Hashtag Journalists

L-R: Lynn University students Ricky Freebery, Tamara Reyes, A.J. Mercincavage, Sophia Barrett and Patricia Lammle have been covering higher education issues at the Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention. (Photo courtesy Andrew Vermes/Lynn University)

Live from the convention, a college student reflects on today’s social media

GUEST COLUMN | by A.J. Mercincavage

Over the past two decades, emergent technologies have had a profound impact on society’s institutions — from the postal service to telecommunications. Among the many professions, journalism has leveraged the use of technology earlier than most. Its influence is felt not only in new ways of collecting and disseminating the news but also in preparing and training students for careers in journalism, which increasingly has taken on a whole new name: multimedia journalism.

Multimedia journalists (MMJs) today no longer have the luxury of specializing in one facet of the journalistic process. Instead, their skills must cover the range of media, including newspapers, broadcasting, cable, blogs and Twitter. They have become storytellers across all media. This opens new doors to young journalists entering the profession.

An example of these opportunities is recent onsite coverage of the 2012 Democratic and Republican National Conventions by students from Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL. Five students covered the conventions and produced a daily hardcopy newspaper, broadcast news packages distributed via the Web, blog entries, status updates and tweets across social media. Much of this has to do with the reduction in cost of technology and the access, and reach, that the reduction allows. Students with enough knowhow can write, shoot, produce and distribute news with only a camera and a laptop with an Internet connection.

These “backpack” journalists have become more the rule than the exception, as young professionals enter the news field to become social media editors, photographers, broadcasters and copywriters all in one.

Reaching Out

Social media, specifically Twitter, allows students and prospective journalists to reach not only their listed followers, but also millions of online users with hash tags and search terms. The Republican National Convention’s campaign for a “convention without walls” included a Twitter dialogue using “#GOP2012.” C-Span continued online dialogue and incorporated tweets that used “#cspanRNC” into live broadcast coverage.

Not to be outdone, the Democratic National Convention also boasted its own Twitter account, @DemConvention, and dialogue, #DNC2012. These search terms flatten the world of political dialogue, allowing enterprising students’ comments to be intermixed with the likes of professional analysts.

A decade ago, the ability to distribute content and/or broadcasts, much like the Lynn students covering the conventions, did not exist. Students could attend political conventions of course, but their material wouldn’t reach Facebook friends, Twitter followers, email contacts and all those users hyperlinked and hash tagged in between. The digitization of broadcast news content has shortened production times by half. Images and video captured on smart phones can be uploaded to the Web in minutes. These media are, in turn, hyperlinked to other platforms, creating a blanket effect for news material across the Web.

The effect of these technologies and their continued use is that more information is disseminated to the average person than ever before. The undecided voter has a wealth of material available to them outside of the traditional institutions of hard copy news and television broadcasts. An Internet connection, the all important nervous system of emergent technology, offers a combination of both traditions as broadcast and print are increasingly being archived together online. Live streaming of broadcast material gives online viewers the same experience as a cable hookup.

Water Torture or Good Work?

Personally, as a student geared more towards print journalism, editing video broadcasts and disseminating the same material over and over across different social media platforms sounds a little like Chinese water torture. The work can be monotonous, but the result is worth it for the simple fact that blanketing social media is tremendously effective.

As a college student entering the media mix, I have around 50 followers on Twitter and 450 Facebook “friends,” although mostly fellow students. Nevertheless, that means that my material is sent to 500 persons before anything is forwarded or shared with others. Add in the hash tag search terms available on Twitter, and my material is reaching an even broader audience.

Occasionally, my work may draw a response from a stranger across the country, someone I’d never otherwise contact. When else in history has a modest student been able to reach so many people with so much material? Never.

Believe it or not, I’ve even landed story interviews with news editors because of Twitter correspondence. The experience broadened my education and I hope the article that grew out of it helped other students.

While universities now offer classes that mandate students create blogs, Twitter accounts and the like, the use and evolution of emergent media technology still lies squarely in the hands of young people. The digital natives, the children reared on live streams and YouTube today will create the technology of tomorrow. In this way, the students become the educators and push the technological world forward.

Traditional liberal arts education will increasingly have to incorporate the ability to predict changes in emergent technology and their effects on professional fields. In addition to critical thinking and the ability to clearly express ideas across media, predicting the effects of technology is a skill that will benefit all burgeoning young professionals as they strive for success in their fields.

___

A.J. Mercincavage is a Senior at Lynn University and looks forward to changing the world one tweet at a time.

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