The meteoric rise of social media has brought tremendous changes to the American media landscape over the last decade for national and local broadcasters. But what do these changes mean for the people behind the cameras?
In Part One of this two-part series, we asked six professionals at news stations large and small around the country about how social media has changed newsrooms, journalism, and local TV stations. They also looked back at some of the stories they’ve told over the years that were impacted by social media.
In Part Two below, our conversations continued with a discussion of the time before social media rose to prominence for local broadcasters, changes they would like to see on social media both by and for journalists, and how they think social media has affected the public discourse in general.
The interviewees included Travis Mayfield, the Director of Digital Strategy for KCPQ in Seattle; Ryan Leckey, a reporter for WNEP in Scranton; Mike McClain, the Vice President of News for WAGA in Atlanta; Christie O’Sullivan, a Digital Producers for WTVT in Tampa; Emily Sutton, a meteorologist for KFOR in Oklahoma City; and Dan Carlin, the Vice President of Programming, Research, Creative Services and Public Affairs for WNYW and WWOR in New York City.
Below are some of their responses to our questions, edited down for clarity and brevity.
1. What is a news story you covered before social media was prominent in journalism that you think would’ve been changed in a substantial way if it had been prominent at that time?
Ryan Leckey/WNEP: “The Quecreek Mine Rescue is when nine coal miners were trapped underground in a coal mine in Somerset County in Somerset, Pennsylvania, in 2002. I think that back then, it really wasn’t blowing up that big on social media, but that would have been great to be able to engage with our viewers on a different platform to keep them updated [as the rescue occurred]. We were on air all the time, but I think that would’ve been another way to maybe get pictures and tell the stories of the people involved faster. […] I think we probably could have used social media to tell a better story of the people who were trapped underground, [as opposed to] waiting until names were released from a hospital and waiting for officials to tell you who was in there. Because [we] had so many names from neighbors and people. You didn’t have photos of these people and I think now with Facebook you can get people’s picture really quick and tell their story — whether it’s good or bad.”
Emily Sutton/KFOR: “One comes to mind immediately. When I started in Oklahoma City, I started two weeks before the infamous Christmas Eve blizzard. It’s literally the largest snowstorm we’ve ever had in Oklahoma City and that’s when I started on air. [This was] Christmas Eve of 2009. During that Christmas Eve blizzard, there were people just stranded out on the interstate and they didn’t have food, they were running out of fuel, and there were some horrible wrecks. I just think if we had the resources with social media that we have today, we could have been able to reach even more people.
“A lot of what we show on air is [viewer-created] content. Oklahomans are the type of people that go out and they have to see the tornadoes for themselves. If it’s bad, then they’ll seek shelter. It’s the same thing with winter weather – [if we] show the huge pile up of cars, people will realize, ‘Oh, I really can’t go to Grandma’s house for Christmas.’ So, I think that would have been a game changer. I think that could have possibly saved some lives if we had more reach with social media because it’s another way to spread the word.”
Christie O’Sullivan/WTVT: “I just think anything before, you know, 2005. The September 11th attacks would have been completely different. I was in New York covering that when I was at Fox News and I can’t imagine what it would have been like, had social media been [ubiquitous], had people been able to tweet or Facebook Live or anything while that was happening. I can’t even imagine what that would have been like, and what kind of things that people would have seen and shared. It probably would have been much more horrific than what we’ve already seen and experienced without it.”
2. What do you miss about the time before social media?
Ryan Leckey/WNEP: “I think the biggest thing I miss before social media was the ability to disconnect from work and, really, from the world. I admit, I’m a social media addict now. I have to force myself [for] a few hours a day to put my phone down and unwind and pick up a book instead of being glued to my phone. […] I think, not only me, but a lot of people you miss the chance to unplug and kind of go off the grid like you did years ago, before social media’s popularity took off. I’ll be honest, even now when I’m on vacation, you don’t want your numbers to drop on social media and you want people to stay engaged on your page. You don’t want the people who like your page to think you’ve totally checked out, so even on vacation, you’re making an effort — you’re working even though you’re not really working.”
Emily Sutton/KFOR: “Time. I’m often sitting at home after my workday [on social media] during severe weather. I’m so crazy that if I hear thunder, I will wake up, and half asleep, go to my phone and tweet whatever storm is going on. Now the demand’s up, because now that we have this resource and you [have] to keep up with the competition and your market and even in your newsroom. You have to be on all the time. There is no break.”
Travis Mayfield/KCPQ: “I think I do miss having the time and the freedom and the space to sort of focus on collecting everything in a story, then really sitting with it and working to figure out the best way to tell it and watching it as it was finished and presented in a finished form. While I do love the transparency of social and revealing the process as it goes along, sometimes that can be taxing to do. [Sometimes you have to] figure out a way to tell a story that maybe isn’t complete yet, but [you] need to try and incorporate the audience and be honest about it on social as it is developing. The ‘report what you know when you know it’ kind of thing is different when you have real-time access to the audience. I do miss the focus of having one platform and only one platform only to tell a story, but I do appreciate all the venues that I’m allowed to tell stories on now today.”
Mike McClain/WAGA: “I don’t think I miss anything about the time before social media. Right now, just in the last three minutes before this call, I was editing a video of some rain during a flash flood warning here. I shot it on my phone while I was at lunch, and I was editing it on my phone to drop it into our system for use on digital, social and television. Thirty-seven years ago, I never expected to be able to create video content and edit it on my phone. It’s exciting, it’s exhilarating. I don’t want to go back to the time where we had a 38-pound camera and a 20-pound recorder. I don’t miss those days at all.”
Dan Carlin/WNYW & WWOR: “Well, with social media, it’s really 24/7. You can’t miss a post. If there is breaking news, again, you always have to be first. You always have to be on the lookout. My life has changed dramatically with the invention of social media as it relates to the television station. We’re working constantly. […] You have to search through news sites, search through entertainment sites. You really have to be ingrained in the culture, in everything from politics to what’s going viral. You really have to be extremely ‘in the know.’ I have the TVs on in my office all day long [and spend a lot of the day] going online and reading things from all kinds of sources and social media pages. And thanks to you, Share Rocket, we’re also constantly looking at what’s trending for the competing stations — not just in our market, but in the rest of the country. […] We’re all multitasking. I love it, but it does take a lot of time to do it right.”
3. How do you think social media could be improved for journalists and local broadcasters?
Travis Mayfield/KCPQ: “I think there’s high levels of vitriol and some of the rhetoric has turned into personal attacks. Unfortunately, journalists are human beings and being attacked on a daily basis can make it feel like you’re [under attack] no matter what quality of journalism you’re doing. You could be doing the highest level of quality and still be attacked in a very personal, ongoing way and criticized. That can make it feel like a little bit of a bunker mentality and that’s unfortunate because I like that I’m a local journalist and I live in my community. I have neighbors and friends here and I feel like part of my job is to be an advocate for my community, and I really like that. But if you feel like you’re in a bunker and you’re under constant attack, that can make it feel like you [don’t belong].
“I don’t know what the solution is. I wish I did. But this is a problem not just in social, it is sort of our culture in general because the loudest voices are the ones that are often the most listened to. Social is a place where that can easily spiral out of control. Anyone can claim to have facts, and from the audience’s perspective, it’s hard to distinguish who is real and who is not and what is factual and what is not. I am competing for the same share of voice as some random liar who says whatever he wants to on social. Then, if his fake quote goes viral, then I have to move into a story debunking it. You just feel like, ‘Wow, that’s my job now?’”
Mike McClain/WAGA: “There are some moderation controls that I would like to see on some of the major platforms — particularly some of the live platforms. It could make things better for the user experience and for the broadcaster, and I’m sure those will come in time. A lot of these platforms are fairly new, so I think that there’s a place for some improvement there.”
4. How do you think social media could be improved by journalists and local broadcasters?
Ryan Leckey/WNEP: “I think the whole goal with journalism and social media is really to connect with people and not be such an anchorman giving the news to the viewers. To be able to connect with them on a platform where they can do a little more Q&A with the people and maybe answer questions that were missed in a story or that you just didn’t have time to air on television. That’s why I’m a huge proponent of Facebook Live and I love [to go live] after our show every day. Sometimes viewers post great questions that you’re like, ‘Oh shoot, we missed that. We ran out of time in the live shots to tackle that,’ and I’m glad somebody asked that because that’s information you could still crank out there.”
Emily Sutton/KFOR: “I think some journalists forget how Facebook came about. Facebook was a way for us to connect to friends. Sometimes media organizations and even the journalists forget that people don’t just want to look at a weather map. They like social media because they get to connect to somebody and they feel like they know them. That’s what draws people back to local television. Some people, I think, forget that personal connection.”
Travis Mayfield/KCPQ: “I would say that we have to be, as journalists, more responsible and treat all the social platforms like we treat the traditional platforms. If I wouldn’t say it on television or on the radio or in a newspaper, then I shouldn’t say it or discuss it or source it or report it on social media. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. We should be held to the same standards[.] If I don’t have both sides of the story, then I need to wait till I have both sides of the story before I report it on all platforms. I think journalists have fallen victim to that on social media.”
5. What impact do you think social media has had on the public discourse in the last decade?
Emily Sutton/KFOR: “Oh, I think generally it’s been a great thing because people can reach out and voice their concerns, and again, accessibility is huge. It’s opened the doors for them to us and for us back to them. They feel a higher connection.”
Travis Mayfield/KCPQ: “I think a lot of people blame social media for the rise in this divide in our cultural consciousness and the viciousness of the debate politically and culturally and socially in this country, but I don’t necessarily blame social media. Honestly, I think that it goes hand-in-hand and it’s helped amplify that divide, but you don’t necessarily think that one caused the other. I think they run in parallel with each other.
“That said, I also think that it has given rise to a lot of really good things. This morning there was a great story in the New York Times, for example, about women and how often men interrupt them. […] The Times was thoughtful about using two events that happened this week [as a jumping off point] and then they went to their audience on Facebook and the crowdsourced some really great anecdotes. They used a well-resourced piece that had research behind it, tied it to current public events, and then used their own audience participation and that made it a really meaningful and impactful story for me.
“I think that social has allowed us to hear voices that we never heard before, in ways that we never heard before and access each other in ways that we never were able to before.”
Mike McClain/WAGA: “I think that social media has allowed a lot of different voices to be heard. It certainly seems, especially in the last few weeks and months that the discussion has gotten louder, can we agree on that? I can’t say whether that’s good or bad, but I certainly think that there’s a lot of different voices. I have friends that are on every side of the political spectrum, so in my news feed I see posts from publishers that are to the left, and posts from publishers that are to the right. Some of my friends publish five, six, seven stories a day. I feel fortunate that I’m able to see all of that content coming from a lot of different perspectives. I think having those different perspectives is important, especially for a journalist, because we hear from a lot of different voices, but I would have to acknowledge that maybe the discussion has gotten louder.”
With more and more Americans getting their news on the go from social media, local broadcasters and publishers are leaning more and more heavily on social networks to get their content out in front of a vast audience. Journalists and broadcasters like those we interviewed have pioneered some innovative uses of the tools networks have made available. The content they produce generates billions of engagements and video views a year and it does not appear the trend is slowing (link).
However, there is one other bigger change on social media local broadcasters and publishers want to see. For their investment of time and effort to be worthwhile, it is critical that content creators are enabled to generate meaningful revenue from their social media posts.
At Share Rocket, we believe that revenue is just around the corner. We plan to launch our MONETIZE platform in 2017 to help towards that goal. With Share Rocket’s tools, local broadcasters and publishers will be able to manage, grow, value, and sell their social inventory. To learn more about how MONETIZE will help accomplish those goals, click here.