Ever since graduate school and entering the wonderful world of professional print journalism, I have seen how important social media is to my job. Back at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, I didn’t frequent Facebook that much because it was still relatively exclusive to college and high school students in 2007-08. I don’t recall cities, businesses, and people older than 30 (no offense, middle agers) being on Facebook. Not even my professors were on the site! Anyway, using the site for my stories and assignments wasn’t really needed.
Fast forward to 2009, at my first real gig at the Mansfield News Journal and Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum in central Ohio (both are owned by Gannett, which made my transfer here easy). I vividly remember being assigned a story about a violent fight at Galion High School, where a foster student and popular football player attacked a senior in a classroom, sending the kid to the hospital with serious injuries. The victim’s classmates created a Facebook page out of support for his recovery and to update the Galion community on his progress. That page allowed me to keep up with the student’s condition, connect with his family members and friends, and show how Facebook helped me get sources and information that was able to be confirmed. That’s when I started to see the importance of being connected to the community through social networks.
When I moved to Ridgeland to begin my job at the Madison County Herald, I had to start a Facebook page for the Jackson metro area. I didn’t want people to confuse my collegiate page with my professional work, so a “professional” page was meant to establish connections and build sources. At my old job, I rarely stayed on Facebook and Twitter out of fear for being scolded by editors; now I stay on both sites so I can stay updated on happenings throughout Mississippi. Since fall of 2010, I have built a good network of friends, young professionals, cities, media, businesses, residents and city officials on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. These connections have gotten stronger since assuming my new beat as suburban reporter for The Clarion-Ledger in May. Since I now cover nine areas – Brandon, Byram, Canton, Clinton, Flowood, Madison, Pearl, Reservoir area, Ridgeland – for the weekly Suburban Digest page, I made sure to look up and send requests for multiple elected officials, businesses, media outlets, residents and city/resident led Facebook pages.
The most active city and resident pages are from Byram, Canton, Cinton, Madison/Madison County and Brandon. Residents post comments daily on issues, accomplishments, events, new businesses and crime! Byram Police Department posts weekly incident reports, Clinton is all over the map with business, city, economic development and school news. Canton residents post about events and how they can support each other and help the city improve and grow. And it goes on and on. When I need help from city officials, I send Facebook messages and some answer immediately. Take for instance Byram Alderwoman Theresa Marble, who answered my question while on Facebook chat. I asked about the city’s two new traffic lights for a brief on the page and she is SO helpful!
I finally understand why it’s so important for journalists to stay connected to their communities. Instantaneous communication and information is so helpful for us, but it’s also to our detriment. The opportunities to be scooped or scoop any other media outlet are constant. I always stay conscious of this, even making sure I don’t make errors or give improper tone or context. It’s fun, challenging, helpful and enlightening for me. The suburbs, from what I’ve seen, are pretty active and more are joining Facebook every month because they see how great it is to stay connected. This makes my job a little more fun and easier.