Xavier’s Mass Communication Department Asks Students to Interact with the Future of Journalism through Social Media
By Vincenzo Ciccone
NEW ORLEANS – The future is now for Xavier mass communication students who are discovering that effective use of social media posts offers reporters a platform to convey chunks of information to mainstream audiences in real time with the speed of breaking news, prompting audience interaction and even influencing public opinion and news events in the process.
Lively interaction on social media, and the exchange of opinions and facts about esoteric yet fascinating topics not often reported in mainstream media, has become must see media for an ever-widening audience in today’s digital era, and the popularity of this form of two-way communication has long threatened to make traditional forms of print media obsolete.
The experience of experimenting with repetitive blogging and tweeting offers a window for students to see what motivates audiences to respond. The number of hits for content that is interesting, but is not necessarily be sexy, controversial or current either holds the potential to rise into the millions. For example, the Hurricane Katrina debacle occurred some 11 years ago, but the topic of levee safety in New Orleans continues to trigger fierce debate on a broad spectrum of issues not necessarily limited to safety, including racism, class warfare and regional bias. Similarly, dread locks came into vogue while Bob Marley performed reggae music nearly 40 years ago, and Marley has been dead for over a decade, yet all aspects of the hairstyle he made popular remains a topic of fierce interest to bloggers today, including how to grow dreads, maintain dreads and ultimately chop dreads at the end of the journey.
Controversial topics like gun violence and the Second Amendment are easy marks and can reliably be expected to draw diverse audiences into robust debate.
Mass communication students as the pioneers of news reporting in the digital era are learning that effective social media posts involve more than merely an eye for content, because social media has its own style demands, and style does matter.
Blogs, tweets and other social media posts require a quick wit, keyboarding skills, and the gift of concision to enable the delivery of the gist of a message in a limited number of characters. The reporter will be expected to exhibit a mastery of social media shorthand during the course of the business day and remain ready, willing and able to venture into levels of intimacy not typical of news reporting for mainstream media.
These elements are critical to the social media format. The interactions on social media are fluid, spontaneous and instantaneous primarily because communications in the digital era are converged on sleek, hand-held devices that are themselves intimate, and the users may carry these devices anywhere that happens to be convenient, including into the inner sanctums of their lives, their bedrooms, bathrooms, automobiles and virtually all other places where they have the space to find themselves drawn to the warm glow of a smart phone, lap top, tablet or some other device where they may interact with strangers and truly see what information is out there in the world without the filter of a mainstream media gatekeeper.
The social media audiences are more likely to divulge confidences or act impulsively for all the world the see and perhaps later regret the indiscretions of their disclosures simply because this platform, unlike traditional mainstream media, offers the opportunity to do so.
This unedited, real time communication lets the whole world in on what audiences really think about current events, entertainment, sports, sexual behavior, and a wide variety of other topics.
The irony is the Orwellian possibilities of social media have already been realized. Big brother is likely to surf the Internet to pay attention to interactions of social media, and big brother is largely invisible to users. Big brother may take the form of an algorithm that tracks and analyzes the online behavior of users, like the websites visited, the time spent on those websites and the information users took the trouble to share with others, a YouTube post that records criminal activity that may one day be used in court as evidence, or a detective who has learned to surf the Internet as a substitute for walking a beat to spot crime.
Vincenzo Ciccone is a student at Xavier University of Louisiana majoring in mass communication.