Friday, July 11, 2008

Social Networking & TV News

It’s amazing to me how social networking has crept into the normally staid world of TV news, especially when it comes to news story research. Three years ago most people in our newsroom had probably never been on a FaceBook or MySpace page or searched YouTube for information; now these social networking sites are among the first places we go when certain types of stories break.

For example, getting photographs of victims of accidents and crimes used to be a terrible chore – no reporter likes to knock on a family’s door in times of tragedy. Today we often find the photographs we need on a person’s social networking page. While this may seem like it’s made our job easier, there are still challenges. The biggest is usually the fact that many pages are private; only friends allowed. But we have a 20-something assignment editor in our newsroom who is an expert at getting information by working backwards through the networking sites of a person’s friends whose profiles aren’t private.

Once we’re in, another challenge is to make sure we have the right person -- it’s not like people put captions on their pictures on a social networking page! Our final challenge is often finding photographs that are appropriate -- many of the pictures people put on their social networking pages are, how can I say it nicely, irreverent? These wouldn’t necessarily be right to use in a story about a tragedy, although I do recall using a gangster-like photograph of a girl a young of instigating the shooting of five basketball players on a local university campus a couple of years ago, along with her MySpace description of herself as “half lady half thug” (not surprisingly her page was pulled down a couple of hours after we reported this).

Yesterday the station may have reached the pinnacle (so far) of the use of social networking in a single newscast. During our noon news, we pulled video from a murder suspect’s MySpace page of his 2-year old daughter – who he is accused of killing, along with the little girl’s infant brother and the children’s mother. And in a story about the impending indictment of former state lawmaker Mike Veon in a staff bonus scandal, we pulled video from a YouTube page of Veon answering questions about Bonusgate during an interview a year and a half ago (he has rarely been in public over the past year to be questioned about the scandal).

It will be interesting to see how the practice of using material from social networking sites continues to develop, especially as it applies to copyright laws. So far the most public battles over copyright have involved major content providers suing over use of their copyrighted material on networking sites – my employer Viacom (now CBS) is currently suing YouTube over the posting of material from shows like “SpongeBob Squarepants” and “The Daily Show.” But there’s been no legal activity – that I know of – involving news outlet’s use of material taken from social networking sites. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems as if, once you’ve put material out there in cyberspace it’s becomes fair game. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some guy who took a candid photo or video of someone and posted it on MySpace suddenly claim ownership and try to sue a TV station for using that photo or video in a news story.

Stay tuned!


Heidi M said...

Fascinating, Anne. It's absolutely fascinating to see how we (as a society) adapt and change our standards of what is acceptable. Social media was looked down on as a lower form of communication. Now, as you've written, it's incorporated into news production not only at TV stations but also with newspapers. I've read more and more news articles referencing a blog and *gasp* Wikipedia!

Good stuff. Thanks for sharing.


Anne said...

Heidi --

I have to say that I think it's a bit snobby that Wikipedia is looked down upon as much as it is. Everything I've ready about it says that it's well-researched and that there are all kinds of procedures in place to make sure that "fake" information is quickly removed. I have to think it's probably more reliable than most blogs out there ;-0 !

Heidi M said...

I've found Wikipedia to be an excellent background information source. With a little common sense, you can spot if the information is reliable or not by the number of references and links included in the article and any flags at the top of an article.

Still, while I use and respect Wikipedia, I do not use it academically.