Social networking, news and the journalism curriculum

September 29, 2008 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: news web sites.
  • ifNews organizations are creating a “clean, well-lighted place” for news consumers.

The New York Times has rolled out for public view its new social networking system. It’s called Times People.

The Wall Street Journal has done the same thing for its subscribers. It’s called Journal Community.

For some time now, I have been arguing that the world is moving from “news as product” to “news as conversation.” These two top news organizations confirm that shift.

They have decided to create a social network for their readers — a Facebook, if you will, that is all grown up and ready to get serious and do business. What do these news organizations’ social networks me as a reader to do?

  • Connect with other readers who have common interests. Example: Let’s say I am reading this:

    New York Times > Book Review > Review of new mystery novels.

    Each of those items sets me apart from all the other readers in the world and says something about me. (I read the New York Times. I like book reviews. I read mystery novels. And so on.) Chances are, there are other people like me. The social network gives me a chance to get in touch with these folks.

  • Comment on what I have read. But I can do that now among “friends”; that is, people who share a common interest. I can offer a comment on the opinions expressed in the review. I can offer new information. I can say whatever I have to say. And others can respond (or not respond) to that. Thus, the conversation begins.
  • Discover similar sets of interest. Maybe I not only like mystery novels but also bluegrass music or beekeeping. I can match up with people who have those interests.
  • Join a group and build a network. The power of the social network is getting to know people, based on the comfort of having share interests.
  • Exclude people from my personal network. People who are abusive will not be my friends; now will people whom I dislike.

Meanwhile, the role of the journalist can include the following:

  • Providing information that will begin the conversation.
  • Monitoring the conversation as it develops.
  • Setting the rules of the conversation. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, insists that people use their real names if they are to participate in the community.
  • Adding new information to the conversation as that information becomes available.


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