Social media anxieties -- and ways to get over them

Published on
May 30, 2009

According to a Pew Internet and American Life social networking survey, 35% of online adults had profiles on social networking sites in 2008, compared to 8% in 2005. Online social networking is still a "phenomenon of the young" for how ubiquitous Facebook and MySpace is among 18 to 24 year-olds, but 35% of adults overall have profiles on networking sites. African-American and Hispanic adults are more likely to have profiles than whites adults.

For journalists, social networking can provide great reporting opportunities as well as serious anxieties about having too much personal information on the web

Dale Steinke, the award-winning interactive news and operations manager for KING 5 TV and NorthWest Cable News in Seattle, cautions that "you have to consider that whatever you do in these environments will be linked to your professional life. You don't want to be saying things or doing things that will hurt your credibility."

The same rules apply online as in other public forums. To maintain credibility, reporters need to be careful what they say and post online. Privacy settings might make you feel good but they are not necessarily a foolproof way to protect information online. "I think the key thing is to not do things that are professionally damaging," Steinke advises.

The biggest networking phenomenon of the moment is Twitter, the 140-character microblogging site that provides real-time information. With close to 2 billion tweets to date, information in real time becomes almost limitless. But how can journalists use all this information? Steinke and several fellows endorse TweetDeck for monitoring messages from your contacts on Twitter and Facebook in a more efficient way than simply scrolling through all your messages on the Twitter main site. Twitter also has a search function built in. Steinke also says microblogging is a way to both distribute spot news and drive traffic back to your main site. It's still telling the news, just one sentence at a time.

"It's not just more work, it's totally different work," says California Broadcast Fellow Ben Temchine of KALW 91.7 in San Francisco. "Part of the work is translating what you're doing in a different medium. But the good thing is that nobody know what they're doing yet."

In his own newsroom, Steinke says the use of social networks is organically growing in his newsroom. Reporters often enjoy the interaction and some reporters do not need a huge push to engage with social media. A courtroom reporter, for example, tweeted proceedings in real time -- a very exciting prospect for journalists at wires who want to beat competitors to stories by seconds, and a frightening prospects for reporters who are already daunted by a growing 24-hour news cycle.