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Social media works (when used correctly)

December 1, 2009

Social media landscape

Credit: Fred Cavazza's Flickr page

The Seattle Times drew record traffic to its site yesterday as it covered the manhunt for the suspect in the Lakewood police killings—and the Times is largely crediting Twitter with hauling in so many page views. Throughout the day yesterday, the Times ran a Twitter widget on their home page (no image available), Tweeted from multiple accounts—even Executive Editor David Boardman, previously Tweet-shy, started using his accountopened up a Wave and didn’t miss a beat in posting timely updates to their site.

When it’s used right, social media works. Laugh at it or ignore it if you want, but know that you do so at your own peril.

Writing off social media is like writing off bars: “Ah, this bar thing is just a fad.” Well, going to a particular bar may be a fad, but bars in general are still good places to find information.

Citing social media’s shortcomings is like citing the shortcomings of society and it’s a stupid reason not to participate. “People lie and circulate bad information and then it gets repeated.” Isn’t this why journalism became a profession in the first place? People on the Internet are just like any other source you’ve had as a reporter: some are good, some are bad and some will lie. Your job is to filter all that for your audience. It’s no different on the Web.

I can understand non-participation; people aren’t comfortable putting themselves on the Internet, or they’re not good with computers or whatever. What I don’t get is the hostility—the “this isn’t journalism” crowd that puts everything that’s been invented in the last five years in quotes. You’re mad because, what, some community blog is getting more traffic than you? Then make a better site. Deliver faster updates. Offer a better experience. And if you don’t have the ingenuity to even try any of that, if all you’re willing to do is say, “Our product is what it is and you should come to it instead because it’s institutionalized,” then you lose.

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