go public by taking the “TAO of Journalism” pledge .
The TAO Pledge asks journalists to promise that they will be “Transparent” about who they are and how the story was developed; “Accountable” for, and willing to correct any errors; and “Open” to other points of view. This idea, introduced by the Washington News Council, is gaining traction with media organizations around the world.
The Journalism Education Association has endorsed the TAO of Journalism Pledge as one way student media can instill trust in their programs.
JEA encourages schools and student media to sign the Pledge during Scholastic Journalism Week on Wednesday, Feb. 23 and to invite their school administrators to sign on, as well. Any student media group who “takes the TAO Pledge” will be listed on the TAO of Journalism website with a link to their website.
Students can then post the TAO Seal in their masthead and they will receive a poster of the TAO Pledge that can be displayed as a public reminder of their commitment.
Once students take the pledge, they need to be sure to follow the pledge to show their schools and their communities the importance of professional standards.
• BONUS for student media groups who take the TAO Pledge during Scholastic Journalism Week: Temporary tattoos of the TAO seal for all members of the staff.
Click on “Pledge” at the top of the home page.