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Beat Reporting on the Internet

Social Media Outposts

Social Media Outposts (Photo credit: the tartanpodcast)

Ben LaMothe recently wrote an article for Media Bistro focusing on the idea of reporters creating an online community for the specific beat they cover, or something they report on and have great interest and knowledge in.  In LaMothe’s article, “Should Reporters Create Online Communities for Their Beats?” he states:

“When I think about subject-matter expertise in a newsroom, I think of a beat writer/reporter. In the newsroom, they are the subject-matter experts for the beat that they are assigned to cover.  They have a first-hand knowledge of the topic and the issues at hand and they have relationships with the people who are impacted or make decisions about the topic.  In the world of social media and online communities, they would be ideal community managers.”

LaMothe continues on and explains that setting up such a community online can be relatively inexpensive for a reporter who has the desire to do so.

I happen to think this is a very good idea for journalists in general.  Especially freelance journalists looking to gain attention and buzz to boost their careers.  According to the article it can cost as little as $19 for someone to use software to set such a site up.

This could prove to be a valuable tool for journalists and online reporting.  If professional journalists set up such communities online, link them to social media websites and blogs, this could just be the answer some are looking for to combat the problem of reliable, verified information obtained through the web and social media sites.  In previous posts I have discussed some of the issues associated with citizen journalism and how people are inundated with information.  Much of this information is difficult to sift through, and equally difficult to determine whether it is rumor, fact-based or opinion.  The opinion problem isn’t limited to the web, we see major networks all the time passing off pundits or talking heads as hard news people.

Educating news consumers, and helping the consumer find alternative sites online, offering trustworthy news, is something the web sorely needs, specifically social media.

In my previous post I discuss the notion that social media is taking over traditional journalism, something that I don’t think is necessarily the case yet.  Journalists equipped with a tool such as the one Lamothe mentions in his blog post for Media Bistro, could be the catalyst that allows social media to become not just a major player in the news industry, but launch it directly to the top.  Therefore giving social media a real chance as a serious journalistic platform and becoming widely used and accepted within the industry, more so than the role it has now.

This, I believe is something to be watched, and agreeing with LaMothe, something journalists should seriously consider.


Government Bullies

One of the many Media Bistro blogs, FishbowlNY, published and article by Chris O’Shea on Friday titled, “USA Today Journalists Targets of Online Intimidation”.  The two journalists in the article, Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker claim that fake websites and twitter accounts had been created as a smear campaign to deter them from the investigative journalism work they were doing about the Pentagon and its propaganda contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

O’Shea quotes sections from a Washington Post opinion blog, which stated:

“In an interview Thursday night, Locker said that the campaign was ‘something I’ve never experienced in 30 years’  in this business. The sites launched in the names of the USA Today colleagues, suggests Locker, were insidious samples of infocrafting. They contained links to work that the journalists had done, plus a space for comments on the stories. In that space, says Locker, there were ‘nasty, untrue’ remarks from commenters who didn’t appear to be real people.”

Erik Wemple, the author of the blog post for The Washington Post also stated:

“Looking back, the 52-year-old Locker doesn’t come off traumatized by the Internet tinkering. “It’s been a little bit of a distraction,” he says. But he’s happy that the paper published a story exposing the scheme. “I think it’s good that we called attention to it. . . . I’m glad that the people I work for have my back,” he says.

There is some symmetry to the whole story: Locker and Vanden Brook document in their investigative story that info ops practices in war zones are “dubious.” Just like the ones arrayed against them.”

Apparently the Pentagon denies any involvement in this attack on the journalists.  Interesting, considering the very nature of the Pentagon and it’s practices lend to a school of thought that includes secrecy, subterfuge and manipulation of Peoples and who knows what else you can imagine.  I’m not knocking these things as value-less tools in times of war, but since when is it okay to practice this behavior on citizens of the United States charged with the role of the watchdog?

I’m relieved to read that this attempt of intimidation did not work, and the two journalists continued with their investigative project, but the thought that our government, especially in light of bills like CISPA trying to be passed, should be examined very seriously and we journalists should be on our guard, and realize that the time to protect our freedoms of speech and press as well as privacy need to be at the forefront of our minds.  Now more than ever, I believe journalists must continue to scrutinize the government and fully embrace that watchdog role.  Kudos to USA Today for standing by their journalists.  I hope to see more of this type of support in the future.

You can read the investigative reporting by Locker and Vanden Brook here and here.