A Never-Ending Trend?

Last week at our PRSSA meeting, one of the officers asked the same question I’ve heard more than any other in the past few months: when are we going to be done hearing about social media?

My response – never.

Social media, and citizen journalism, have exploded into our culture and have become so intricately linked to professional journalism that neither can survive on its own anymore. In the recent post from journalism blogger David Cohn here, compares professional and citizen journalism to major league baseball and all of the little leagues that support it. If you take away one, the other cannot replace it, and vice versa.

In today’s journalism world, professional and citizen journalism have begun to work together and it’s become very rare to see one without the other. The New York Times and CNN both follow me on Twitter. Do they care that I started my internship last week (recent Tweet)? No. Do they care if I’m on a crashing plane and tweet about what’s going on? Yes.

Citizen journalists provide the base of the news nowadays and leave it up to the professional journalists to fill in the blanks and make a story credible. They work together building a story: a tweet leads to a story, that story leads to a blog post in response, that blog posts sends people back to the story, and so on.

Instead of focusing on when one form of journalism will finally outweigh the other, people should focus on how to get the best of both worlds. The important part is knowing when to trust something as actual news and when to take it as someone’s opinion or perception.

Going into public relations, it’s important to know the different between these two functions and how to properly use each one in tandem with the other. Twitter has become a perfect outlet for news story pitches, but you still need professional journalists to back the claims and fill in the story’s missing details.

This new partnership between professional and citizen journalism has brought with it some tricky ethical implications and have led some organizations to come up with social media guidelines for their employees to follow. For example, the Wall Street Journal now requires that reporters consult their editors before ‘friending’ reporting contacts that may need to remain confidential.

Understanding these guidelines is another important factor of social media for budding professionals since combining the professional and citizen journalism in the wrong way could potentially cost you your job, or worse, your reputation.

In the end, it all comes down to knowing how to combine the two properly to get the best story for your audience. Professional and citizen journalism have become Siamese twins sharing vital organs: if you try and separate them, neither one will survive.

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