Life Skills: Lean Forward And Participate In The News
This post is part of the “Life Skills” series by former MiddBlog editors.
If you only do what I describe in my first two posts, you’re engaging with the news in a way that is fundamentally similar to the way people have consumed news for centuries — you’re literally and figuratively sitting back and receiving information.
But this is the digital era and the Internet allows people to lean forward and participate. As citizens, we can now be active in analyzing, distributing and reporting the news.
This doesn’t mean starting a blog if you don’t want one. And it doesn’t mean always aspiring for the standards of professional journalism if you decide to produce stories.
Instead, it’s important that we overcome the belief that there is a theatrical fourth wall separating producers and consumers of news. This means participating in news decimation and creation as you consume it.
Recommend while you read
The newspaper industry used to be based on bundling together content. Newspaper front pages organized the day’s stories and all the paper’s content was held together by a rubber band.
Today, one of the many reasons the newspaper industry’s financial model is falling apart is the news has been unbundled. Stories are viewed haphazardly online and there is no easy way to sell all of a newspaper’s content as one product.
As social networking sites continue to play a larger role in directing content around the web, citizens are gaining more power in directing friends to news content. Already, 8% of the New York Times‘s traffic comes from Facebook (this number may seem small, but internal links and google searches count against this percentage).
As the power of social media grows, we as citizens will increasingly have the power to take the place of front pages by sharing stories with those around us.
The web offers many ways to share content. You can email, share on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ or share on discovery engines like StumbeUpon and Reddit.
If you’re particularly interested in a topic, blogging can be a great way contribute to the news. It can also be a good way to draw attention to yourself professionally.
Here’s the rundown on three of the best blogging platforms:
- WordPress, the platform we use to run Midd-Blog, is what I’d recommend for most uses. The system is intuitive and gives you the option of a lot plug-ins that allow you to customize your blog. There are both free and paid versions of the system.
- Blogger is a lot like WordPress, but it’s less sophisticated and perhaps easier to use. Google owns the site but was letting it wither away until a recent burst of innovation.
- Tumblr is more oriented toward posting images and has some features of a social networking site, but if you only want basic functionality and a sleek design, this is a good option.
Join the Twitter conversation
In my previous post, I discussed how to assemble a good mix of accounts to follow on Twitter. The next step is to join in on the Twitter conversation.
Twitter works well for interacting with people you know and for finding and recommending articles, but Twitter can also be a tool for reporting the news and engaging with influential people.
Here’s a quick primer of terms that can get you started on joining the Twitter conversation:
- Retweeting: Retweeting is how Twitter users repost twitter posts from other users. If a user named “joemiddlebury” tweets “Happy Liebowitz Day!” You repost this post by tweeting: “RT @joemiddlebury: Happy Liebowitz Day!” There is now also a “retweet” button on the web version of Twitter that will rebroadcast tweets directly to your followers.
- “MT:” Use this as you would “RT” if you want to slightly modify a tweet (usually to make it shorter) before retweeting it.
- @ replies: To reply to a tweet, click on the “Reply” button under that tweet. This will create a tweet with that begins “@ *user to which you’re replying*”. Type you’re reply. Most users receive email notifications when their username with when someone types their name with an ”@” before it.
- The hashtag: “#”: Labeling a word with a hasthtag turns it into a link on Twitter. For example, #midd is a link. Clicking on #midd will bring you to a page that displays all tweets with the hashtag #midd. Many people in the Middlebury community add #midd to their tweets to put them in a conversation of Middlebury College-related tweets.
One of the best new tools for citizen journalism is storify. This tool allows you to assemble tweets, blog posts, text, images and videos into a single story. The product looks great and it’s easy to use. Here’s an excellent example of a storify recounting of Vermont’s reaction to the SOPA blackout day.
- If you’re interested in using photos or videos to report news, here’s a quick introduction.
- There are also opportunities to volunteer and collaborate with established news sites. For example, the nonprofit news organization ProPublica has a network of citizen reporters
- If you want to learn more about taking ownership of the news, I highly recommend the prominent media scholar Dan Gillmor’s project on consuming and producing the news, mediactive.