Social media tools and journalists: the debate continues

A big theme for journalists at every level these days is to what extent they get involved in social media -how much and in what way they interact with their audience.

Alison at the Liverpool Daily Post wrote a post about all the different ways she collaborates with and broadcasts to the paper’s audience and how she uses social media tools, particularly things like Twitter and online polls, to enrich what she does.

So I posted about this for The Wire, making the point that not everybody is quite so switched on with these things, and was taken to task by fashion blogger Petah Marian. She wrote:

Patrick Smith from the Press Gazette posted a story today about all of the “new” methods journalists were using on the net to gather stories. He and I have been following each other on Twitter for what seems like an age now, so clearly these “new” techniques are not new at all to him. I guess I’m a little surprised that someone who seems to be on the edge of the tech curve is writing about techniques other journalists have been using for ages

She makes a fair point: none of the stuff Alison mentions is that revolutionary. But, I defended myself thus:

Thanks for the link Petah.
You are right – these techniques are not new and I have written about many of them extensively both on our website and in the magzine.
But that’s not to say that all our readers – both young and old – are as familiar with them.
You may or may not be surprised to learn that many, I would even say most journalists at both national and regional level have never used Twitter, never heard of Plurk, think live-blogging is a waste of time and consider broadcasting live from a mobile phone something out of a science fiction film.
I could name a couple of editors who would broadly be in the same category.
So the fact that Alison and a few others are doing all this as part of their normal jobs is, to me at least, quite interesting.
That’s not to say all our readers are Luddites – many of them are far more intelligent and engaged in new media than we are, which is why I link to what they are doing so everyone can see.

Petah then comments again saying she gets my point. But she’s right – these aren’t new tools. Twitter is very much old news to many; things like Qik and Bambuser are old hat to people still waiting for a really reliable, high quality video streaming service (see my article in last month’s Press Gazette, if you subscribe). Delicious is ancient in new media terms and is, I would guess, used by a great many journalists.

But how many people are actually using these things? How many people use the DIY Yahoo Pipes UGC kit made by Robin Hamann?

I don’t think the most web-savvy people in the industry understand quite what a skills lag there is for some journalists. Some have only just, in the past year believe it or not, moved to publishing news online in any serious way and many still refuse to publish their best news online (take this incandescant rage at Northcliffe’s Thanet Gazette from Justin Williams as proof) because they are “protecting their business plan”.

Don’t forget the row an NUJ member started over an ill-judged article in The Journalist headlined Web 2.0 is Rubbish. Roy Greenslade, a former union rep at the Sunday Times (see Roy’s comment below) may or may not have torn up his union card and many others had no time for an organisation that apparently saw the net as a threat to its trade – when in fact it was its saviour.

The union regained some respect with its thoughtful multimedia commission report, but the “web is rubbish” argument got some support and I felt showed the level of trepidation among many in the business about the future.

There is case for saying that the NUJ should be wary of some aspects of convergence and moden newsroom practice. The 65 jobs under threat at Trinity Mirror’s Midlands titles (see also cuts at the Glasgw Herald, Daily Express etc etc) are directly a result of bringing in the ContentWatch CMS. Johnston Press and Newsquest are making similar cuts if not on the same scale.

But these cuts unfortunately seem inevitable and they’re going to keep on coming. And the sooner more people get familiar with those social media tools, start properly engaging with their dwindling audience and play a part in growing the web traffic that will ultimately keep them in jobs in future years, the better.

On a related theme, Martin Belam is in the midst of a series of posts on how newspapers engage with social media. (He’s even selling an e-book about it for £25, the smart man). Belam is talking about website structure, more the domain of web editors and group-wide web strategy people (red-socked twats, as Grey Cardigan would put it) than rank and file journalists. But, worth a look.


3 responses to “Social media tools and journalists: the debate continues

  1. Just for the record, I was not a union rep at the Sunday Times. As managing editor of, firstly, the review section and, latterly, the news section, I don’t think I would have been an appropriate FoC.

  2. patricksmithjournalist

    Sorry Roy, corrected that now.
    Though I do seem to remember seeing pictures of you speaking as a union rep at an ADM in the PG archives from the 80s… am I mistaken?

  3. patricksmithjournalist

    I’ve been in touch with legendary Press Gazette reporter, news editor and deputy editor Jon Slattery who corrects me even further on the Greenslade NUJ point.
    Jon recalls that Roy was a delegate to an ADM as a member of the Fleet Street Branch and not actually a rep at all.
    Mea culpa…

    (Incidentally, Jon is also dipping his toe into blogging waters at

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