Free journalism training through... Facebook?

By Andrew Gibson

Twitter has been in the news a lot lately.

When Keith Urbahn tweeted the first news about Osama bin Laden’s death, “over 300 reactions to the original post were spreading through the network” within two minutes, according to SocialFlow.

And Weinergate wouldn’t even have existed without Twitter.

So, what about Facebook?

Perhaps that’s a question best saved for Vadim Lavrusik. Facebook hired the Columbia University journalism professor and former Mashable community manager to lead its journalists program, of which the “Facebook + Journalists” page is an integral part.

Launched April 5, the goal of “Facebook + Journalists” is to serve “as an ongoing resource for the growing number of reporters using Facebook to find sources, interact with readers, and advance stories,” according to a note on the page.

The page offers many resources, both simple and advanced, for journalists looking to become more social-media savvy.

“The Page was an extension of an effort to make resources more available and centralized in one places where journalists are able to access that information but also share resources with one another,” Lavrusik said in an email. “It’s not only a resource, but a community where journalists can connect.”

Here’s a sampling of what Lavrusik and his team have developed during the past two months:

The Wall:

The “Journalists + Facebook” Wall has the same interface as any other Wall, but its diverse postings lead to constant discussion. The page curators — Lavrusik and his colleagues — post job opportunities, highlight innovations and ask followers to share ideas. For example, when WSB-TV (Atlanta) reporter Jodie Fleischer posted a tease for an investigative story, the curators reposted the link on June 7, starting a dialogue:

Lavrusik and his team pick journalists who show particular skill when reporting with the help of Facebook.

“For them it’s not just an extra thing they have to do,” he said. “Instead it is something that makes their jobs easier and more efficient. They’re using it to find sources, do online beat work, get news tips, and build an audience at the same time.”

A link to a report by Missouri School of Journalism faculty members Joy Mayer, associate professor and former Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow, and Reuben Stern, Futures Lab print and graphics editor, also appeared on the page on June 6. The topics of the report are engagement and measuring audience engagement. Mayer gathered the information during “The Engagement Metric,” a two-day seminar she put on in May to discover how journalists are interacting with their audiences.

“Getting Started”:

This section advises journalists to make a professional Facebook page that they can use for different purposes than a personal one. Screenshots give examples of how journalists can post content, engage viewers and add photos from mobile devices.

“How Journalists Can Make Use of Facebook Pages”fbs:

This is the most advanced section of “Facebook + Journalists.” The page layout is similar to the “Getting Started” section, but the screenshots show more detailed strategies, including how to provide behind-the-scenes story coverage and break news. Curators also included tops on how to analyze page statistics and use Facebook applications.

Additionally, journalists can use this section to learn about building a “personal brand” on Facebook. Some journalists don’t feel comfortable advertising themselves, and the page curators have explained why doing so is both important and ethical:

Lavrusik thinks the most valuable advice in this section comes from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

“A good story is a good story on Facebook,” he said, referencing Kristof. “It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter what the platform is, the focus should be on great storytelling and reporting.”

Other sections:

Videos about how journalists should use Facebook, including one that features Nicholas Kristof, as well as articles and upcoming events are also featured on the page.

Page followers can start conversations about any topic on the “discussions” section. Topics so far include Obama, Facebook apps and job opportunities.

Why did Facebook do this?

Justin Osofsky, the director of media partnerships at Facebook, said that the new page was designed as a response to media organizations that had made their own processes more social,” according to PCMag.

VentureBeat writer Tom Cheredar takes it a step further, saying that Facebook might have been trying to keep up with competitors.

“The motivation for Facebook to improve their relationships with the media could be in part to the company wanting to steal some steam away from microblogging site Twitter, which arguably is a more popular reporting tool for journalists,” he writes.

LinkedIn for Journalists,”created on January 20, is one of the other services vying for a share of media professionals’ attention. The network regularly offers phone tutorials to more than 1,800 members, explaining topics like data visualization and new-media tools.

Google+ plus has given Facebook even more competition. The new social network lets users group contacts based on common themes, and they can choose to share content only with certain “Circles.” Journalists could use this feature to glean information from specific groups of people, an information-crowdsourcing feature pointed out by writer Sarah Marshall.

in Columbia, Mo., has begun using the Google+ video-chat service, Hangout, to interact with viewers during live newscasts, according to reporter/anchor Sarah Hill in PBS MediaShift report.

Facebook did recently added a video-messaging service of its own, and this Skype-powered tool has potential for innovative reporting. For example, journalists could interview sources via video and post real-time Facebook updates about the interviews, perhaps even quoting sources as they speak.

A success?

“Facebook + Journalists” is barely three months old, but as of 5:45 a.m. EST on July 9, it had 77,253 “likes.” The page curators wrote that 35,000 of those likes came in the first week after they launched the page.

The group also hosted a Meetup in Palo Alto, Calif., on April 27. Lavrusik said 160 people attended. The “Facebook + Journalists” crew Livestreamed the event for those who couldn’t make it.

Another Meetup took place in Paris on June 28.

How can this help journalists in mid-Missouri?

MU journalism students are more than familiar with the social capabilities of Facebook. But “Facebook + Journalists” gives them a way to learn how to use the site professionally. Students might already know the basics of fan pages and Facebook apps, but the page’s advice on building an online brand could come in handy. Most college folks know how to post a witty status that draws a few friendly comments, but knowing how to update your page in a way that fosters meaningful discussion is a whole different ball game.

Current mid-Missouri journalists can use “Facebook + Journalists” to keep up with the digital shift. Columbia is a tech-savvy city, but that doesn’t mean reporters who grew up reading a newspaper every morning aren’t overwhelmed by the changing state of the media. Vadim Lavrusik and his colleagues understand this, and they’ve made it easy for journalists to learn how to engage audiences on Facebook with step-by-step screenshots and community forums.

KOMU-TV posted user-submitted photos and distributed relief-effort information on its Facebook page after a tornado struck Joplin on May 22. “Facebook + Journalists” gives journalists the information they need to replicate KOMU’s effective use of the site. Jen Lee Reeves, the KOMU new media director, wrote an article for PBS MediaShift about the Joplin experience.

What do you think is the best feature of the page? Visit “Facebook + Journalists” and let us know.

Plus, check back July 14 for Addison Walton’s post about Twitter’s journalism resources.

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