EIJ Convention 2011: Robert Hernandez on Rules for Writing Online and Social Media

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of summaries from the SPJ/RTDNA Excellence in Journalism conference.

Technology doesn’t replace journalism, but “empowers it,” said Robert Hernandez, a USC journalism professor, at the Excellence in Journalism convention recently in New Orleans.

Hernandez, who organizes the weekly #wjchat tech-journo Twitter chats, has five main rules that he follows when writing online and using social media.

Throughout the session, Hernandez made references that pointed out how even though social media is at our fingertips it “doesn’t replace the phone or in-person interviews.”

As journalists we need to be aware of how social media is affecting our reporting and news organizations around the world, especially with many apps and websites that can break down the facts almost instantly.

One of the most mentioned quotes (and one of Hernandez’s rules) that young journalists were advised to follow was, “If your mom tweets that she loves you, check it out.”

Hernandez cautioned that finding information via social media does not necessarily make it true.  Social media does not do our reporting for us, and as journalists we still need to investigate and fact check.

Hernandez also made a point that there is no privacy on the Internet and that as a journalist it can be extremely hard to keep your personal life and private life separate.  He said to “be genuine and be real because you want that credibility.”

During the presentation, Hernandez also touched on Foursquare, referring back to some of his previous rules reminding everyone to “be open.”

Just like the rest of social media sites, check-ins on Foursquare are not factual. Foursquare gives people the opportunity to check in at any place and also has the potential to create revenue because of its built in advertising.

With all kinds of social media in the palms of our hands, citizen journalism is on the rise and fact checking has become more important than ever.

Hernandez made it clear that journalists are building an online brand for themselves and that social media will continue to rise in popularity. He cited these statistics as examples: there are 2,315 tweets a second, Facebook’s population ranks it as the world’s third-largest country and YouTube is the second-largest search engine behind Google.

-Tabitha Hurley, SPJ DePaul Secretary

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