Like most college seniors, I joined Facebook freshman year of college. My very first Facebook friends were people from high school and the girls that lived on my floor at Verder Hall at Kent State. I was in it for purely social purposes. I didn’t see it, or sites like it, as something that could potentially play a significant role in my career.
Freshman year (fall of 2005) was also the first time I heard about blogs, during Intro to Mass Communication class. There, I – along with 400 of my “classmates” – heard my professor lecture about the incoming threat of the DUN DUN DUN – Citizen Journalists! Run for your liiiiiivvvvessss. The BLOGGERS are COMING!
The topic of blogging was explained very much in terms of how newspaper and magazine journalism majors better beware, because the bloggers are here to take your jobs.
Throughout college, Facebook remained a place for casual conversation, and albums of some now-deleted pictures. (Like that picture of your passed out roommate spooning the inflatable you-know-what she gave you for your 21st birthday? Yup. Delete those, kids.) It was a way for me to keep in touch with friends, especially when they studied abroad and it wasn’t as easy to just send a text or make a call. (Mark Zuckerburg, I’m thankful for that.) Then came the newsfeeds, and then the grown-ups joined Facebook, and then the applications were added. Now, any business willing to give five minutes to creating a page can have its own place/idenity in the social medium.
I didn’t care about blogs until I had to search them for Kodak coverage at my internship last summer. This prompted me to discover different blogs that I could read on my own. As an infamously reluctant waitress, angry server blogs – most notably, Waiter Rant – profoundly resonated with me. I also discovered Culpwrit (a great source of advice for PR students) around that time.
Fall of senior year, I took a class called Introduction to Digital Media. Inundated with blog, wiki, podcast, Flash, and Second Life projects up to wazoo, I felt both overwhelmed and intrigued at the vastness of the social media environment. I began to see how drastically and quickly the flow of information was changing. However, it took a riveting personal experience for me to comprehend the change.
In November, my friend died in a tragic accident. She was walking down the road and got hit by a truck. For me, the news of this accident was met with unexpected devastation. We swam together in middle school, and I hadn’t spoken to her since high school. Nonetheless, I was blindsided by grief. I’m not a crier, but I wept for days, fixated on news updates of her condition.
She lingered in the ICU that weekend, and the local news reported her changing condition with statuses that were both vague and cliche. “Seriously injured” and “critical condition” were among the updates. I will note two important things about my experience in searching for information about her status:
1. The most up-to-date information was on a Facebook group created to promote a candle-light vigil in her honor. People who had actually visited her or talked to people who had visited shared what information they knew by writing on the wall for the group. As opposed to waiting another ten hours for the next news story – wall posts were made sometimes within just minutes of each other. They weren’t journalists, they were friends, and that made a difference in how their information was perceived.
2. The interactivity of regular news revealed a nasty side to Web 2.0. People who never knew her freely commented on the situation beneath the news stories on the website. She died on a Sunday night, but people starting posting “RIP” things on Friday morning. Now, as you can see with this news story, someone moderates the comments and deletes those reported as “abuse.” But gems like this comment feed continue to flow through cyberspace. Some of these comments make me sick.
This event shook me to the core, and inspired to me to reconsider many things in my life – including but hardly limited to my ideas of what news is. I recognized once and for all that media had changed. Gone were the days when just the reporters had the authority on information. Comment posts held an authority all their own, and information was taken out of the headlines and put back into the conversations exchanged between friends.
If the media changed, I realized PR had changed. And if PR had changed – I had to stand up and face the fact that my career was going to look a lot different than I anticipated.
Since November, I’ve embarced on a personal journey through social media. I began by re-activating my Twitter account (I did it in Septemeber for maybe a week, but didn’t initially see the appeal) and reading a variety of PR and career-advice blogs (especially Penelope Trunk!) This post from a PR pro at Schneider Associates is a great example of a lot of the consensus that I’ve run into, which is that social media is and will be an integral part of my PR future.
I’ve joined a wide variety of sites to experiment and get a feel for what is out there. To be honest, this is one of those self-guided tours, and I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth a couple of times. But I’ve never been afraid to make mistakes, to allow myself to have unintentional experiences that teach me something. I take responsibility for what I put out there. I like to, well, JK JK a lot – but don’t be mistaken: I do take this seriously.
I’ve read that when it comes to Twitter and blogging, you should not only consume information, but contribute it. As a social media newbie, what do I have to say that people will get some use out of? Now don’t get me wrong, I promise to share to share only the top echelon – the most valuable – of LOLcat photos and FAILblog posts with my legion of loyal followers. But other than that, what do I have to say about PR, social media, internships etc. that will actually be worthwhile?
How worthwhile this is, that is for you to decide. But after the experiences I’ve had, I feel confident enough to share a conclusion I’ve come to:
We are citizen journalists. As a former newspaper journalism major, I’m happy to say that I’ve reclaimed my own job and found my own place with blogging. Ethics is a strong focus in traditional journalism, and I think that we can and should begin to apply those ideals to what we blog, comment, post, tweet, tag, etc. Nobody’s perfect. But we can try…harder.
I don’t think that how we edit ourselves should be simply a matter of PG-rating, personal branding and etiquette. Based on my experience, that isn’t necessarily enough pressure or accountability for many people contributing their two-cents on the internet.
Don’t underestimate yourself. People are reading, and the comments you make on news stories, the posts you make on Facebook – have consequences. As a journalist, would you publish something inaccurate on the front page of your paper? No. So as a citizen journalist, maybe it’s not the best idea to blog, comment, post, tag, or tweet information that is inaccurate, particularily when it’s regarding a sensitive topic – for instance, the death of a beautiful, smart, athletic, funny, talented young girl.
Groups like the Society of Professional Journalists have a code of ethics helping support and direct the moral compasses of reporters. Together, citizen journalists must continuously work to establish a standard of what is right.
So until next time,
Become an organ donor. Learn something new. Write what you feel even when it hurts.