How Journalists Can Use Social Media to Benefit their Audience

On Sept. 11, Sam Burnstein, a history student at the University of Michigan, posted a TikTok showing his living conditions while staying in Northwood Apartments, one of the university’s designated quarantine buildings on campus. When he began his quarantine on Sept. 8 after testing positive for COVID-19, Burnstein said he brought the essentials, including a blanket, pillow, clothes and toiletries, to survive during the two week period. Instead, he said he found basically nothing.

“We were given almost no supplies,” Burnstein said in the clip. “We were given no food, no masks, no gloves, no microwave, no bed sheets, no soap, no cleaning supplies, nothing.”

The only item the college gave him was a single roll of single ply toilet paper.

Since the initial post, Burnstein’s clip has been viewed approximately 536,300 times and shared all over social media sites like Twitter and Instagram, and has gained attention from sites like Insider and WXYZ Detroit. It has also caused numerous University of Michigan students to share their quarantine experiences across social media.

This is not the only U.S. university that has faced scrutiny because of their fall semester reopening plans. Students at top universities like New York University and the University of Georgia have shared clips of their “quarantine meals” provided by their school; in one clip, first year NYU student Alexandra Mettler showed one of her bagged meals that contained a bag of chips, a granola bar, and orange and a pudding cup.


please help this isn’t funny anymore it’s 10pm and this just arrived #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #nyu #nyc #quarantine #readySETgo #RockinCollege

♬ Everyday – Buddy Holly

In an age where approximately 72 percent of U.S. adults use some form of social media daily, citizens are taking matters into their own hands and self-reporting what they think is important. Not only does it help journalists supplement their own reporting, but it also allows the general public to feel like their concerns are being heard.

With the influx of information posted on social media every day, how can journalists use their platforms to amplify their audience’s voices?

  1. Be transparent.

As pointed out in a New York Times article by Kourtney Bitterly, Meg Fee and Thomas Mitchell, people want to know what goes into news production. Who is the person telling this story? What was the process of creating the story, and why is it being told?

If an audience has questions about the content they’re consuming, don’t be afraid to answer them! It is not uncommon for journalists to use platforms like Facebook Live and Instagram Live to give viewers an inside look of reporting in real time. Live streams, like a Sept. 18 Facebook Live video posted Sam Ryan of ABC7NY covering how the college admissions process has changed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, also allow reporters to interact with their viewers and answer any questions they have while they report.

2. #hashtags are your best friend.

Hashtags can be a simple way to add a personalized touch to captions and posts depending on how they are used, but they also serve a crucial role in social media journalism. According to a 2014 article published by the Columbia Journalism Review, hashtags allows journalists to figure out what the general public wants to discuss and give journalists the opportunity to find a new angle for a story.

While hashtags should not be the only way to find sources, taking at least five minutes to look up a particular hashtag could be a helpful exercise for journalists to implement in their routine. When scrolling through posts categorized under a hashtag, they should consider the following questions: are the posts using that hashtag conveying information that has already been discussed by media outlets? What is the underlying emotion or message present within these posts? What kind of perspective does it bring to the issue the hashtag is focused on?

3. Don’t be afraid to talk about life outside of journalism!

Getting an audience actively involved in reporting is one aspect that has become increasingly common for modern day journalists. However, in order for this collaborative relationship to form, there has to be trust – which, in the era of “fake news” can be tough for the general public to find.

As stated in “Mobile and Social Media Journalism: A Practical Guide” by Anthony Adornato, audience engagement goes hand in hand with news gathering and the distribution of news. Effective audience engagement allows people to get to know reporters as “real people.” It also builds trust and credibility with the audience, which in turn will make the audience more likely to publicly share the issues that they care about.

So, if a journalist’s social media feed is filled with funny cat videos or attempts of following along a popular TikTok dance trend, consider this a good thing! Not only does it give the audience a break from consuming hard news, it also shows that like everyone else, journalists are human, too.

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