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Social Media Evolution: How It’s Changing Journalism

WCSH 6/ WLBZ 2 Social Media Coordinator, Brett Whitmarsh

Last month, we addressed the changing landscape of journalism with the integration of social media, and NEWS CENTER 6 Social Media Coordinator, Brett Whitmarsh says the entire Gannett team is striving to lead the way in this collaboration.

Whitmarsh says that originally they figured that social media users would see bits of the news unfold throughout the day, and then we would tie it all together for them in our broadcasts. However, he adds, “My news director took it one step further and took notice of the conversations online, and she realized we needed to be having those same conversations in the newsroom in order to deliver the news that our viewers were looking for.”

Whitmarsh started his career as a general news photographer in Albany, New York after attending Lyndon State College, but he really wanted to ‘come home’ to Maine and work for the WCSH 6 team. After applying for three different positions, he finally landed a job working for 207 and Bill Green’s Maine.

By late 2007/early 2008, Whitmarsh says that they were playing with social media, not fully realizing the direction it would soon go. He says, “It was a lot of fun, but wasn’t really a focus yet.” Within a year, he was attending Quinnipiac University to get his master’s degree in interactive communications while still working full-time on 207 and Bill Green’s Maine. “Those were the hardest two years—I saw all of these techniques that we should be doing as a newsroom with social media,” he says.

Whitmarsh adds that Gannett has been leading the way in social media efforts in journalism by making it a priority. Fresh from grad school and recognized for his passion for social media, Gannett offered Brett the position of social media coordinator.

If you’ve caught Brett in action, then you know that he isn’t kidding when he says that having social media is as common as having a phone, but that people are still confused on how to use it. The etiquette if you will. This is why he works with his news director to develop programs that help demonstrate how you can manage privacy and still be social.

A great early success story was the “social cam” app on Facebook. At first, people thought it asked too many personal questions and it was often confused with spam or phishing, so the NEWS CENTER team decided to break it down and explain how the app worked (you can shoot videos using multiple settings and filters, and then easily upload them via email, Facebook, YouTube and SMS).

The public is more aware of news as it happens than ever, and this engagement is a driving factor in developing programming. Brett says he spends a lot of time observing social media trends and seeing what viewers are talking about—if he notices misinformation being circulated, he uses it as an opportunity to address it. He likes to break down all the jargon and confusion in a way that anyone can understand.

Follow Brett on Twitter @BWhitmarsh

The greatest change in journalism in the ten years Brett has been with WCSH 6/WLBZ 2 has been the technology. Everything is digital, which means no more shooting or editing video on tape. Stories are written from anywhere, so long as there is an Internet connection. This has changed deadlines to “right now” instead of 5 or 6 o’clock. It truly is a 24-hour news cycle.

Whitmarsh says, “Your phone can now be a mobile newsroom. With that comes a whole new level of responsibility in upholding the ethics of journalism. While it is important to be first, it is more important to be right—that’s never changed. It’s so much easier to make a very public mistake.” He adds that expectations have changed for journalists and reporters but that, “Our NEWS CENTER team is incredible. These people are true news veterans.” He also suggests that you follow Pat Callaghan on Twitter because if you don’t then, “you are seriously missing out!”

You will also be seriously missing out if you don’t follow Brett on Twitter! You can connect with him @BWhitmarsh or check out all of his NEWS CENTER stories at http://timebrat.tumblr.com.

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