Social Media, Tools

The One Rule of Social Media: Experiment

Headshots of the panelists from Mashable's NextUp NYC

Today’s journalism landscape will change tomorrow. And that’s an exciting concept, no doubt, but it can also be frustrating.

So when I signed up to attend last month’s panel, called “The Emerging Skills of Tomorrow’s Journalist,” I thought I’d leave with answers. Would someone actually be able to point me in the right direction? Would I leave knowing which tools make it simpler for journalists to navigate this rough sea of social journalism?

Turns out, I didn’t leave with answers. The panel featured Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik, New York University’s Jay Rosen, CNN’s Laurie Segall, the New York Times’ Jenna Wortham and All Things Digital’s Drake Martinet, but it quickly became apparent that even these leaders don’t have any magic beans in their pockets.

And in a way, this was the panel’s most powerful message: the secret is, there is no secret.

The group of social media thinkers unanimously agreed that the skills journalists need to know today will change tomorrow, but they also offered more practical advice from which we can all learn.

Rosen leads a program called Studio 20 at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. He told the audience that he teaches his students how to take ideas and morph them into new ways of informing people, combining the traditional virtues of journalism with today’s technology and metrics and demand. In his words: “It’s almost impossible to overstate how inertial and static news organizations were for a very long time. Now, they need to be able to drop ideas that suck and use the ones that work.”

Segall says that her knowledge of the social media landcape has helped her become one of CNN’s leading tech reporters. “One thing that’s gotten me ahead is having focused on social media and similar technologies that help us tell stories better,” says Segall. “One advantage you can have if you’re trying to break into industry is really knowing how to navigate this stuff. If you can take that to the table, it can give you a decent leg up.”

Wortham finds it most exciting to discover new concepts and new tools. “Be on the hunt,” says Wortham. “As a journalist, you’re curious, and you have a heavy dose of skepticism. Bring those qualities to your work. When I come across a niche or a story that hasn’t been told, I’m thrilled because that’s scoop.”

Wortham also keeps a close eye on hacker news, “because they’re the really early adaptors.” She’s been using Quora to see what people are talking about, the things they think are bogus and the things they think are cool. “Influential people in the tech industry seem to be willing to say things [on Quora] that they wouldn’t say on Twitter,” says Wortham.

And the panel mentioned a few other tools:

  • The Tweeted Times: A customized newspaper aggregated from your Twitter stream and the streams of those you follow.
  • Rapportive: A Gmail plugin that displays all the social media information connected to the person you’re emailing.
  • Plancast: Helps you share your plans and find out about events and social media gatherings.

Speaking of tools, Rosen says people are his most powerful instruments. “I follow about 650 people on Twitter and I’ve hand-selected them to be my network,” says Rosen. “I’ve further sub-divided them into lists that serve certain purposes for me.”

But the most important lesson I learned during the panel wasn’t actually verbalized. As I hailed a cab on a cold, windy street in Tribeca, the discussion helped me realize that there are no secrets in today’s world of social journalism. There are no magic gizmos that help make this evolving space make more sense. The real trick is in exploring. Use all the new tools, make mistakes and learn which ones work best.

The best tip, hands down, is to experiment.