Journalist. Media development professional

Forget Wikileaks for a bit and ponder this: Social media journalism

While many are arguing nowadays whether Wikileaks is a new kind of journalism, and whether journalists should learn from its founder Julian Assange or just stay away from him as much as possible, I want to discuss a new kind of journalism that has knocked my socks off: Social Media journalism.

This is a term I coined after reading a heart-wrenching Washington Post story about a DC area-based family who had to endure a tragic circumstance after the birth of their baby boy. I’m not going to ruin the story for you, but the most fascinating part for me was the format in which this story was told. The journalist who told the story chose a “Facebook format” in which he narrated tear-jerking events using real Facebook status updates that were written by the family members who were involved in the story.

After each update or comment, the author added factual information to make the story complete by explaining for example how the couple in this story met and how they relate to the people that they have as “friends” on their Facebook page.

The Facebook story format. Credit: Washington Post.

I’m not usually the emotional type, but after I read the story I did in fact tear up a bit.The reason for this is simple: the story hit close to home because it used a format that I use on a daily basis to interact with my family and friends: Facebook. By doing so, the author gave the people involved in the story a real life feel.They were not just faceless names mentioned in a newspaper article. They were people who had friends and family who “liked” their news and “LOL” ed their updates and “shared” their links.

This story wouldn’t have the same effect on me personally if it was written in a regular print format. I would have simply thought something along the lines of “How sad” and resumed checking my Tweetdeck Twitter updates.

After reading the story, I couldn’t stop thinking about the impact this social media format can have if let’s say it was used to tell the stories of war victims, or victims of violence or even honor crimes. I might be day dreaming here but these social media formats could probably prompt the audience to lobby to stop certain wars, or create tougher laws to punish those who commit honor crimes. Imagine how important the role of journalism would become in this case as it will improve or even save lives. Does Wikilieaks revelations have the same impact? Maybe, maybe not.I’m still not sure of that, but what I’m sure of is that such social media journalism format has made me shed a tear or two.

8 Comments

  1. December 12, 2010    

    Very good point, the impersonal nature of print media is something a non-journalist such as myself over looked. As an end-user of social media; I do hope it becomes more of the norm — possibly mainstream soon. Thank you for sharing your ideas, observations and perspectives.

  2. December 12, 2010    

    Check out GlobalVoicesOnline.org – it’s an entire news outlet, 6 years young, devoted to this concept.

  3. December 13, 2010    

    Natasha, great post. I watched a friend deteriorate from cancer via facebook, broke my heart.

    This is why Madina Ammari’s murder (so-called honor crime) got so much attention, she had a facebook presence

  4. Dalia's Gravatar Dalia
    December 13, 2010    

    Good one Teesh..

  5. natasha's Gravatar natasha
    December 13, 2010    

    Thanks everyone for your kind words and for coming back to read my blog.

  6. December 14, 2010    

    I haven’t read the story yet but I found it fascinating that facebook has become part of the narrative writing style.

    When I went to Writing Studies grad program four years ago, we didn’t even think this was going to happen. Today I wonder if they’re teaching it in Writing programs or at least consider discussing it.

    Amazing how social media is shaping journalism!

    • December 15, 2010    

      Hi Bassam,
      Good point. I think journalism schools should include social media journalism as part of their curriculum. It is a brave new world out there:)

  7. December 20, 2010    

    Natasha, you know I love you, but if I hear some newly developed “concept” surrounding “social media” I will vomit. Seriously. Wikileaks is great, I think it is important that such things surface to make the general public more informed about what they didn’t know was going on in our government. This awareness has really transformed how we think about our public servants. Oh, I just had a thought, what about this … “Interactive, open-source, web-based portal for whistle blowers to chat online’? What’d, like, think?

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