How Social Media has become a game changer for journalists

SPJ LA discusses “Ethics in a digital space & Social Media” @ workshop at NBCLA newsroom, Burbank

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How to handle negative comments, outside news sources and fake photos were among the Online hot button issues discussed Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 by members of the Society of Professional Journalists, LA Chapter held at NBCLA‘s newsroom.

Social Media has allowed the world to gain access to the news 24/7, however stations like NBCLA found the advancement of technology has prompted many stations to create a social network policy.

SPJLA members huddle in NBCLA's newsroom to discuss "Ethics" Online.

SPJLA members huddle in NBCLA’s newsroom to discuss “Ethics” Online.

“Often, when you’re dealing with Social Media harassment, people tend to have a gut reaction and a panic response, but that could get you into trouble,” explained Olsen Ebright, Social Media manager, NBCLA. Ebright says just having that Social Media “Playbook handy when someone is getting harassed, or when the user has gone too far, it sets the tone on how to handle everything professional.”

“If there are profanities or personal attacks NBCLA will delete those comments,” he said. “And sometimes we will post a little note that says, ‘Hey guys lets clean it up,’” Ebright said.

Jonathan LLoyd, managing editor, NBCLA illustrates fake photos and other images that create additional screening work in the news business.

Jonathan LLoyd, managing editor, NBCLA illustrates fake photos and other images that create additional screening work in the news business.

Negative comments aren’t the only issues discussed. Megan Garvey, assistant managing editor, reminded SPJ LA members about the identity mistakes made during the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, last December.

Mekahlo Medina, Reporter @NBCLA talks about "Ethics in a Digital Space" at SPJLA media workshop.

Mekahlo Medina, Reporter @NBCLA talks about “Ethics in a Digital Space” at SPJLA media workshop held earlier this month.

“Our policy is to leave the original story up, but correct it with an updated version as soon as possible,” she said.

Smarter cell phones have created another challenge for the media when news tips and fake images sent into the newsroom.

Managing Editor Jonathan Lloyd showed SPJ LA members an example of a flood victim photo that had been touched up in Photoshop. He said it was not an easy catch, except for the level of the flood waters surrounding people trapped didn’t look right. And they didn’t match the shoreline level. The image was not used.

Jonathan Lloyd, NBCLA illustrates images sent to the newsroom, while SPJLA President Alice Walton looks on.

Jonathan Lloyd, NBCLA illustrates images sent to the newsroom, while SPJLA President Alice Walton looks on.

“One of the major challenges we have is vetting information from outside sources,” Lloyd said. “Everyone has a way to supply us with information. Some of the information is very alluring when it comes to the immediacy of it and the spectacle of it, especially if they’re sending us an image for example. So we face the challenges of how do we vet this information by outside sources, which include who may not be trained journalists?” explained Lloyd.

Lloyd also noted that journalists have to deal with these new digital issues the same way handle traditional news gathering sources.“We use the same instincts, the same methods and skills we’ve always relied on as journalists, whether we’re dealing with digital space or something outside of the digital space.”

As for celebrities breaking news or contributing to stories, he said,“Very few stories we produce are generated by celebrities, but if there’s story that impacts our viewers, we try to verify the facts before it airs,” said Managing Editor Jonathan Lloyd, NBCLA.

And NBC LA’s Digital News Anchor Mikahlo Medina agrees that the advancement of technology and Social Media have presented journalists with a whole new set of ethical issues.

“Dealing with Social Media, dealing with digital issues as a one man band, how to aggregate information from users into your story are some of the challenges,” said Mekahlo Medina.

“I think a lot of people want accuracy. No one wants to read a story, and then five minutes later find out it was not right or that police grabbed the wrong suspect,” he said.

Medina used the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut as an example of how the suspect’s brother was first arrested and how images of his arrest went viral Online and then later the story was corrected.

“I think it’s a work in progress and as journalists dive into Social Media and the digital space, they’re realizing that they have to take extra steps in confirming and going forward with different sources or different stories they’re reporting on,” Medina said.“I think especially with conglomeration of media entities you have a conflict of interest in so many cases and one of the guiding principles need to be full disclosure,” said Royal Oaks, an attorney who represents Radio and TV Journalists in SoCal (RTNA) over the last two decades. He was also attending the workshop at NBCLA.

“There’s an old saying that, ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant.’ You want to be transparent, of which newspapers do this pretty well when they make some acknowledgement that, some corporate parent owns them and they’re involved in the substance of the story,” Oaks said. “Broadcasters don’t put out quite as much disclosure and they need to focus more on that issue.”

George McQuade III  is national writer on Digital PR trends, business, smart grid technology, corporate communications, reputation management, SEO and entertainment publicity. He welcomes your comments and story ideas @ Thx for sharing.




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