Debating Social Media, Mobile Journalism and How We Engage with It

BY DERON DALTON (@DeronDalton)

This week we had another engaging guest speaker, Maria Cruz Lee, the director of engagement at Define American, who prior to that launched the NYC Mayor’s Office on Immigrant Affairs’ social strategy, during the Bloomberg Administration.

Define American is nonprofit organization that creates, curates and supports the shifting culture around immigrants in a changing America. It’s an interesting campaign because it reaches out to conservatives who don’t understand or agree with the organization’s goals.

Before she arrived we discussed the ISOJ 2015 conference Dr. Carrie Brown attended in Austin and how journalism is creating strategies for mobile and social media platforms.

Trei Brundrett, chief product officer at Vox Media, spoke at the conference about the importance of page load speed on mobile. Brundett has a whole team working on performance and speed. Google would agree; it found that page load times over one second interrupt user flow of thought. Unfortunately, the average site load on mobile is seven seconds.

And that’s where Facebook comes into play. Facebook’s relatively fast load times offers one argument for why news organizations might want to host their content there, although there are plenty of arguments against it as well.

Fortune reported Facebook would host content from the New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic within its site in the coming months. We discussed how entities are skeptical about turning over their content to FB, or should be. But do they have a choice?  News organizations are struggling with figuring out how to optimize news on their sites and create digital strategies without platforms like Facebook.

Cruz Lee shared some of her digital and social strategy with us. The Define American campaign started in 2011 and was founded by Jose Antonio Vargas. it made the cover of Time in 2012, and the campaign started hiring in 2013. In 2014, it produced a documentary called “Documented.”

 “In 2011, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in an essay published in the ‘New York Times Magazine.’ ‘Documented chronicles his journey to America from the Philippines as a child; his journey through America as an immigration reform activist; and his journey inward as he re-connects with his mother, whom he hasn’t seen in person in over 20 years.”

Cruz Lee’s strategy for promoting the campaign is built not only upon changing the narratives around undocumented Americans, but also educating these conservative Americans.

During this conversation, an idea popped into my head to live stream the discussion on Periscope. Therefore, others could tune in; I could save the video; and I could include the video in this blog. However, the video didn’t save.

I was a little worried after starting the stream our speaker would be a little uncomfortable, but she didn’t hold back in discussing her strategy with us. I had an exchange with Cruz Lee on Twitter about Periscope, which started an engaging conversation.

I posted about the conversation in our CUNY social journalism group, “I know it was an unexpected #Periscope, but we’re social people. It’s what we do, even when it’s unexpected. I live streamed our guess speaker today. I planned to save the video for the “Community Engagement” blog post, but unfortunately, it didn’t save to my camera roll even though I made sure to charge my phone, haha. Anyways, it led to this interaction on Twitter! YAY! I’m going to keep focusing on utilizing social media for our program as much as possible, regardless of trolls.”

After the live stream and class ended, a couple of classmates told me they were uncomfortable with the live stream or felt their privacy was being violated without prior permission to “scope.”

“I think it’s cool people tuned in, but like others have mentioned, it did feel like my privacy and my ability to ask honest questions was a little invaded (during the Q&A. Scoping her presentation makes sense, if she was OK with it.),” a classmate replied on Facebook. “It’s not enough to just excuse those of us with privacy concerns by saying ‘we’re social people.’ I would prefer you at least let us know you’re live streaming our discussions before you begin so we can air any concerns we have.”

Another classmate said the discussion shows how new and important live streaming is. According to him, privacy concerns are legitimate, but his opinion is that we are in a “social” program and should experiment as much as possible.

“A lot of people just don’t “act naturally”, and that is 100 percent understandable,” Pedro Burgos said.  “It has nothing to do with being “social”, versus “oversensitive” or things like that. The problem is that the people that are watching through Periscope don’t have the same context, didn’t get the full talk, and so the person speaking has to be overly cautious.”

“Definitely a good discussion to have. We can talk more about it. Personally I always assume that any event at a journalism school is always on-the-record unless it’s explicitly described as off-the-record,” Brown said.

“And I really like to see people talking about things that they are learning in class on social, because I believe in sharing what we are learning as widely as possible and also allowing as many people as possible into the conversation. But, maybe live streaming is a special case,” she added.

It seems as though the live streaming discussion is only beginning. But what do you all think should be our limits as journalists in engaging with social media tools for journalism, news and with our communities?

On the flip side — like Maria Cruz Lee — what are some ways we can implement social strategies for our communities and use it to address or solve our communities’ problems?

21 thoughts on “Debating Social Media, Mobile Journalism and How We Engage with It”

  1. I think the social media tools question is important. Whether it’s in class or an interview, I think the most important issue is transparency. If you’re going to stream someone live, they should know and give their consent, because I do think it changes how people behave and how much they will ultimately reveal.

    In an interview setting, when you’re going to do anything beyond take notes – including photos, video, audio, or livestreaming – it’s important to alert the person and make sure they’re ok with it. I think this is generally a good rule for journalism in general, not just social journalism. I think it’s also important you tell your subjects what you’re going to use information for – whether it’s for research or a story.

    As for the specific debate about whether it is OK to Periscope a speaker and the class, again, I think it’s important to ask first. I personally didn’t mind but it’s really important to ask the speaker.

    As for my community, I don’t think Periscope would be very useful to my community unless it’s being used to livestream a protest or a deportation sweep/arrest in action. Protests are more common, and it’s harder to predict when or where immigration authorities will act. I experimented with it at a press conference and it didn’t do very well.

    For the social strategies question, this is what I’m trying to figure out as we move into the summer semester and with our social tools project.

    One thing I’m doing with my social tools project is an echo of what Maria does with Define American: build empathy by showing immigrants as people and not as an abstract concept. My overarching goal of my work with the undocumented community is to convey that public policy affects real people’s everyday lives, and that the undocumented are worthy of the same human rights as citizens. So through my social tools project, I always identify people with their names and with photos if they are accessible. I want to show immigration as more than a policy issue, but as a human issue. I’m also trying to do this in my reporting.

    While we move into design thinking and building an actual product for our community, I’m trying to figure out ways to use technology to connect immigrants to people who can help them with their needs. At this point, I’m leaning toward legal needs specifically.

    The problem I’m finding with social media, specifically, is that there’s an uneven use of it among the undocumented. I tend to see a lot of young immigrants using Facebook and sometimes Twitter, but not necessarily their parents. This is exactly what Maria mentioned about MOIA’s social media strategy – that they were trying to reach people’s children in order to connect parents to services they could use.

    At the same time, I tend to see nearly universal cell phone use and a lot of smartphone use. So my goal is to figure out how to figure out a way to tap into smartphone usage, though not necessarily social media, for my design thinking project.

    1. Good, Rachel. Thanks again for helping to bring in our guest. I’m excited to see what you come up with in the design class, because I do think there is opportunity there – and as you say, mobile penetration is so high that it creates a lot of possibilities.

  2. I want to echo everything Rachel said about livestreaming. Transparency and consent are very important, especially as part of the process of building trust in your community and with your sources.
    There’s a motto that I really like: “No surprises journalism” (it’s even included in the Reuters handbook). It’s mainly used as a way to encourage reporters to seek comment from everyone involved in the story and be honest about what the story is about. But I think it also transfers to the idea of other tools. If you’re taking photos or recording audio for publication or livestreaming, your sources should be aware of that and not surprised to see that media published, just like Rachel said.
    People have different levels of comfort with being recorded, and sometimes have very legitimate reasons for not wanting to be recorded that have nothing to do with vanity or shyness. That’s why it’s important to ask for consent whenever possible.
    In public places, yes, it’s legal to record. Are classrooms public places? Generally the courts lately had said yes, classrooms are public and there isn’t an expectation of privacy. So I don’t see this as a legal issue, just a trust issue. Livestreaming an AA meeting at a public library may be legal, but I think we can agree that’s unethical and a bad idea.
    I think we should seek out other photo and video journalists to ask for their ethics guidelines. I’m all for experimenting. And to a point, our experimenting may make us and others uncomfortable, that’s OK. But it’s important to consider how the act of recording may alter what’s happening.
    Like Pedro said, having a camera pointed at you makes you behave differently. In some cases that’s exactly what you want (think bystander recording a police interaction) but in the case of a classroom discussion, I think it can cause people to be more reluctant to speak up and speak openly. Maybe we should all be more guarded in our everyday lives knowing that we could be livestreamed at any time. But I hope that at least in an academic setting, we can be able to express our doubts and confusion and ask questions without having to worry about how others may see it out of context. And like we’ve seen with several recent speakers, some of the most helpful lessons they’ve shared are ones they only felt sharing off the record.
    My community is alllll over new social media tools (since it is a community of people who use social media professionally). The way I’ve seen them use the newer tools to benefit each other include livestreaming conferences and events that others weren’t able to attend in person, sharing their strategies for chat apps, and cheering each other on as they experiment (and not being to harsh when experiments fail). I hope to find ways to experiment in serving my community while using the newer tools (though again, still no Periscope or Meerkat for Android).
    I still haven’t zeroed in on a major problem to help my community solve, so I’m not sure what kinds of social strategies I will use. Most of my ideas so far involve using crowdsourcing to gather information about people’s jobs – like team organizational structure, pay scale, job requirements, etc., and then sharing that information back to the community in a helpful way.

    1. Good points, Julia. Transparency and trust both very important things. And good use of the Reuters handbook there.

  3. I completely agree with both Rachel and Julia. I am a big fan of Periscope but we have to think about the situation first. I do think however, that this thing about not being able to experience whilst you are live-streaming is not necessarily true. I was live-streaming a soccer match last week, i filmed the pre-game events and watched as all the fans were chanting and singing – I actually joined in AS I WAS USING PERISCOPE. Experiencing something is 100% relative. Nobody else can tell you how to experience an event or a moment – it’s up to what you feel.

    Last week whilst I was using Periscope I was right in the middle of the action and I loved it. I think it obviously depends on the situation but again, we can live-stream and experience at the same time.

    In regards to the second question: Amazingly enough, just today i received news that the school that was featured on my short doc #thefallkings, has just been granted a $300,000 grant for funds to build a turf field. One of the issues they had was they didnt have a place to practice. The team’s coach told me that thanks to awareness and community engagement, the council voted and awarded the money. I doubt if my short film did anything to contribute the awareness but id like to think that in some way it did just enough to grab people’s attention.

    This is the power of what we can do.

    1. Wow!! That’s really exciting! I wouldn’t be surprised if your film DID play a role. That is great. You should write some kind of little followup piece if you haven’t already – please share with me if you do.

  4. I’m going to echo a lot of what Luis said above me. I think one of the greatest things about living in the time we do as journalists are the many tools we have at our disposal to spread the news. However, with each new tool, we need to consider the legal and ethical implications of said platforms (which we will next semester). I think that we need to trace ourselves back to the origins of American journalism, long before mass distribution was even possible. As long as we’re distributing the truth and being careful not to infringe on the rights of others (inadvertently or not), it’s fair game.

    I don’t necessarily think we need to think of our communities as having problems. I understand the sentiment, but I’d alter the word to aspirations. At least in my community, there aren’t too many outright “problems”. They’ve been adapted here for over a century and they blend well. However, I think we need to look for ways to connect organically with our communities in person in order to draw the connections online. I’m a pretty firm believer in showing your face to make connections. Social tools are fantastic ways to enhance these already existing connections. Yet I’ll always believe that showing up physically is half the battle.

    1. I think that while many communities do have problems of one kind or another, aspirations can also be an interesting and important thing to look at. And yes – social often can enhance face to face relationships, but there is little evidence that in most cases, it can replace them.

      1. I totally agree. Your online profile isn’t a replacement for real interactions. It can even lead to a lot of social isolation.

        I’ve often pondered that the rise of social media has created sub-communities, but within our own minds. Am I crazy? Maybe. But Facebook, while a world-altering tool, is just that, a tool. It doesn’t create interaction face-to-face without some efforts of the people involved with it.

  5. As mentioned by my classmates in the previous comments, Maria Cruz Lee’s presentation on engaging communities was overshadowed in our thoughts and discussion afterwards by the healthy debate of privacy and mobile live streaming with Periscope. While Deron’s effort and intentions were in the right place, it’s easy to forget there are best practices.

    I would think that proper Periscope etiquette, much like Julia and Rachel said, is to obtain permission from the subject. When we entered the graduate program in January few of us (myself included) had yet to discover mobile live streaming; the topic has repeatedly come up in conferences and talks that our class has attended over the semester.

    Two weeks ago CNN host Brian Stelter was kind enough to have an open Q & A with our reporting class. Stelter is excited about the engagement possibilities with live streaming and enjoys being able to see how many users are watching and being able to see comments in real-time; he believes that technologies and platforms like these are the future “in some form.”

    Excitement for live streaming aside, it’s clear that moving forward, a clear announcement should be made, and everyone given a chance to object to the recording of class. Some issues are sensitive and we reserve the legitimate concern over privacy. My instinct is to share, post, and record as much as possible. I personally do not mind being live streamed in most instances that I can imagine. As I echoed in our after class discussion, the fact that many students in the class have an opinion on the matter demonstrates the importance of the emerging platform.

    1. Good. And that instinct – in my personal opinion – is fundamental to what makes the best journalists. It may not be necessary, but it helps a lot. Our business is fundamentally tied to bearing witness – to being there and sharing what is happening with others.

  6. What I found interesting about live streaming in our last class was how different I felt about being in front of the camera rather than behind it. I was so eager to record other people (musicians in particular) that the idea of Periscope sounded amazing. With their permission it still is to me. However, the way live streaming currently works there are many privacy concerns that aren’t being addressed. Users can stream just about anything right now. This has certainly raised concerns in the entertainment and sports industries, which are very important to me. In a recent article by Billboard magazine, the discussion of live streaming music performances are discussed…

    The piece touches on how live streaming apps don’t have proper licenses from record labels, and how even television broadcasts and games on the NFL with blackout rules could be compromised. We are at a place right now where certain rules have not been implemented, and some people can run wild with certain apps based on various arguments, including fair use. However, I think this is where our job as journalists comes into play. This is where we can lead the way. Show others how we can still be innovative while being transparent. There’s stories to tell and amazing new tools we can use to tell them so we should take advantage of that. I think this is also our chance to become moderators and help fill voids in our communities.

    I’d love to take advantage of live streaming to bring together musicians and music fans, but also find a way to monetize the stream. Musicians can live stream on their own, but if I can provide a way for fans to gain even more personal attention (whether it be pay for song requests or have the artists sign something for them like Amanda Palmer does on her webcasts) then I think it will mutually benefit both parties. I feel there are several more opportunities out there with live streams, but I also think apps like Snapchat can be utilized better for musicians. The biggest request in the research I’ve done in the music scene is that there’s a desire for personal attention by the fans and artists are looking for new ways to engage. As I explore these platforms I hope to become a moderator and begin to utilize more social tools that use video.

    1. Good, Erica, and thanks for sharing the article. These are uncharted waters – and certainly territory independent artists need to feel out so that they can determine how they use these technologies in ways that are financially sustainable for them.

      Also, your perspective is valuable in terms of building empathy with sources and subjects that may be reluctant to go on the record, even if there may be good reasons for them to do so. It is easier to do journalism than to have journalism done to us, especially if the trust isn’t there.

  7. I really enjoyed hearing from Maria Cruz Lee – it helped gain some perspective of someone who is more on the strategy and implementation side of things. It was also encouraging to hear from someone who had a career that matched with her passion. While I struggle in this program to decide if being a reporter is a next step for me it’s great to see other jobs within the field of media.

    When she showed us the video created by Jose Antonio Vargas of the drunken man having a conversation about his opinion on illegal immigrants, it made me realize how honest reactions (responded to in the correct manner) can be the most effective. Just to touch on this point about wanting or not wanting to be Periscoped, if it were to change the opinion or reactions of someone while being on camera that source is probably not a good choice to work with. It’s also not a good idea to just periscope someone without permission. This could change depending on the situation. I feel as though periscoping could be great for on the street and event reporting.

    If there’s anything to take from the present condition of journalism, is that there shouldn’t be any limits as journalists in engaging with new tools. If you don’t there’s a pretty big chance you’re going to be left behind with your hopes that Blackberry Messenger will be a thing again. Let’s try it all – but tastefully. Let’s experiment – in the right situations. It’s really a matter of deciding when is the right time to use which tool and while the tools are growing it’s only giving us more and more options to choose from.

    1. “Let’s try it all – but tastefully.”

      Very well said. The need to experiment has finally become a top priority in newsrooms – it’s all over the NYT “Innovation Report,” to take just one example.

  8. I’m interested in the Periscope/livestreaming/acting naturally debate, and I basically agree with everything Rachel and Julia said about the subject. It is more a question of transparency. If you want to record, broadcast, take notes, photograph or whatever, you better get prior authorization.

    But as a foreigner, sometimes I get the sense that journalists here use too much that idea that “since nothing is prohibited, I should exercise my right” (this happens also on “freedom of speech” discussions, but this is another story). It’s not because you could that you should — and I would never think about the legality of filming in a classroom to decide if I should use my camera or not. Because the issue of trust comes way before that.

    A few days ago, David Brooks wrote in his NYT column about “the lost language of privacy”, weighting on the question if body cameras should be widely deployed by the police force. He talks about our “human need” to be outside the reach of cameras in some (maybe many) situations:

    “There has to be a place where you can be free to develop ideas and convictions away from the pressure to conform.”

    He says, and sorry for quoting at length, but I pretty much agree with everything:

    “Privacy is important for communities because there has to be a
    space where people with common affiliations can develop bonds of affection and trust. There has to be a boundary between us and them. Within that boundary, you look out for each other; you rally to support each other; you cut each other some slack; you share fierce common loyalties.

    All these concentric circles of privacy depend on some level of shrouding. They depend on some level of secrecy and awareness of the distinction between the inner privileged space and the outer exposed space. They depend on the understanding that what happens between us stays between us.”

    (this was very clear to me when other guests came to talk, specially on the Social Tools class, and said things that they wouldn’t do on record. They did it because they knew we were one of them).

    Brooks thinks that there is much to be gained with more transparency on the police, but at the same time, cameras start with the principle that nobody should be trusted. And this bothers me.

    So, I would say that if we really want to differentiate from traditional journalists, we should record/broadcast less, not more, specially if we are talking about “internally focused” journalism. If we want to be more like insiders, if we want to be somehow representative of a community, we should not use things that create barriers, that shows that we are aliens, and I think broadcasting can be such a thing.

    Of course there are exceptions, and I understand that we should be experimenting — and maybe if we didn’t we wouldn’t end up having this conversation if some people didn’t do that. But for now (I would gladly change my mind), I don’t think Meerkat/Periscope is a good tool for building relationships with our communities, specially if we need access. (Building our personal brand is another story).

    And, also to make it clear, I know that we use a lot of social media, but the “social” in “social journalism” means different things to different people.

    And yes, this whole #Periscopegate didn’t leave much space for thinking about the talk. For me, the biggest takeaway from what Maria Cruz Lee said on social strategies is that if we want to make change, and serve a community, sometimes is better to focus our message in the people that are somewhat against what we stand for. Because sometimes the biggest “issue” of a community is changing other people’s perception about them.

    A few days after that talk, I listened to the latest episode of This American Life, which was titled “The Incredible rarity of changing your mind.” Host Ira Glass talks with some people that are capable of changing other people’s sides in serious issues, like abortion and gay marriage. One of them is Dave Fleischer, director of Leadership LAB, which has a mission to “organize and empower communities to defeat anti-LGBT prejudice locally, on the ground in campaigns across the US, and through hands-on mentorship with activists from around the world.”

    Fleischer says: “I’ve been doing political work my whole adult life. I’ve been doing organizing since I was a boy. And conventional wisdom among political practitioners is you don’t talk to the people who are against you.” He said that he is doing differently now, and it’s working. But they need to be face to face, one on one, with those that are “the enemy”.

    That experience, and the entire mission of DefineAmerican, got me thinking a lot on what we should be doing as journalists to really serve a community. Depending on what the issue is, preaching to the choir definitively is the least effective use of our skills.

    1. Pedro,

      Excellent. Great examples from both This American Life and the Brooks column.

      The only place I might push back, if only a little, is on the notion that privacy always breeds trust or is the best way to garner trust. I completely agree on consent and transparency – although even there, I can think of some things that occur in a public space, such as a protest, that are worthy of livestreaming but at which it may be impractical to get consent of all involved before beginning.

      But I think openness, at least on the part of the journalist, breeds trust. People trust other people more than they trust institutions. I think that while it should be a personal decision made by each person, there is tremendous advantage to being as open as possible with our audiences. This doesn’t necessarily mean tossing our opinions or preferences about all the time, but being willing to reveal things about ourselves and our journalistic process can make others more likely to share their own thoughts with us. That’s a little bit of a different argument, but I also think it’s a piece of the larger picture of being a social journalist that shouldn’t be completely ignored.

  9. I feel like we’ve circled the live streaming/consent debate like vultures all while beating the dead horse. I’m sure a lot of people behave differently when on camera but I’m not sure if I quite agree with the fact that EVERYONE does: I used Periscope in Times Square and didn’t ask anyone for consent, least of all Sihem who I’d simply assumed would be cool with it.
    What I’m most interested in is what realistic objections there are to having our class periscoped? I think its important to understand that we all are at varying levels of professionalism and some of us have to be very wary of what reveal. This is indeed an important, possibly career concerning issue. But as we never as a class made an agreement for the default sharing setting to be “off the record,”(not that i remember, anyway) do we blame the live streamer for not notifying the rest of us or is it up to the speaker to self censor?
    Of course we’ll lose often interesting and valuable information if we succumb to the live streaming way of life. But we’ll be able to share a bit of our class with possible others interested in what we’re doing. I would think we can all see the value in that.
    To Pedro’s point on whether or not live streaming can help build relationships with our communities, I think it depends on the communities themselves. I’m sure a lot of communities would LOVE the opportunity; I’m sure for others it would be an absolutely devastating idea. I think we all have the right amount of discretion as decent human beings to know when to hold em and when to fold em.
    In terms of implementing social strategies, I’m sure the possibilities are endless. Linking a community with an organization, investor, or even another like-minded community otherwise unreachable (via time, geography, language. Anything that can separate two groups of people, really) can be a social strategy.
    Setting a community up with the skills to help them accomplish their goals (PR, Web Training, whatever it may be) is also a form of social strategery (word to George W).
    Of course, it comes down to listening to the community rather than assuming you know what their needs are based on your own diagnosis.

    1. Good, James. I think careers can be just as easily built by being willing to share more of our thoughts and ideas as we are learning as they can be broken by saying something someone might find offensive or lacking in some way. Also glad to see you talking about some of the nuances here.

  10. I really enjoy readings the comments of everyone after our “periscope” episode. Eventually I would agree with Jay and Emily to this point: it is interesting to compare the use of live streaming in class with the way Jose Antonio Vargas used video in his documentary. I doubt he and his team ask for the permission to video shoot the man who shouted at him that he should leave the country.

    I think we’re reaching a point where we’re asking more and more people to be transparent and to expose themselves in front of a camera, whether from their own initiative or by using new social media tool like Periscope and Meerkat. I don’t think the real stake is about the privacy.

    Since ages, news channels have broadcasted footages including people who haven’t immediately or directly given their consents. Do you really think that the , have given their consent to display their pictures during their rescue? Would Live streaming the arrest of Eric Garner have made a big difference?

    For me, the matter concerns the purpose of video, period. Whether it’s a polemic discussion with a citizen who believes that all undocumented should be deported or the arrest of a man in the street by 6 police officers, it has to serve the main audience and it’s deeply linked to six values we learned in reporting class : conflict and impact.

    As far as journalists are concerned, I really don’t understand the debate. Going to press conferences all the time and participating to the panels organized by the school, we are constantly subject to be recorded – our voice if not our image. For me the main role for a journalist is to be able to ask question no matter what circumstances are.

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