What do Mizzou journalism students think of Google+?

By Andrew Gibson

Two giants were at it again last week.

Facebook released a slew of new features, the most significant of which lets users customize the amount of News Feed updates they see from each of their friends. Google made headlines by opening social network Google+ to everyone and by announcing that Hangouts, the site's video-chat tool that lets up to 10 people talk together, are now available on Android devices version 2.3 or above, according to Mashable.

Facebook has the clear upper hand in the news industry because it's been around so much longer, but there's no doubt its feeling pressure from Google+. Jen Lee Reeves, Missouri School of Journalism associate professor and KOMU-TV interactive director, has championed Google+ as the perfect combination of Facebook and Twitter, pointing out in a PBS MediaShift story that users can conveniently share content only with people to whom they're connected (or "circled," in Google+ lingo) or with the entire Web. Facebook's News Feed upgrade is an attempt to rival this granularity, according to Mashable.

But while KOMU has begun regularly incorporating Google+ into its newscasts, some journalists have dismissed the service completely. Dan Reimold, a University of Tampa assistant journalism professor, wrote the following in a PBS MediaShift article:

Google+ is dead. At worst, in the coming months, it will literally fade away to nothing or exist as Internet plankton. At best, it will be to social networking what Microsoft's Bing is to online search: perfectly adequate; fun to stumble onto once in awhile; and completely irrelevant to the mainstream web.

Another journalist, Mathew Ingram of GigaOM, doesn't go as far as to write an epitaph for Google+, but he does note that the "substantial changes to the way users interact with Facebook and Facebook-based apps are a significant threat to Google in trying to grow its Google+ network."

My future with Google+ is undecided. Circles and Hangouts seem like they can be useful reporting tools, but the thought of managing another social media account is, well, overwhelming. But my opinion is only one of many, and because I live in a city -- Columbia, Mo. -- full of Internet-savvy college students, I set out to interview six journalism students and six non-journalism students about the service. Here's what I found:

Journalism students:

  • Of the six students I randomly interviewed at the Reynolds Journalism Institute on Friday -- three women, three men -- only one said she has a Google+ account. All said they have Facebook.
  • The person with a Google+ account was a woman: Megan Zagorski, a sophomore who hasn't yet entered a journalism emphasis area. Overall, 30 percent of Google+ users are female, according to statistics from data-analysis firm Bime published on Aug. 19.
  • Of the five who didn't have Google+, only one expressed a need to join the service for journalism purposes. 
Zagorski said the service -- Hangouts in particular -- "has potential" to become a useful networking tool for journalists. However, Zagorski said she doesn't use Google+ for that purpose right now because she doesn't know many others that use it.

Important to note is that only one of these six interviewees said he uses Facebook for journalism purposes.  Junior Travis Zimpfer told me he sometimes sees stories in his News Feed that he includes in blog posts. When I asked another interviewee if he would consider using Facebook to find sources, he said it was "too informal" for that. 

Non-journalism students:
  • Of the six students I interviewed at the MU Student Center -- three women, three men -- four said they have Google+ accounts. All said they had Facebook.
  • All three men said they have Google+. Of those three, one said he uses it as much as Facebook while one said he rarely logs on. The other said he views the two services an equal amount but actively uses Google+ less because there's fewer people on the network. 
  • The one woman who said she uses Google+ told me she logs on regularly but still uses Facebook more often. 
I must stress that these 12 spontaneous interviews don't pass as a scientific sample of who uses Google+ at Mizzou. A real study would require that I survey people from every major and divide them based on their year in school. I would also need to separate journalism students into two categories: those who have declared an entered an emphasis area, and those who haven't.

I would guess that students in upper-level reporting classes are more likely to have used social media for story research and sourcing.

That said, my goal isn't to be a scientist. Rather, it's to plant a seed in your mind: do you think Google+ will become an integral part of journalism, or do you fall in the camp of Omaha World-Herald columnist Rainbow Rowell, who wrote this on Aug. 21:
My Google+ home page is worse than a ghost town. It doesn't even feel haunted.

Image of Google+ logo at top courtesy of Flickr user Bruce Clay

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