@WebJournalist Robert Hernandez: Geolocation Is Going To Grow
Hernandez seems to be the one man for the job: he's a former Seattle Times newsman, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and a founder of #wjchat, a weekly Twitter conversation about journalism and the Internet.
In honor of Social Media Week, Neon Tommy reporter Laura J. Nelson and Hernandez had a real-life #wjchat of their own.
Laura J. Nelson: I think a lot of this conversation starts with @webjournalist and #wjchat. How did that all start?
Robert Hernandez: I experimented with Twitter 2-3 years ago on a personal account and it didn't go well. I thought it was lame. I was using my Motorola Razr at the time, and I was sending text messages. And I was like, "This is pointless, I don't get this."
But a direct hire of mine at seattletimes.com was really into Twitter and we found a couple of news stories through TweetDeck. Around then, I noticed the domain names webjournalist.org and webjournalism.org were available. I also got the Twitter handle. Within a week, 75 people were following an account I wasn't even using.
LJN: When did you start using it?
RH: When I got here. Academia is a different pace from the newsroom. One Monday, I attended #journchat and Tweeted, "Wow, #journchat. Bad name, good PR." Snarky response, but it was full of PR folks — not that there's anything wrong with that, but the name #journchat you'd think they'd talk about journalism.
A couple people Tweeted back [LJN: that's @lilgirlbigvoice, @killbutton and @kimbui] and asked why I didn't start something myself. And within five hours, we'd decided to start #wjchat. Now we're 33 episodes in. It's neat to see people distribute their content or post job listings or ask questions.
LJN: How many people are you getting on #wjchats?
RH: It varies from 50-100. That's not that many, but it fills a vacuum: web journalism is done so differently in different places that you're on your own trying to figure it out, so we've helped connect some folks.
LJN: I just read through your latest Online Journalism Review blog post. Can you talk more about why social media influences news values?
RH: It's real time. You've got to make split decisions. You've got to know what is news. You have to think on your feet and always work under the assumption of, "This is not fact. This is a tip and I can pursue it, but this is not fact."
You can also use crowd sourcing, but you're a lazy journalist if all you do is rely on social media for your reporting. And you're a lazy journalist if you don't use social media at all.
Whatever you get out of social media, you should always be cynical. Ask what the agenda is here, what's the story, what's the spin, what's newsworthy and what's worth sharing. Those are all questions we ask as journalists. We need to apply them to our Twitters, too.
LJN: Let's talk about citizen journalism. Where do you see that going?
RH: I think in some form, it will be around. But it fluctuates. There are some good examples and some really bad.
Good example: CNN's iReport. Sometimes it's not the greatest stuff, but it's there when it matters, in breaking news. The Virginia Tech shooting was the golden moment for iReport.
Overall, it (citizen journalism) is incredibly valuable. Folks that have maybe Tweeted 46 times dedicated 20 of those Tweets to the Discover hostage situation — taking pictures, putting information out there. It's powerful front line stuff.
LJN: What important start-ups or trends are you watching?
RH: Geolocation is definitely going to grow. Foursquare is the biggest one besides Facebook Places and they're just over a million users. Twitter is 100 million. But Facebook is 500 million. There's a lot of folks competeing for that.
LJN: How do you see geolocation being integrated into more traditional news?
RH: A couple different ways. I'm using the Discovery Channel hostage situation as the example. The day it happened, I looked to see who had checked in [on FourSquare] and I saw a guy based in LA had checked into the building a few hours before the incident.
That allows me to find potential sources who are actually there. And because this person is announcing to the world that they're there, that increases the likelihood that they're willing to talk. Instead of going to a place, or coldcalling, or going up to people and interrupting them or going on a fishing expedition, you can find very specific eyewitness sources.
LJN: Do you see it being integrated into websites, or more as a reporting tool?
I can see it being integrated in a way I tried, which is the distribution of stories using the geolocation marker. I went to Venice with my family not long ago and when I was Googling directions, I found out there was a 70-person brawl there. So I put a geoloation marker where the fights happened and linked to the LA Times story. Maybe something experimental like that.
LJN: And you think it's largely self-taught, right?
RH: There is no book. There is no manual. If someone were to write a book, by the time you're done writing it, it's already changed. The overarching message is social media is constantly changing and evolving. You should evolve and change with it. Try it out. See how it works for you. Experiment.
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