WhatsAppening: How journalists are using social media sites.

I think it can be agreed that social media is of great, perhaps even dangerous power. We know of an event often seconds after its occurrence. We also know what our Dad’s best-friend’s babysitter had for dinner. But the point is – news travels fast.

And who likes fast travelling news more than journalists?

In recent years journalists have had to succumb to Twitter character limits and competing for the most Facebook shares. But even more recently, many have found a new audience from Instagram.

Instagram, if it were a country, would be the fourth biggest in the world. Now that would be one big audience to miss out on. However many journalists have been apprehensive because, as can be seen from the icon, Instagram’s primary purpose is to post photos.

The Guardian however, for example, are using this to their advantage. Their account features exciting and unusual photos with short captions to tell followers the very basics of unusual, intriguing and often international news stories. This therefore reaches an audience of those who are more likely to be stimulated by a photo than a headline. And with 463 thousand followers, you could say they must be doing something right.

Neil Shea and Jeff Sharlet have also used Instagram to their advantage but in slightly different ways. Neil Shea (@NeilShea13) is a writer for National Geographic but also writes short stories on Instagram. Many of his photos show of his travels around the globe and are accompanied by stories – which are longer than the standard Instagram caption -but paint a captivating picture of his experiences. Somehow he finds the perfect balance between description and brevity. Jeff Sharlet’s posts (@JeffSharlet) are rather similar yet they focus more on profiles and individual stories that you would rarely find making the papers. His captions are also long, which raises the question: do people read them to the end? But I guess the same can be said for a story in a newspaper. And I personally find his style of writing easy to get lost in.

Though not only is Instagram used for sharing, it is also used for finding stories. Many journalists use sites like this to find photos or short video clips of dramatic events. They may also look on Instagram to find the talent of budding photographers and journalists. Some also use the site Contibly to collate images posted by the public into a collage that can be used for a story. In other words, as the website puts it, it ‘transform[s] your audience into contributors’.

WhatsApp is another site that has a user base just too large to ignore with 1 in 7 people having the messaging app. With WhatsApp being no more than a private messaging tool, it does not hold the same potential as sites such as Twitter and Instagram, but it certainly has its uses.

For example, BuzzFeed writer Rossalyn Warren, used the app to connect with a Syrian Refugee during his journey across oceans. After finding her source on a Facebook group and exchanging numbers, the Turkish young man would send updates and photos of his struggles and his adventures and they would converse often.

But my main question here is: why Whatsapp? Could it not be argued that the conversation could have just continued on Facebook messenger where they met? Does that not do near enough the exact same thing? I suppose either way, this is a new way to find sources that budding journalists should bear in mind. It certainly offers a more insightful and personal slant that I reckon readers are looking for.

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One Response to WhatsAppening: How journalists are using social media sites.

  1. lizhannaford says:

    This is well-researched and really interesting, Naomi. Thanks for your work on this. Good use of hyperlinks too although always make sure they take the reader to the page with the relevant information and not just to a Home page (e.g. your first hyperlink to Instagram stats). You might also like to look at how the BBC used WhatsApp during the Indian elections two years ago. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/collegeofjournalism/entries/b2b67bf8-13ce-3acb-9a29-c9680cc77c9e
    Remember to write something in your About page. It doesn’t matter if you change it later but it’s good to have something other than the generic text there!


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