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Want to Be a Social Journalist? How to Get Started

August 29th, 2012. Filed under Social Good

Jim Long and Andy CarvinBefore the internet, if you were part of a major news event, you relied upon the big media outlets to get the story out. That meant giving up ownership of your own narrative. Would they do justice to explaining your perspective? Would they even take notice in the first place?

The advent of social media has changed all that. The power is now in the hands of the people. We all have the opportunity to broadcast our own version of events and share it with others.

Want to use that opportunity to make a difference for a cause that matters to you? Here’s a guide on how to get started as a social journalist.

Create a social networking profile. This is, of course, an obvious first step. You can’t broadcast anything if you don’t have somewhere to share it. In general, most people turn to Twitter for social journalism. It has a reputation for being quick to report on most major events going on, plus it’s easier for people to find and follow you.

Start a blog. Posting updates with 144 characters won’t be enough for most stories, so you need somewhere to direct people to get the whole scoop: your blog. Using a content management system such as WordPress means that you don’t need to have any technical knowledge to update it once it’s up and running.

Choose your area of expertise. Most social journalists don’t have the resources to travel the globe or conduct extensive research, so it’s pretty hard to cover a wide variety of subjects. Instead become the premiere source of information for your geographical area or subject matter.

Get involved. You can’t report on anything if you don’t know what’s going on. If you want to be a source for information on your city, go to city council meetings and develop relationships with people in local politics. Want to cover a certain social issue? Start volunteering, attend rallies, and learn everything you can about both sides of the story.

Be there. Many people rely on social journalists for real-time reporting on the issues that matter most to them, and if you want to be on the forefront and ensure accuracy, that means showing up where the action is.

Be reliable. In order to build a reputation as a news source, you need to ensure that you are sharing factual information. Verify your sources before reporting. Check and then double-check. If you make an error, apologize and correct it as quickly as possible. People should know that when they get information from you, they get the facts.

Take a side. Traditional journalism was about providing a detached view of what’s going on, but social journalism isn’t afraid to take a stance. That doesn’t mean you should skew the facts or leave out part of the story. (See the previous tip about why that’s a bad idea!) But it does mean that you can use your social journalism to help make a difference for the things that matter most to you, and you’ll also be more likely to gain an audience if you do.

Be critical. Even though you have a strong opinion on the matter, you should practice being your own harshest critic. Are you considering all sides of the story? Do you have all the facts? And listen up when your followers offer you a piece of criticism; it can help to make you a stronger social journalist.

Participate in the conversation. Social media is, well, social! If you simply broadcast information out but never react to the information coming into you in the form of responses and comments, you’ll quickly become irrelevant. Become part of the online community.

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