Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Social media on the rise, but does anyone know how to use it?

This report on Mashable Monday says that social media use in 2010 jumped 20 percent. My Simpson College colleague and department chair Brian Steffen blogged over the weekend about how we can turn Twitter into a journalism tool. Meanwhile, tools such as this blog saw a decline in use in 2010, the same Mashable story reported. What does this mean? But an even bigger question is, do we even know what we are doing on here?

The Mashable report indicates that people are moving away from delayed communication online (websites, blogs and the like) and more toward real-time communication, which sites like Twitter, Facebook and foursquare provide. However, do we really understand -- both as journalists and consumers of news -- how to use these sites as journalism tools? For that matter, do we even understand how to the use the sites themselves, as tools for journalism or something else notwithstanding? One student asked me today why bother learning them at all.

As this semester started, Steffen and I both noticed that more of our students were already on Twitter than in prior semesters. However, it's not yet a majority of students, and I still had to show a few students at the start of this semester not just how Twitter worked, but how to set up an account. While we like to think these tools come to our students intuitively because they grew up in a "digital world," the fact of the matter is many of them do not understand it.

As Steffen pointed out, he, I and our peers came of age before these tools existed. As Steffen said in his blog post over the weekend, "I’ve had to pick up a lot of tools and techniques on the fly during my years of teaching, but I don’t think that I’ve ever — until now — had to teach a tool that was evolving right before our eyes." And Twitter isn't the only tool on that list.

My students in my Journalism 2.0 class are already stressing over the requirement that they create a blog and update it regularly. They must also maintain and frequently update a Twitter account related to multimedia journalism. How often is regularly, they ask. I tell them ideally, daily, but I'll accept weekly. They stress they may not have the time to do it weekly. I feel their pain. I started this semester with the goal of blogging at least once a week, and I'm finding it more and more difficult to set aside time to do it. In fact, I started writing this blog post Monday morning. It's now Tuesday afternoon, and I'm still not finished with it. However, if I am going to be effective in teaching these new media tools, I must find the time myself to immerse myself in them -- and keep them updated (as well as myself updated) to remain relevant in the classroom.

But, the question remains, how do we teach our students to use these tools appropriately. Here's a tweet from earlier today from one of my students: "sajdhsjdadjjsa'ldkjsadh! thats the best way to express how mad i am for having to be up and not having class til 2!" Not only is it irrelevant, it's grammatically abhorrent (a rant I'll save for another post). When that student starts looking for a job or an internship, and a potential employer searches the Web for information about that student, will that tweet hurt him? Maybe. Maybe not. But if all other things are equal, that single tweet might be the tiebreaker in the job search. And if all of his tweets read like that, he may not even get to the interview stage.

Beyond that, how do we teach them to blog, Facebook, use LinkedIn, foursquare and the like? And which of these tools will be dead and buried when some of these freshmen graduate in four years. Who remembers Google Wave?

Teaching our students how to use the tools that are in vogue now may not be as important as teaching them how to recognize which tools are emerging -- even if they are just going to be a flash in the pan -- and make them relevant to their careers as quickly as they can. And, once that tool falls out of favor, to recognize that as well and move along to the next tool. Early numbers say this "traditional" blog and others like it are falling out of favor, while Twitter, Facebook and other microblogging tools are on the rise. It's probably only a few short years before microblogging fades away for the latest, newest form of instant communication. Technology and time will tell.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Another example of why copy editors, indeed, are necessary...

Charles Apple has a great post on his American Copy Editors Society blog today regarding a mistake in today's issue of the Iowa State Daily. It's a small typo, but it has BIG consequences. As in, the difference between sexual consent and sexual assault.

You can read what Charles wrote here, because it says it so well. But, for those to lazy to click through, here it is:

The front page story
The jump page
The typo from the jump....

If that is accurate, then there are a lot of people who are going to be seeking to have convictions overturned....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New semester, new year, new goals

With the start of the new year and a new semester, I'm also starting with a new goal: Blog at least once a week. If I can tweet several times a day, I'm pretty sure I can find the time to blog at least once a week. What about? Well, my passions, of course: journalism, technology and, of course, good grammar.

As a journalism educator, it's my job to stay on top of all three of these topics. My students must become expert communicators. To do so, they must first of all understand the basics and importance of grammatically correct speech. I remain amazed at how many of them can't string together a simple subject-verb agreement. I need to drill it into their heads the best job they can ever hope to have includes repeating the phrase "Would you like fries with that?" if they can't master simple grammar. Every human resources and corporate executive I've ever known repeatedly tells me the first screening process for applicants is whether or not the cover letter and resume are perfect. One grammar mistake usually relegates said applicant to the trash heap.

Next up is the technology component of communication. One of the Twitter feeds I maintain is @comminternships. I use that Twitter feed to post internships in the field of communication, more and more of which require students to have social media and communication technology skills that didn't even exist 10 or even five years ago. It's becoming more and more urgent for students to recognize the need for them not just to know how to use these technologies, but to actually use them, daily, and to use them professionally, not as a way to let their friends know where the nearest drink specials are. They need to realize their potential employers are going to search for them on Google, and follow them on Twitter, and friend them on Facebook, and anything they find that brings their character into question will hinder their ability to get a job. It's not just a goal to teach them to use the tools; I have to impart the importance of using them responsibly.

And last, but not least, there's the journalism component. Just having a blog and posting whatever you think is news does not make you a journalist. You need to be able to critically evaluate that information. You need to ensure that the information you share is relevant, ethical, fair and accurate. Speaking of accuracy, how many supposedly reputable media organizations on Saturday falsely tweeted the Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) had died, when in fact she had not? What kind of journalism is that? Is it journalism at all? I was taught to get it right, not get it first. But today's multimedia journalism world is far more focused on getting it first instead. That's not journalism. That's gossip. My Twitter friend Mallary Tenore, a journalist who covers the news for The Poynter Institute's website, has a great column just about that very tragedy. My friend Joseph Blake may have said it best in this tweet on Saturday: "Dear CNN: If you have to use the words 'perhaps', 'maybe', 'not sure', or 'we think' then you should just shut up before you open your mouth." It may be time for journalists to step back from the instant communication and make certain what is being reported is right before it's reported.

One thing that comes to mind regarding reporting the death of celebrities is that news organizations and public officials seem to have a double-standard. Typically, when a non-celebrity dies, the response from officials and media is "the identity of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of the next-of-kin." Why isn't that courtesy applied to celebrities. Did Rep. Giffords husband deserve that kind of trauma, just because the media wanted to get it first? Even if she had died, didn't he deserve the dignity of finding that information out privately, and not publicly? We need to get back to that, and if you're not trained to do it, you won't ever do it.

So, that's my opening rant for 2011. We'll see what the rest of the semester, and year, brings.