As an online journalist, you are more likely than any other professional group to utilize a wide range of platforms. What follows are short explanations of how major online platforms are utilized by journalists. Consider this overview to be a reference point rather than a to-do list. Though you may only use one or two of the platforms described below, you will nonetheless benefit from basic familiarity with the most popular alternatives available.
Before joining or publishing content on any site, be sure to:
- Read its Terms of Service and take specific care to understand the rights a platform may assume to your work
- Consider your specialties and priorities as a journalist and whether that site will serve them well
- Not join a site because everyone else seems to be doing so; a platform is only useful if it serves your goals and you actually use it
- Remember that having vibrant profiles on a variety of sites does not make you a good journalist; your merit is entirely dependent on the value you provide
The Purpose of a Personal Website for Online Journalists
Not every online journalist has a personal website, and in fact, many very famous ones rely exclusively on third party platforms. Those who do maintain personal websites use them to showcase:
- Their resume
- Their bio
- A contact page
- A portfolio featuring their best work
- Links to their social media profiles and work
- A blog, which provides background on their work and craft
Should you decide to create or maintain a personal website as an online journalist, we recommend keeping it simple, polished, and professional. Save personal posts and rants for privacy-protected social media accounts to which only a small set of close friends and family have access.
Keep information on your website up to date. If you do not have time to publish new posts or add new portfolio pieces, streamline your site’s content to make it timeless or eliminate the site altogether.
Blogger for Online Journalists
Many journalists host their personal sites through Blogger. The platform works well should you wish to have a spare site with regularly-occurring posts, a resume, and an about page.
Blogger’s perks include:
- Ease of use and simplicity
- The option to purchase your own domain through Blogger, which can make your personal website look more polished
- Excellent integration with other Google services, such as Analytics
Should you want to have a personal site as a journalist that does not (but can) revolve around posts and has more varied functionality, we recommend purchasing your own domain and hosting and using WordPress as your platform.
There are a myriad of free themes, plugins, and widgets that you can easily customize to create a very polished site, blog, and portfolio.
The Independent Media Center
The Independent Media Center, also known as Indymedia and IMC, is one of the oldest organizations with online properties dedicated specifically to journalism. It serves as a global platform to which anyone can contribute, and is comprised of a collection of related organizations from different regions (you can access each one from the global site).
Indymedia serves as an alternative to corporate and government-sponsored journalism, hence it is particularly welcoming to independent journalists (and anti-capitalist views, so if that annoys you, skip to the next section).
We recommend using Indymedia sites as:
- A place to publish high quality, substantive content you are willing to share for free
- A place to brush up on stories and perspectives outside the mainstream
Be sure to read an individual IMC site’s editorial policy before submitting content.
Facebook for Online Journalists
In many cases, Facebook has replaced the daily newspaper as the primary channel through which people consume news (both local and national). Facebook therefore is an essential platform for sharing information, however it can also be a good platform for preliminary research.
Using Facebook to Broadcast News
News is typically consumed on Facebook via the following mechanisms:
- Posts and from friends sharing news updates and links to news articles
- Posts from individual reporters that others friend and/or follow
- Posts from pages and groups people follow (e.g. The New York Times’ Facebook page)
Think through how your story might spread on Facebook and who might do the spreading.
- Whether it would be appropriate to create your own Facebook page (this would make sense if you are an independent journalist who regularly covers news on a specific topic, but would not make sense if you publish articles for a major media publication, as it probably already has its own page)
- Whether your work is titled in a manner that would come across as alluring to audiences as Facebook (importantly, whether the title is compelling and clearly describes the focus of the article)
- Whether your work contains an alluring and appropriate summary thumbnail image that would appear should someone share it as a link on Facebook
- Whether you want to publicly associate your Facebook profile with your work as a journalist (and whether you are willing to accept friend requests from your followers, sources, colleagues, etc.)
Using Facebook for Research and Contacting Sources
Because so many people maintain Facebook accounts, this platform is one of the most likely channels through which you may contact a potential source. Should you use your Facebook account for professional journalistic purposes, consider:
- Whether you should maintain separate personal and professional accounts
- Whether you present yourself (through public aspects of your profile) in a manner that clearly demonstrates to potential sources that you are working as a journalist and can be trusted to maintain journalistic integrity
Twitter for Online Journalists
Twitter may be one of the most popular social networks for journalists, as its very purpose is to be “real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting.”
As with Facebook, Twitter is used to both broadcast information and monitor news.
While journalists commonly use Facebook to present final versions of their articles (as links to specific webpages), they are more likely to use Twitter to report small updates to ongoing news stories (as well as the occasional link to a finished article).
News is best broadcast on Twitter in the form of:
- Text only updates to ongoing news stories containing relevant hashtags
- Links to news articles with added context (@mentions of specific twitter users, hashtags, summaries, reasons for relevance, etc.)
- Tweets that CLEARLY disclose when something is not verified
The Importance of Verification and Disclosure on Twitter
Because everything happens so quickly on Twitter, because it is so easy to post a tweet or retweet someone else’s statement, and because tweets are so limited in length, it is very easy to mistakenly:
- Misrepresent an issue
- Share unverified information
- Fail to disclose that information is not verified
When sharing information on Twitter, especially as a journalist, it is of extreme importance that you represent information as fairly as possible and clearly indicate when information you share is not verified. For more information, review our source verification standards.
Acquiring Information on Twitter
Twitter is the ultimate place to find real-time dialogue on a particular subject. Reporters have much to gain from monitoring key people, keywords, and hashtags. There are numerous tools that enable one to do so.
Specific Twitter monitoring tools are discussed in the next lesson. Once you select one, use it to:
- Answer questions from your followers
- Contact sources who can add depth and value to a story
- Cross-check facts with contacts who have expertise in relevant subject areas
- Monitor what people are saying (or asking) about a particular subject you are covering or investigating
- Answer questions people have regarding subjects you cover when you have useful information to contribute
Tumblr for Online Journalists
Tumblr’s advantage for journalists lies in several features:
- The ease with which one can beautifully showcase very discrete pieces of information (e.g. JUST a quote, JUST a photo, JUST a link)
- The convenience with which one can post information to Tumblr (e.g. through one’s mobile phone, through an email- even as a phoned in audio post)
While one might expect more thorough presentation in a traditional blog post (e.g. several paragraphs, an image or two), just one sentence or an image is perfectly polished on Tumblr. And while microblogging is epitomized by Twitter, short bits of non-text information are still showcased best by Tumblr.
Tumblr can be used for a wide variety of purposes (a full out blog with detailed posts or just a feed of photos and links), however unless you have a very active audience on the site, we recommend using it (if at all) to simply post links to and excerpts of your work and research. Excerpts should serve as stand alone content with inherent value. Links should be shared sparingly. Additional value can be added by reblogging others’ relevant work.
To specifically leverage your unique value as a journalist, you might post:
- A quote from an interview you’re working on as a teaser
- A photo of an event you are covering (in real time, from the event)
- A link to an article of yours that was recently published in a major newspaper
- An audio or video clip from a recent exchange you had with an interesting source
- A transcribed chat sequence from a recent exchange with an interview subject
- Something else someone posted on Tumblr that is relevant to your work (reblogging is an excellent means by which you can go above and beyond promoting your own work)
Don’t over think Tumblr. Though it might be known for being more playful as a platform, we recommend keeping your work polished, professional, and related to your work.
Pinterest for Online Journalists
Though Pinterest is far from the first social network a journalist might think to join, it is useful in certain circumstances and can be a helpful means by which one can reach additional audiences (audiences, mind you, that might not be found on traditional news sites).
Should you decide to join Pinterest as a journalist, we recommend:
- Focusing on visuals- NOT stories
- Pinning content that has stand-alone value
- Creating several boards with cohesive themes- e.g. one to which you pin photos of products you’re reviewing as a tech journalist, another of shots of conferences you cover, another of photos snapped of (willing) interview subjects, etc.
- Using Pinterest to re-pin manifestations of trends you find on the site (e.g. if you cover fashion as a journalist, you can create several boards curating emerging trends)
- Creating a Pinterest board to which you pin morsels of information uncovered in the midst of researching a story
- Utilizing Pinterest itself for research- the social network can be a great place to find trend spotters and savvy curators who can provide valuable information on a story you’re researching
- Sharing any infographics you create via a dedicated board- infographics are the one form of densely-informational content that does well on Pinterest
- Opening themed group boards to your readers (e.g. personalities in the local area you’re covering, great local eateries and dishes, etc.) and inviting them to contribute content
- @Mentioning readers who contribute pins or contribute content to your stories to build stronger ties with your following
When posting content on Pinterest, keep in mind that the primary audience is comprised of adult women, and not women in a mood for hard news stories. Fashion, gadgets, lifestyle, travel, and pets do much better than content related to economics, politics, science, and business. To give your pins good odds of gaining attention (and encourage people to pin images associated with your work), see our guide to creating Pinterest-optimized images.
When Sharing Articles on Pinterest
Avoid just sharing promotional links to articles you publish- it’s simply not a good use of the format. When you do share links to your work, make sure you are sharing them through high quality, compelling images and providing a caption that is both informative and alluring.
The Wall Street Journal presents a good example of a publication that shares its own articles in a Pinterest-friendly manner: the images are gorgeous, the captions are useful, and the articles to which each pin leads are just what one would want should one desire more information (e.g. the recipe behind a gorgeous food shot).
Instagram for Online Journalists
Much like Pinterest, Instagram is a good place for sharing visual information that stands on its own. What makes Instagram different from Pinterest is:
- You have only one feed
- You are more likely to just be uploading photos from your mobile device
- You cannot link back to articles from your photos
While you can certainly upload screenshots, infographics, and other sorts of images to Instagram, we recommend making use of it in the manner for which it was designed to be used. Take original photos on your mobile device, use Instagram’s features to make them look cool, make sure your location is tagged, and add an interesting caption.
To leverage your unique identity as a journalist on Instagram:
- Share photo updates of your experience reporting from the ground (upload shots from a fashion show, a political gathering, a protest, etc.) to give your followers the ability to follow stories more closely as you cover them
- Share photo updates of your story-creation process (upload shots of your editor, screenshots of notes from your notepad, stylized images of your jumbled notes, etc.) to give your readers a behind-the-scenes view of your work
- Use Instagram to see what people associate with certain subjects (or what they care to visually share about them) by searching for certain hashtags
For the most part, Instagram is a place to develop a closer relationship with your audience by giving them a more intimate glance at your work, not a place to share news.
YouTube for Online Journalists
Though fully utilizing the platform requires more relative effort, journalists have much to gain from using YouTube. The site is excellent for:
- Developing a stronger connection with your readers
- Making use of video content that has been left out of the final cut (you might present your YouTube channel as an extra features supplement to an official channel)
Reasons Not to Post Content YouTube
We do not recommend uploading content to the site if you:
- Do not have a good video camera / are not comfortable regularly uploading crappy webcam video
- Are not particularly comfortable with video as a format
- Do not already create videos
- Are pressed for time as it is
Reasons to Post Content YouTube
We recommend uploading videos to YouTube if you:
- Specialize in video journalism
- Are an independent reporter and need a platform through which you share video footage
- Are already creating video content that is valuable but may not be used elsewhere
- Are comfortable giving short- but very informative- video updates on a regular basis (even if you do not have a good camera)
Should you like some production tips as you get started on the site, we recommend making use of The YouTube Reporters’ Center.
How to Use YouTube when Not Actively Uploading Videos
Just because you do not intend to regularly upload video does not mean you should abandon YouTube entirely. The site provides excellent resources for journalists, including:
- YouTube Trends: Information on trending videos and subjects
- CitizenTube: Breaking news from citizen journalists (more on their official blog)
- YouTube Media: YouTube’s informational resource for members of the media seeking content via YouTube
Google+ for Online Journalists
Because Google+ has yet to become the go-to online hangout of a significant portion of the online community, many journalists discount it, but one must not overlook its powerful tools, which can do you a world of good.
Google+ enables you to upload an unlimited number of photos, which makes it an awesome place to store images for easy access from a variety of devices. As an added bonus:
- Neither file names nor sizes are not altered when photos are uploaded
- Google+ incorporates image correction features into your work
- You can search for specific objects (e.g. building, tree, food, faces) amongst your photos and Google+ will bring them up with a surprising degree of accuracy
- You can have your mobile phone’s photos automatically upload to Google+ using the Google+ Android or iPhone app
These features make Google+ an excellent option for personal online photo databases.
Using Google+ Hangouts as a Journalist
Google+ Hangouts are great for:
- Collaborating on stories with other journalists (you can enable screen shares, quickly send links, view YouTube videos, etc.)
- Conducting interviews (you can easily record them for reference or later publication)
The added convenience of being able to conduct Hangouts from within Gmail is icing on the cake.
Using Google+ Circles and Posts as a Journalist
Though it can be cumbersome to use Facebook as a professional and as a private individual, it is much easier to use Google+ for personal purposes while simultaneously utilizing the platform as a journalist. Just be sure to create and maintain separate circles for personal contacts, colleagues, sources, and readers.
It should go without saying that when sharing content on Google+, you should only share that which carries inherent, unique value.
To leverage your uniqueness as a journalist, consider using Google+ as yet another place to:
- Share photo and video updates on subjects you’re covering
- Crowdsource your research process by asking questions of your followers
LinkedIn for Online Journalists
While some social networks are excellent for broadcasting information or engaging with followers, LinkedIn carries two distinct benefits for journalists through:
- Its emphasis on thorough professional profiles
- Its usefulness as a means of contacting experts
Using LinkedIn to Find Essential Details
Few other social media platforms provide adequate (or at least adequately accessible/visible) information on a person’s educational and professional background. LinkedIn frequently offers the easiest means by which one can:
- Determine whether a potential source has adequate credentials to be considered a citable expert
- Find essential details on the subject in a story (e.g. geographic area, employment history, current and past employer, education, etc.)
Though most profiles on LinkedIn are far from complete, they still make for an excellent foundation when researching someone’s background.
Using LinkedIn to Contact Sources
A large proportion of (even tech-phobic) people who are likely to end up in stories, such as business owners, executives, and experts in a particular field, have and maintain LinkedIn profiles.
To have more success contacting valuable sources online:
- Complete your LinkedIn profile in a manner that makes it clear you are a legitimate journalist who can be trusted (the more information people have about you, the less questionable you become)
- Cultivate a robust network of contacts on LinkedIn; this will make it easier to get an introduction to someone who is otherwise inaccessible
- Send messages that are succinct, professional, and clear (and avoid the stock messages that LinkedIn provides)
Flickr for Online Journalists
Though we recommend using Google+ as your default photo storage tool (due to its speed, functionality, and unlimited storage space), you may still want to use Flickr as a journalist to access its excellent community and broad audience.
Uploading Photos to Flickr as a Journalist
To make the most of Flickr as an active user who uploads photos:
- Organize photos into thematic albums related to your various stories or areas of expertise as a journalist (e.g. SXSW 2013 or Interview Portraits)
- Get critiques on your work if you are trying to develop your skills as a photojournalist by contributing to various groups and building up a network of friends
Using Flickr Photos as a Journalist
Flickr has an amazing database of photos that have been given Creative Commons licenses, which enable you to use them in your work. For more tips on doing so, visit our guide to properly using and attributing Creative Commons photos.
Vimeo for Online Journalists
Whereas YouTube is an ideal place to regularly post content and garner a large following, Vimeo can be a great place to upload one-off videos. There is less of an expectation that one will regularly contribute videos to the platform (hence there is less emphasis on subscription) and the site is known for hosting higher quality footage.
To make the most of Vimeo as a journalist:
- Give your video a “videojournalist” tag and follow the tag on Vimeo so that you can comment and build relationships with other journalists on Vimeo
- Utilize lessons posted by the Vimeo Video School to sharpen your skills
- Seek inspiration from other journalist groups that are experimenting with the platform, such as the Neiman Journalism Lab and NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute
Podcasts for Online Journalists
Podcasts only make sense for journalists who:
- Have a lot of time
- Are willing to commit to regularly recording and sharing podcasts
- Are comfortable recording and editing their own work (not to mention voice)
That said, one can build up a significant following through podcasts (given the right dedication and ability to deliver something of significant value), so we would not rule them out.
Muck Rack is somewhat like a Gigaverse, but designed exclusively for journalists, without courses/guides, and with interesting features that enable you to see what fellow journalists are talking about.
Should you want to establish yourself as a serious journalist, we recommend that you:
- Create and complete a profile on Muck Rack (this involves adding a bio, disclosing subjects you cover and do not cover, answering interview questions, adding portfolio pieces, sharing any awards you have won, etc.)
- Make it possible for others to send pitches to you through your profile
- Get listed with publications to which you contribute as a journalist
- Build new contacts and learn from other journalists by adding them to to media lists and following their work
- Subscribe to the Muck Rack Daily to receive email updates on what established journalists are buzzing about
For tips on using Muck Rack from its creator Gregory Galant, stop by our Q&A with him.
Storify for Online Journalists
Because online journalism plays out over a wide range of media, and because so much of online journalism entails skilled curation, Storify, a dynamic, interactive storytelling platform, has become an extremely useful platform for reporters.
Storify enables you to curate, order, and re-order content from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr (not to mention webpages/news story summaries, images, and gifs) into a cohesive narrative reinforced with original text. Stories can be featured elsewhere online via convenient embed code (basically, you embed Storify narratives just as you would embed a YouTube video).
We recommend utilizing the site for:
- Research: It can be a great place to assemble source content and notes before composing a complete article
- Sharing ongoing stories: Storify is especially helpful for sharing stories that update regularly, play out over a wide range of media outlets and platforms, and are already extensively covered
- Sharing media-rich stories when you’re in a rush: Because it can take a long time to format a news story nicely when it contains a wide variety of images, links, and videos, Storify offers a good solution for instances in which you are short on time
Scoop.it for Online Journalists
Scoop.it is another curation-based site for people who would like to create online resources that feature hand-selected content that revolves around a specific topic.
What makes Scoop.it particularly useful is that it provides you with a feed of content related to the subject of your choosing so that you do not have to go out and hunt for it. Users of Scoop.it decide which stories are worth including in their curated collection and add additional comments and context as desired.
Scoop.it may bea helpful monitoring and research tool for journalists. Whether you should use it or not depends on whether you are already happy with your current research tools and processes.
Potential Uses for Scoop.it as a Journalist
- Personal collection of research for a story
- Semi-personal collection of research to which colleagues and collaborators contribute and submit comments
- Public (that is, you publicly promote it) collection of search on a story on which your followers are invited to comment
- Public collection of other journalists’ articles (on a subject in which you specialize) to which you add commentary
Scoopshot for Online Journalists
Scoopshot serves as a marketplace for media outlets and freelance photographers and average Joes shooting photos and video through a mobile app. Scoopshot provides two useful functionalities as a platform:
- The ability to sell original photos
- Easy access to a large network of professional photographers, should you need to quickly commission high quality photography for a story
We recommend it if:
- You take high quality photographs as a journalist and are interested in new avenues for monetization
- You moonlight as a freelance photographer
- You have a smartphone and spend a lot of time in places or at events that are or may be covered by the media
- You frequently need to establish contacts with freelance photographers and send them on assignments when pressed for time
Rawporter for Online Journalists
Rawporter enables you to earn a profit from photo and video footage shot through your phone. Using the Rawporter app (available for both Android devices and iPhones), you can upload and set minimum prices for photos and videos that may then be sold to media outlets. Should any sale take place, you will earn 80% of the profit. Using Rawporter does not require you to refrain from sharing content you upload through the app on Facebook and Twitter.
We recommend this app to online journalists who:
- Regularly take photos and video footage with smartphones already
- Would like to monetize some of their content
The site is still in beta, so be willing to endure a little clunkiness. That said, should the platform pick up, it may become a convenient source of side income, especially as more media outlets become familiar with the site and begin utilizing its assignments feature, which enables them to submit bids for specific types of footage.
Proprietary News Platforms
On a final note, it helps to be aware that several news organizations (and independent companies) have created platforms through which they accept submissions from citizen journalists. In most cases, these are not worth your time, but it helps to be aware of them. For a brief overview, visit our guide to submitting content to news channels.
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