Every single day the technology and progress in general add more discussion to the concept of journalism. It becomes especially relevant when the line between fact and opinion, information and entertainment, amateur and professional becomes increasingly unclear. In terms of democracy and the volume of information, journalistic practice has never been richer than now. As the research by Kristen Purcell and Lee Rainie suggests, the news consumer of today is participative, can customize the channels and types of information and shows extreme mobility due to the use of gadgets and devices (2010).
The World Wide Web has altered the traditional understanding of journalism and added a lot of new elements, while the others were removed over time. There is so much information on the Internet today that there is no wonder users are frequently disoriented and do not know where to start. The task of the journalist is to get noticed, to be useful and eventually followed on a permanent basis. Journalistic pieces are supposed to stand out from the crowd of other works by conveying values to the reader. Moreover, as journalism is not limited to written content, users also need a feed of visual information to support the text that is frequently perceived as more boring. Therefore, content today is perceived as a gift that brings value to the readers. Surely, journalists can attempt to use paid content but there is something exceptional about the word “free” that encourages people.
Frequently there is a business behind media journalism, and its task is to turn readers into customers. Free and valuable nature of the presented content without a focus on the products or services leads to recognition of the journalist as an expert in the field, builds trust and loyalty among customers (Bradshaw 2008). That is why journalists need to be careful, objective and empathetic with the readers – if there is too much pressure and advertising, the readers will get disgusted and never turn to a blog or a website again.
With the outburst of the Internet the role of journalism has changed significantly. Journalism has become an essential part of the notion of media. Information is still valued but it should be delivered with the help of technology. Therefore, journalism nowadays implies a strong foundation of technical knowledge but it also offers several advantages (Levy & Nielsen 2004):
- Larger scale of target audience. No matter where one is located, writing work can be exposed to a much larger amount of people in any countries. The only condition is Internet access.
- Lower expenses on production. Setting up a permanent website or blog proves to be a cheaper way of regular publishing than a traditional magazine or newspaper;
- Better accessibility to readers. Modern search engines allow readers to find valuable pieces of content by themselves using keywords and search requests.
- Better opportunities for advertising. The technologies offered by search engines (Google, Bing, etc) and social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, etc.) allow targeted and native advertising that does not disrupt the experience of the reader and fits perfectly into the topics of what is searched or written. It means that the readers feel considerably less irritation with the pressing advertisements and are less likely to close the window.
- Better opportunities for the integration of the visual. Videos, infographics, pictures, GIFs and Vinettes would not be in high demand if nobody could make them. The technology provided journalists with their tools, and the creative part is their responsibility.
- Convenient instruments to track the activity of readers – their country of origin, interests, age, pains, etc. One can also check one’s website traffic with the help of Alexa Rank.
In spite of the benefits that new literacies and the emerging media channels have provided, modern journalists should consider the following rules to create content that will become viral and popular:
- Visual component. A popular saying says: a picture is worth a thousand words. It is proved by Facebook posts – pictures and photo albums attract the majority of users’ likes and shares. One should not focus on videos only – there are opportunities to use SlideShare, videos, GIFs (animated pictures that were revived due to Tumblr interface) and so-called Vinnettes that are eight-second videos offered by Vine. These possibilities are endless, and if a journalist wants to achieve his or her goal and produce viral content, he or she needs to use as many channels of information as possible to meet any demands in terms of technology.
- Call to action. A blog post may encourage people to connect with the host through social networks, download a new e-book, leave comments, buy books on Amazon, attend an event or participate in a survey. When bloggers tell people what to do, they are more likely to react in a way that is more beneficial for the intentions of the former.
- Experts, industry leaders and regular people. Journalism is all about people – the more participants are mentioned in a writing piece, the more popularity it will receive (especially in terms of social sharing). While experts and leaders can provide content for a blog themselves, regular people should be involved in contests and social surveys conducted on a website. One should remember that each participant should have an involvement motivation. Experts are usually interested in promotion, and regular survey participant would like to get the link to results.
Blogging in Journalism
Blogging as an essential part of modern journalism deserves special attention. If one takes a look at WordPress (the most popular platform for creating blogs) one will see that there are approximately 39.3 million new blog posts written every day. Those posts are read by 395 million people, and only a small part of them is noticed online and leads to social sharing.
Journalists are always preoccupied with making their blog posts look and sound captivating. How can one make them noticed? I have come up with these guidelines through my own experience. The list is divided into two parts.
Journalists of today should take the SEO aspect into consideration and work hard on titles, introducing links both to their older posts and credible blogs outside their website, be prudent comments’ moderators and make sure URLs for pictures and links are optimized. Undoubtedly, journalists should not hesitate to promote their blog posts through all relevant social media channels.
As for the content part, journalists should not surrender if the first 3 months were not very successful – it is recommended to wait until website traffic shows its potential for the purpose of the website or blog (Cunningham 2010). At the very beginning it is not reasonable to create too much content – journalists should rather work on connections and expand their audience daily. Presenting one’s true self both in textual and visual parts of the content is very important: for example, pictures of models are more likely to be forgotten by the reader.
Regular journalistic content for a website includes the following:
- Product/service/company reviews. One should monitor the percentage of pressure and advertising on those but if one does it for an outside company or service with enough objectivity, it is a great way to improve one’s image for the customers.
- Success stories or case studies. They are usually structured in the following way: a journalist starts with the difficulties that the customer or the investigated organization suffered, then switches to the offered solution, and afterwards provides the results that the solution brought and the ways it resolved the problems of the research subject.
- How-to articles and blog posts with detailed tutorials. A blogger should answer the readers’ queries and give solutions to their problems in a simple but detailed plan of action. Lists with bullet points are always better, especially if it is a step-by-step plan.
- Content monitoring. Journalists do not have to create all of their content by themselves – they can also select the best articles in the current year or month and analyze them in a new blog post. It is more valuable for the readers because it simplifies their efforts on independent searching for something worth attention.
Also, there are so-called “nuclear” types of content:
- Micro-events. A blogger should attract other experts from the field and establish live streaming to make people enter a website at a particular time. Is should also be ensured that the content introduced is valuable and relevant.
- Industry surveys. Journalists should try to answer the readers’ pains with the information they retrieve through a survey. It usually involves a relevant group of users who answer the right questions, so the survey form should be elaborated.
- Contest. Successful bloggers provide an expert opinion of the authoritative judges in the field and classify the participants of the contests by various nominations. The readers should be let vote as well; it will lead to a growing amount of social shares, traffic and media attention. The results are concluded on a high-quality white paper – it is an authoritative guide or report that helps readers understand the issues and the trends of an industry and make proper decisions.
Twitter and Facebook in Journalism
The specifics of Twitter include a short format (140 symbols maximum), hash tags for topics (#topic), the ability to mention other users with @-tags, the ability to track trending topics and people by regions. Therefore, Twitter is intended to express thoughts, slogans, and ideas and meant to connect with other Twitter users and find those who are interested in the same topic. Twitter is a great way to share links to other websites too.
Twitter also possesses unique characteristics. It is a great way to stay tuned to the content trended among one’s contacts, find new people with similar interests or professions, and promote one’s personal or company blog.
If a blogger is a beginner, he or she really wants to spend time where his or her readers do. Thus, Facebook is definitely one of the places to be, and this is what 42% of the journalists agree with. Though originally it was a tool for personal interaction, bloggers and media representatives also got under the spell of Facebook. However, there needs to be a unique Facebook strategy that will attract real readers to one’s blog or online magazine. The specifics of Facebook are the variety of content that may be shared on the wall along with the target audience. In order to be successful on Facebook, the journalist needs to implement the following changes into his practice:
- Set up a Fan Page – that is where the magic starts.
- Select a profile type (a business person, for example), a logotype, a small description, an easy URL and a cover image. The latter should not include any sales proposals; the most successful examples include engaging or cute pictures reflecting one’s values.
- Try out the Administrator’s power by checking statistics daily, editing materials and answering direct messages through Administrator’s panel.
- Check different Administrator roles available – Manager, Content Creator, Moderator, Insights Analyst and Advertiser.
- Publish the first post. The best size is 100-250 characters. As for visuals, it is better to try photo albums, individual pictures and videos.
- Journalists should not hesitate to invite friends as they start. The e-mail contacts are the initial point – Facebook has a special option for it.
- Create first ads on Facebook. These are paid but very effective – they can help get more Likes, promote a particular post and choose CPM or CPC method.
- Keep your target audience in mind. Facebook will show its statistics on how many people are the potential customers. The fact that more than 90% of adult Americans are registered on Facebook is encouraging.
- Test different advertisements and choose the ones attracting more customers. Control the advertisements’ efficiency through Facebook Ads Manager.
- Publish materials that are of high quality, relevance and frequency. Post offers too – those are frequently shared even by those who are not very interested. A journalist should be friendly and not hesitate to ask questions or share opinions.
- Interact with real people and keep an eye on the private messages.
- Offer discounts for those who like the company’s page. Introduce fun events.
- Try sponsored stories to make one’s posts visible to a much wider audience.
- Join webinars and live events by Facebook specialists to learn more of its magic.
- Become a deep diver in the sea of Facebook by using advanced and customized help from Facebook professionals. Try Start to Success Program, Facebook Studio, Facebook Marketing Page or Facebook Developer Resources.
- Facebook Insights is an integrated tool that enables Administrators to check the analytics and content attraction. One should definitely try it out.
- Do not forget to integrate Facebook Notes, Blog RSS Reader, the Static FBML, Twitter, Flash Player, Extended Info and Posted Items Pro on the Facebook page. These applications are a must, while one can also add something unique to reveal one’s journalistic personality.
Journalists also use Facebook Groups to popularize whatever they are writing about. The following guidelines also apply to the changes in today’s journalistic practice:
- Creating a group using a special button on the left side of Facebook Home page. If one already has groups, the button will be called “More”. One should select his/her name, users one would like to invite, and preferred privacy settings.
- Setting group’s description, a group e-mail address, choosing a cover picture and managing the members. Unlike Fan Pages, Groups are usually independent and do not stress a certain product or service. It is just a great way for a journalist to unite his or her target group and interact with them to understand their pains.
- Selecting other administrators of the group to help in adding content or answering the members’ messages.
- Using Facebook polls to learn about the preferences of group members for certain products, services or experiences.
- Pinning the most interesting posts on the top of the group using the Administrator panel. Remembering not only to focus on the content but also on helping other members to be heard or seen.
- Monitoring the comments and discussions for abusive language, racism or any other suspicious messages, as well as should be done in one’s company’s blog. Facebook has Moderation Blocklist for the words that are undesirable to appear, and Profanity Blocklist can be set as None, Medium or Strong.
- Using Group Photos, Group Messages, Documents and Group Events to engage new members into the group. A good Facebook group frequently goes offline. It means that one needs to think about the offline event offers to the members which are a great way to build relationship and trust.
- If one chooses privacy settings for the group, one might need to confirm each entering. Thus, it is essential not to forget to check that on a regular basis.
- Dropbox files can also be shared with the members but journalists should be careful and learn what exact files will be visible to them to avoid information loss.
- When making a real event for the Facebook group, one should not forget to include Event Tagging in order for other event attendants to see the shared photos, videos and comments to them.
- Scheduling posts in the Group. Currently it is available for photos, links, videos and status updates. One will still need to post photo albums, questions, milestones, offers and events manually.
- Facebook Groups have a unique feature – one can check the amount of people who viewed a particular publication.
- Remembering to be nice and polite in order to encourage, inspire and entertain readers.
There are several ways to make the content viral with the help of Facebook:
- Being genuine in interactions with readers. Regular journalists often seek to build closer connections with the readers than those of well-known gurus of journalism. A Facebook Page does not function by itself like a windup toy – the journalist is the one who gives life to it. Even windup toys fall restrained at some point.
- Facebook activities should offer the readers neither too much nor too little. The participants want to talk, and journalists should be a good company. Thus, it is always great to talk on relevant and exciting topics.
- The content needs to be personal and diverse. It is great when tweets are republished from other sources but it is frequently very annoying for the readers as it has no personal touch to it. Facebook magic is not about automation – it is about life and motion.
- Showing one’s true self at times: Groups and Fan Pages are often faceless and lack people’s trust. The Post as Yourself option is available each time one is submitting something.
- Journalists should take their time to study the existing features of Facebook and not to forget about constantly appearing updates to its functionality. In other words, one has to stay tuned not to be left behind.
- Avoiding violation of Facebook terms. The rules of the game need to be followed for one to get accepted. That is why one’s personal FB page should not be used as a Fan Page. Journalists should be careful while running contests or tagging people on the photos without their permission.
- Using varied content for Fans and non-Fans.
- If the journalist is already popular, he or she can use a unique Facebook domain to be found easier.
Other social networks that serve as platforms for journalistic pieces are:
- Google+. Journalists can share posts with people who have them in their circles. There is also an opportunity to track whatever other people are adding. It is important to connect one’s Google+ to the writer’s account on a blog or a website because it leads to higher Google Ranking, displays one’s name and picture next to the post and makes it easier for readers to interact.
- Pinterest. It offers pictures and videos of all kinds with comments below. The major audience of this social network is female.
- Tumblr. It is another journalistic platform with rich graphics but it also offers large pieces of texts to be involved. The major target audience is young people around 20.
- Other essential elements of media journalism are:
- Guest posts. If people feel that their own blog is overlooked by the audience and there is no traffic, they should simply connect with a popular website offering complimentary products that may be of interest for the target audience. Producing high-quality articles, getting published on outside resources will make the traffic grow dramatically.
- Blog directories. These are websites that organize the flow of information basing on the topics, dates, authors and many other parameters. Some of those directories are free for the publishers, so one should not overlook the opportunity to attract even more people to the blog.
- Participating in trending and fun events. The brightest example would be Gangnam Style or Harlem Shake video that was produced by many media people just to have fun and attract attention.
One of the problems that come to the foreground is the feeling of overwhelming that the information users acquire due to the number of active channels they use both for work and personal needs (Ingram 2012). The question of trust and attention granting puzzles most users. The distinguishing features of quality content are the aims of the majority of journalists because they correspond to the needs of the reader (Higgins 2010). If a few years ago websites and blogs could cheat on the search engines and users, a fair amount of modern readers are educated persons who are easily disgusted by advertisements, low quality and lack of practical use.
The growing need for distinctions reflects on the different demands that various customer groups have for the information. Moreover, the current generation of information consumers actually spends more time separating fact from fiction. Younger people (from 8 to 18) spend more than seven hours a week on media, and Google is one of the primary instruments to look for data. Modern journalistic practice and education have already started to address the challenge with the introduction of New Literacies into schools and universities. These measures include courses on using visual and other kinds of media to study and express oneself in the most effective way. However, the problem of equal opportunities for students, technical issues, and the unpreparedness of teachers put certain limits on the New Literacies.
The amount of today’s journalists has also grown; in fact, any news consumer can be a journalist by giving comments or sharing the content of his or her choice through social media channels. The problem of sustaining high-quality journalism in the age of digital development is a topic for many experiments and discussions, and content as the final product becomes the focus of the solution.