Last week, I participated in a question-and-answer session on innovation in social media in front of an audience of social media and marketing professionals. I spoke about how we use artificial intelligence to build new experiences and features for our apps, and why audio and video are exciting spaces for creators, highlighting the progress of Facebook Gaming and Instagram Reels.
In one exchange with an audience participant, I was asked for an example of a journalist who is using social media effectively and my immediate reflex was to talk about reporters who are on social media – the people who do an amazing job using social platforms to promote their reporting, interact directly with readers, source material for their articles, and chat about their beat in general. There are too many people to list here so I’ll mention a few I follow closely such as Taylor Lorenz, Chris Stokel-Walker, Rachel Thompson, Amelia Tait, the entire Insider digital culture team, and others.
Upon further reflection, I realized the answer above was incomplete so in this article I want to focus on two other types of reporters I admire: those who create for social media and those who create on social media.
Creating for social media has brought new life into journalism during the last decade. If I had to illustrate it in one example, it would have to be Brut. Their video team has a firm grasp of what type of content works well online and consistently produces viral, informative videos.
But it’s not just short-form video that has defined this category: in my home country of Romania, I’ve witnessed the rise of Recorder – a video-first publication that has done captivating long-form investigative work and reached millions of people via YouTube and Facebook. Their website acts as a simple index of all their videos but most of the action happens on their social channels, where people vigorously share and comment on their videos.
Another recent development in this category (or radical overhaul of how journalism is done, depending on whom you ask) has been the resurgence of newsletters. I won’t do an analysis of what newsletters mean for the future of journalism; read this if you want to understand this trend in greater depth. Instead, I want to point out that one reason why newsletters have become viable as a business is because the reporters producing them have leveraged their social media presence and influence to build these new media brands. It’s also an exciting space that brings together lots of newcomers and more established voices and I can’t wait to see how it evolves over time.
Creating on social media is the natural evolution of creating for social media and it will probably influence the next decade of journalism. The most recent example of this phenomenon is Sidechannel, a new Discord server launched by Casey Newton and seven other people in media which aims to create a “virtual newsroom” built around the combined audiences and communities that these reporters have built over years of working at traditional publications.
But perhaps an even more interesting case study is Sophia Smith Galer, a BBC reporter on religion and internet culture. Not only has she been successfully creating documentaries for and about social media, she is also an established creator in her own right, with a large and dedicated following on TikTok and Twitter. She’s even part of TikTok’s first UK creator council, advising the app on its future direction.
Following Sophia on TikTok is a delight – you will get a mix of her reporting (packaged in a very accessible way) and videos about her passions, whether it’s women’s rights or foreign languages.
Another example – closer to home – is Iulia Ionescu who works for Pro TV (a national broadcaster in Romania) and has also built a following on Instagram where she uses Reels and Stories to give her followers behind-the-scenes clips of her and her colleagues at work (who knew being in a newsroom could be so fun?) and also makes content related to tech, food or fashion.
I am very excited about this new journalist-turned-creator model and what it could do for reporting in 2021 and beyond. For example, these creator-reporters have a natural ability to establish closer, more authentic relationships with the general public, to take their reporting beyond the confines of the traditional channels and audiences provided by their outlets, and to humanize their work using formats that appeal to people, such as short-form video. But most importantly, they have perhaps the best chance to repair the lost connection between people and news brands at a time when trust in the media is at an all time low.