Journalism in the age of social media

Faeza Dawood

Published: Updated:

“This tweet has been deleted”. Twitter users are familiar with this message.

Tweets are often deleted. But a deleted news tweet usually raises a Red Flag for “followers” of that handle. Welcome to the evolving world of Social Media (SM) Journalism, where this is just one of the downsides.

A news channel or a newspaper would issue an apology over a factually-incorrect news story. Many responsible journalists will tweet an apology, but given the dynamics of social media many fraudulent activists get away without accountability.

Journalism is the activity of gathering, assessing, presenting news and sharing information. The most defining quality about good journalism is the “credibility” attached to it. Social media has redefined journalism, for better or for worse.

To say that traditional journalism has been deeply impacted by social media is an understatement. Social media now dictates journalistic norms to a great extent.

Contrary to our likes and dislikes, social media is influencing our lives in many ways. Every profession is impacted by it. Journalism is no different.

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Social media has brought the world into our palms, thanks to our smartphones. Digital technology feeds the innate human urge of “quick fixes”. It encourages speedy global connects, personally and professionally.

However, the speed and medium through which “news” (reports /analysis) is posted on social media platforms- Journalistic ethics maybe compromised.

According to a Cision Global Social Journalism Study, there was a 12 percent increase in the number of journalists who post content to social media platforms daily. This includes long-form and short-form content.

Unarguably, social media has dramatically widened the news horizon – making the possibilities and dangers endless.

Look at Twitter’s 326 million global monthly users active on the site. Many of them extensively use it as a news platform. All news channels, print media and journalists have twitter handles these days.

To say that traditional journalism has been deeply impacted by social media is an understatement. Social media now dictates journalistic norms to a great extent

Faeza Dawood

Refreshing twitter feeds

News channels, digital newspapers are constantly refreshing their twitter feeds to keep followers updated. Journalists and anchors operate separate ‘twitter accounts’ to increase following.

Few years ago a CNN journalist was embroiled in a Twitter controversy over using this platform for expressing views on a news story. Since her views were not in-line with the channel’s policy, she was fired citing it as ‘unprofessional behavior’.

Over time, journalists subscribing to social media sites have had to learn various tricks of the trade. And sharpen their check-list of “do’s and dont’s”.

There was a time when the Red “On-Air” Sign, flashing outside a news studio meant serious business. While conducting “live” current affairs programs, I often compared being “on-air” to a surgeon on an operating table. Any fumbles or a mis-stated fact would prove fatal -for my career. Well, not anymore.

Twitter Live, Facebook Live and YouTube Live are options that can digitally put the journalist “on-air” -anywhere, any time. As a traditional journalist at heart, I am still struggling my head around to whether these exciting Social Media options of ‘Going Live’ will lead Journalism positively.

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Because, avoiding them is not pragmatic. During the pre-Election coverage of PTI’s rally in Karachi, I benefitted from my Facebook Live. At the rally, some of my interviews couldn’t be transmitted to the News studio in real time, due to a technical glitch.

Now, any field reporter will identify with the need to get the story out there as soon as possible. Especially if it is from the coverage of an on-going event. This was PTI’s last campaign pit-stop before elections, with senior party leaders including Mr. Imran Khan in attendance. Therefore, a crucial coverage.

So, I switched on my Facebook Live and streamed my interviews in real time. As a journalist, I had achieved a sense of fulfillment by going Live from the event while the technical glitch was being resolved.

Many seasoned journalists today ask ‘what happened to good old-fashioned journalism?’ It was a passion that motivated journalists to find scoops, dig deeper and weigh every word several times before publishing or broadcasting.

Shooting the messenger

Many others counter-argue to not shoot the messenger. Social media provides the tools, it is up to us to use them wisely.

“Always aim to interview the Top guy” were the words of my training instructor, shortly after I stepped into practical journalism. After the devastating earthquake in Muzaffarabad and Bagh 2005, we were doing a Live Television News transmission to aid ‘Rescue and Rehabilitation” efforts. 80,000 plus lives were lost and thousands of people left homeless.

When talk of reconstruction started, I decided to aim high and get the prime minister on-air.
His press secretary said we would have to wait. Sensing positivity, I pushed the envelope further, requesting him for a one-on-one interview with the prime minister.

He agreed! So I flew to Islamabad and interviewed then prime minister Shaukat Aziz. Our interview was televised the same night. As a young professional journalist, this experience enriched my learning. Right from persisting to interview him to delivering the final interview for my channel, I grew professionally.

Today, a journalist could simply retweet a Prime Minister’s tweet. Thanks to social media, presidents and prime ministers the world over have twitter handles and official Facebook pages.

So most policy statements are available online. Some like Mr. Trump tweet themselves whereas others hire staff to tweet for them. In fact, the US has even archived the Twitter handles of former POTUS and FLOTUS -the Obamas.

A unique upside of social media is that it has removed logistical barriers for journalists. Launching my own current affairs website two years ago was the only viable solution, when logistically it was difficult for me to be Pakistan-based.

My website and YouTube channel gives me a great amount of professional freedom in terms of time and content. But, exercising responsibility toward the viewer is an ongoing struggle. And that means resisting the temptation of pressing the YouTube ‘Go Live’ button at free will.

I have to assert my professional judgement as a reporter, cameraman, editor and producer, to retain credibility. There is an underlying concern for aspiring journalists though. For no fault of their own, they are operating in a virtually ‘free for all’ zone when it comes to using social media.

Exercising responsibility toward the viewer is an ongoing struggle. And that means resisting the temptation of pressing the YouTube ‘Go Live’ button at free will

Faeza Dawood

Recently, I called out an aspiring journalist on Twitter for a factually incorrect video clip she tweeted. The video location was mis-stated.

Her response to me was “But, things like these do happen in our country” – basically admitting that the tweet was misleading. So, social media journalism has been carried out straight from the keyboard or a phone. The premise of the tweet was an unverified clip and her defense was an assumption. No apology. No edit. It left me speechless.

Since social media is here to stay, might serve us well to build rules and regulations for posting News. Twitter and Facebook have stepped up their verification or sifting process, but developing checks and balances around journalistic practices is not simple. This is a new domain for all — News producers and consumers alike.

In this new era, fate of Journalism remains uncertain. It may no longer be the first draft of history, as noted by Philip Graham. Now, Journalism has become a constantly-challenged, throbbing dynamic of our present world, where social media enables every citizen of earth to tell their story and be their own reporter.

Amidst all the noise, we need to ensure original and factually-correct News stories still find their way to the public. Journalism is a service that shouldn’t be reduced to Retweets.
Faeza Dawood is a broadcast journalist with a decade of experience covering news, making documentaries and anchoring at prominent Pakistani news channels. Pakistani by origin, and born and raised in Dubai, Faeza was a key member of the launch team of one of Pakistan’s first news channels. She watches Pakistani politics closely through her program, Focus with Faeza, and has covered four national elections, conducting interviews with heads of government and leading politicians. She also likes sharing her work experience as guest lecturer. Faeza’s on-camera interviews/reports are streamed on her website, www.focuswithfaeza.com and her twitter handle is @FaezaDawood.