Marian Codilla, multimedia editor, Cebu Daily News

By Maria Armie Sheila Garde

Social media continues to change the way newsrooms gather, process and publish information. News organizations and journalists themselves are seeing the opportunities in boosting their online presence through social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, among others.

Media practitioners are also well aware of the challenges in the way news is gathered, read and shared through these online tools. Now that information is blown out first on social media, how does news become exclusive and who gets the scoop?

In the Sun.Star Cebu newsroom, the use of social media among reporters and editors is not mandatory.

Sun.Star Cebu editor-in-chief Isolde Amante said the reporters are encouraged to be on social media as much as their comfort levels allow them.

“We don’t drag them. I feel that they would adopt the habit more if they found it enjoyable. They would learn from it more if they themselves decide that it is something they ought to be doing. It’s not mandatory but encouraged.

It’s something we should embrace,” Amante said.

After months of using Twitter in breaking news and updates of major coverage, Sun.Star Cebu reporter Justin Vestil now finds it a natural part of his routine at work. He started using Twitter and Instagram in his coverage of the mv St. Thomas Aquinas and Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. (formerly Sulpicio Lines) collision on Aug. 16, 2013.

“Twitter is a helpful tool in reporting the news. The 140-character post helps me practice my lead writing and challenges me to interpret and report the news in just a few words,” he said.

Marian Codilla, multimedia editor of Cebu Daily News, said social media presents an opportunity for journalists to widen the scope of their news gathering.

On social media is a community that is actively involved in the creation and dissemination of information that is not physically reached by our reporters, said Codilla.

“Several times, stories derived from social media landed on the main pages of the paper if not on page one. These are stories of ordinary individuals that have a big impact on and appeal to both the local, national or even worldwide communities. These include the stories of the taped baby, berating priest, alleged transgender discrimination, and our series of shark stories, among many others,” she said.

Radio journalists in Cebu have also found a way to make use of social media to reach a wider audience.

Jhunnex Napallacan, news director of dyLA, said they use their Facebook profile DyLa Cebu, which has already reached the maximum friend limit of 5,000 friends, practically every day to give breaking news and updates.

Napallacan also said newsworthy stories can develop through Facebook, like the taping of the infant’s mouth at a maternity hospital in Cebu and the priest who berated a single mother during the baptism of her baby.

“If we were not constantly using Facebook, we could have been left behind by other news organizations,” he said.

Redefining the scoop

The traditional definition of scoop among media practitioners is a story exclusive to a newspaper, radio or television outlet. A journalist with such a story had to keep it hidden and make sure the competition didn’t get it before the scoop got published in the newspaper the next day or got aired on the radio or TV.

But now that stories are breaking fast online, who can be considered to have scored a scoop?

Rianne Tecson, social media editor, Sun.Star Cebu

“The scoop would need to be redefined, especially with stories breaking very fast on Twitter. Now a scoop would have to depend on the details the journalist has in his possession,” said Michelle So, Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu] editor-in-chief.

So added that while everyone can get the story, not everyone knows what angle to pursue and how to better evaluate the information at hand.

Sun.Star Cebu social media editor Rianne Tecson stressed that getting a scoop now refers more to who gets it out first. “The faster, the more accurate, the better.”

“It’s also how you present the story using visuals and infographics, for example, especially since people who are on social media are mostly mobile,” said Tecson.

She also said reporters are encouraged to use their own social media accounts in breaking the news because they are in the field most of the time, and they have a first-person account of the news as it happens.

But there are times when breaking stories are posted first on the Sun.Star accounts like @sunstarcebu on Twitter, she said.

“Some reporters, especially those who are not active on social media, prefer to send the updates to me, and I post them on the Sun.Star Cebu accounts I handle,” she said.

Credibility

Laureen Jean Mondoñedo-Ynot, Sun.Star website content editor, said allowing reporters to use their own Twitter or Facebook accounts in breaking the news helps readers weigh the credibility of the posts on social media.

“If they see that the tweet or post came from a ‘trained’ journalist of a media company, Sun.Star, for example, then the readers or followers would know that the information is accurate. Journalists, after all, are trained to fact-check reports,” she said.

Laureen Jean Mondoñedo-Ynot, content editor, Sun.Star Network Exchange

She also cited social media features that allow reporters and editors to tag the accounts of the media organization they are working for in their posts whenever necessary.

“Twitter, for example, has the Retweet feature that allows editors to repost tweets on Sun.Star accounts, @sunstaronline and @sunstarcebu. It also has the Mention feature that allows reporters to tag @sunstarcebu and @sunstaronline in their tweets. Tagging the Sun.Star accounts also means alerting and giving the editor the task of helping spread the news, and alerting other reporters for a possible follow-up,” Mondoñedo-Ynot said.

The scoop is still relevant, but it’s now harder to get, said Amante, who also likes the idea of redefining what a scoop means. “The implication is we need more than just to be attuned to what people are interested in but also to find the information that they need to know but not out there,” she said.

There are stories that you can’t tweet until you have studied and investigated the available data, said Vestil.

“Having a scoop would depend on the stories. If I am at the scene where the news happened, I have to tweet every update, every minute because I happened to be there. But in stories, say about a Commission on Audit report, it takes time because I still have to study it. We can still have a scoop in enterprise stories, among others,” he said.

Heightened competition

Amante said with social media coming into the picture, competition has been completely blown open and its scope has become much larger. Competition happens not only among local newspapers and networks against each other but also against all potential publishers.

Competition also always boils down to how the details are assessed and processed and how stories are presented visually both in print and online, and how photos and graphics are used to complement the stories so that readers can get the news easier and faster, said So.

In broadcast, especially in radio, getting a scoop is equivalent to who broadcasts the news first, Napallacan said.

“We can’t just hide news stories and wait for another day just like the print media. Now that we’re active in social media, we can say that we have done our job right by breaking the news as soon as we get it. And we can take pride when some news organizations, even our colleagues in radio, make follow-up reports on incidents based on our Facebook posts and radio broadcasts.”

“Of course, getting the news fast is not enough. Making thorough follow-ups also matters,” he said.

Codilla said with social media, “scoops” are extremely short-lived. “Within seconds, there will be hundreds of status updates and comments on a particular incident. Ordinary citizens will have already posted photos, videos. It would be absurd for a news organization to post ‘breaking news’ if online users already knew about it ahead of us.”

She added that news organizations, amid all the noise created in social media, must still fulfill their vital role not only of providing the breaking news but also of contextualizing the story, giving accurate background information and helping the public understand how the news events could affect their lives.

The meaty parts of the report, however, must be reserved for the newspaper to ensure that online readers would still want to read the full story in the paper, Codilla said.

“On a personal note, no one cares about who broke the story first, except the journalists involved. What matters to me or even ordinary readers is not who brought the story first but the accuracy of the report,” she said.

Tweets, posts help

Social media allows journalists to report the news as it happens, and reach as well as engage a much wider audience.

It helps reporters and editors know what stories potential readers are interested in, gauge what stories to pursue, and monitor what stories, photos and videos are trending and viral.

Justin Vestil, reporter, Sun.Star Cebu

Vestil said social media is very helpful in real-time coverage. “If the news action happens in front of you, you cannot help but tweet it.”

Reporters also use their tweets as outline or reference to their stories. “I also use social media to get notifications from other news sources, and monitor other journalists and newspapers in Cebu. It keeps me updated as well,” he said.

Vestil added that social media is helpful to journalists who are always on the go. “In the baby taping incident, the interview was done mostly on Facebook. Some of my sources can be contacted on Facebook. Sourcing and verifying sources can be done on social media.”

Tecson said editors countercheck the stories of reporters through their tweets. “We give them instructions on how to do it. More or less, it can guide reporters in (pursuing) their story.”

Reporters’ tweets help the editor gauge the weight of the story and help find better ways to pursue the story, said So.

Amante said frequent tweeters give editors who are also active on social media a chance to help vet the story early in the writing process. “I remember asking one of the reporters a couple of questions after seeing his tweets on a particular story. I trusted the reporter, but I wanted to make sure that he got all the information. The earlier the editor becomes part of the writing process, the better. It helps improve the mentor-student relationship.”

Tracking reporters

Napallacan said Facebook helps them monitor if their radio reporter in the field is doing his job. “In the police beat, for example, there are police operations conducted at dawn, and some of our reporters on the field post them on Facebook. If our reporter failed to report that operation, then we ask for an explanation about his laxity with the hope that he will not be outscooped next time.”

Social media also helps them address the issue of the lack of manpower, said Napallacan, because through Facebook, they can receive information from their friends about a vehicular accident or a crime that happened in remote places.

Jhunnex Napallacan, news director, dyLA

“The information can help us make follow-up reports by calling the police station or if necessary, deploying our reporter there,” said Napallacan.

Journalists agree that there are challenges in embracing social media, like fact checking crowdsourced content and rethinking old habits of traditional journalists, among others. But the tools are undeniably helpful online tools for reporting and knowing what people want to know.

“Reporters need to shift as mojos (mobile journalists), and with more innovations coming very fast, we should be one step ahead,” said Vestil.

Codilla said it is a challenge for journalists to report as fast as any other social media user but paying more attention to accuracy. “In social media, one mistake and you become the subject of ridicule of the very critical online audience. These people can freely publish their own interpretation of events.”

She added that reporters also need to adjust to multiple deadlines and learn new skills of reporting without jeopardizing their grasp of the basics.

Exciting

For radio journalists, the whole social media phenomenon is challenging and exciting, said Napallacan. “It’s exciting because we are also dealing with listeners who do not have access to social media. And those who can’t listen to our news programs can still be aware of the happenings through social media.”

Napallacan said the patience and initiative of a mainstream journalist in getting the whole picture of an incident with complete facts and follow-ups without bias will matter in the end.

“Of course, we also have to be prudent and careful in posting news on social media because it is still our responsibility not to degrade the lives of other people,” he said.

Amante said social media is a challenge, not a threat. “It is new, but we can learn a lot from it.”