(The following is a reflection on the work completed within the first semester of my journalism course, with a focus on online presence & social media.)
Looking back on my first semester of university, the work which I looked most forward to doing was definitely our Monday night online sessions. Prior to starting the course, I expected that we may have needed to solely create a blog for our own journalistic purposes, for uploading news work and so forth. Yet I certainly could never have predicted the relative enormity of the online presence which we needed to create and maintain, in terms of the blog, alongside Twitter and G+.
I loved the exercise as a whole, and even now I find myself regularly checking my Twitter feed and using it as normal, rather than just for an assignment – alongside checking Blackboard for marks so that I can keep uploading work to my blog. I didn’t use G+ as much as I probably should/could have, yet I did find myself checking it often to see the stories and comments people had posted. Yet, with all the positives of this online presence, it did – and does – have its pitfalls.
I found myself engaging with Twitter a lot, even to the extent of putting #UJ16 within my bio. I missed one Monday night session – yet I was still able to keep up with what was going on, to an extent, by checking my phone and seeing all of constant the #UJ16 updates. However, I found that this reportage of events from Four Corners/Media Watch/Q&A to be a bit redundant when I was online and watching at the same time. As an example – countless times I saw at least three people, sometimes including myself, reporting the same quote or statistic from a Four Corners story. That was bound to happen, though, so it wasn’t really a major pitfall other than the fact that it was a bit annoying.
Clearly – I write ‘clearly’ because I’m quite sure everyone else feels this way – it was very difficult to juggle the three aspects of the Monday night sessions. Finding a successful balance between keeping up with Twitter – in terms of both reading and posting tweets – and posting/reading posts on G+, alongside paying attention to what was actually happening on the TV, was near impossible.
Nevertheless, I found the exercise to be quite interesting, and overall, fun. I loved getting on Twitter every week and putting myself out there – I even got retweeted by Four Corners once which was quite exciting – and I loved the #UJ16 community that we had going on. It was so accessible and so easy to get onto and involved with – yet, I guess this made it easy for opinion to seep through. While objectivity is near impossible to achieve – some argue that it is, in fact, impossible – we as journalists should always strive for it. It’s very hard to do this on Twitter though – I found this especially within our community – as hard reporting with nothing else can make the exercise boring. Opinion – whether explicit or implicit – was present pretty much every week from us, myself included. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s just something that we need to be wary of – especially on Twitter.
In terms of G+, I barely engaged with it at all. This was, primarily, because I was too busy trying to juggle Twitter with whatever program was on at the time. I did have G+ open in another tab pretty much every week, looking at it every now and then, but some weeks I would only look at it for the roll call. I did post a couple of links within the community, but they were largely to do with more general news – rather than the focus of the Monday programming. While I do see the benefit of the G+ community overall, as the intent of it was to provide us with a greater understanding of/different angles on topics being discussed on the three programs, it was just too difficult to read articles posted in the community without missing out on whatever was happening on the TV.
That said, I did find the community very useful outside of the Monday night scenario – sometimes after Q&A I would find myself reading articles posted in the community, and I’d even do this at other times throughout the week – I checked the community every now and then. Not nearly as much as Twitter though. However, I feel as though it was useful to have all of those different online avenues there for us – while it was quite hectic at times, and while it was difficult to keep up, it was a good insight into the nature of news media as a whole.
Yet amidst the hectic nature of news media, ensuring that I get a decent balance and that I report fairly and accurately are aspects of reporting that I will need to grapple with, as I continue my studies and work as a journalist. I’ve learnt that fair and unbiased reporting are central to retaining credibility within the industry. Thus, overstepping the boundary – so to speak – in terms of anything from allowing bias to seep in to pushing too hard for interviews, is something that I will need to be very mindful of.
A good, real-life example of this – albeit, extreme – that I encountered during this first semester would have to be 60 Minutes in Lebanon. A phrase that I heard thrown around quite a bit when this story was at its peak was something along the lines of how “journalists should present the news, not be the news”, and in this instance, the 60 Minutes team overstepped the mark – making themselves the news, in the midst of their botched plan. I feel as though this sentiment rings true for all journalists – yes, while we should be there to hold the powerful to account, give a voice to the less dominant within society, and ‘shine the light in dark places’ so to speak, we must constantly ensure that we do not make ourselves the key player in the story – just the reporter.
This is something that I’m sure we will need to grapple with in this age of immediacy – what with instant news on Twitter and the like making it easy for objectivity, accuracy, and fairness to be compromised, in the search for the fastest updates. Yet I look forward to the online future of journalism, with all of its benefits and pitfalls.