NPR's Wright Bryan: 'Social journalism is not special'

by Ashley Nguyen
Oct 30, 2018 in Social Media

Wright Bryan helps manage NPR’s social media desk, but he wants you to know, “social journalism is not special.”

“[Social media is] not some guy in the corner,” Bryan told ICFJ’s Bringing Home the World fellows at a recent training. “It’s not something we should think about that’s apart from what we do. ... Social media is just an extension of our jobs as journalists.”

Social media allows us to meet all job requirements as reporters: ask questions, gather information, filter through the noise and publish our work. It lets us bring “fresh knowledge and insight into what we cover,” Bryan noted, and we should incorporate social media into our everyday routine.

Below, IJNet highlights some tips from Bryan’s conversation with the 15 Bringing Home the World fellows, who are preparing to take reporting trips abroad but want to stay connected to their followers.

Create a community and watch it grow

Whether you’re a journalist just starting out on Twitter or a reporter reevaluating your social media strategy, it’s important to think about your beat and follow people who reflect the topics you’ll cover.

“For social platforms to work for you, you really need to know your audience,” Bryan said. “Let’s say ethics is your thing: Sit down and find out who the top people are in that special beat, follow them and hopefully start listening to them.”

If you leave your beat to start something new, don’t be afraid to leave people behind and start fresh by following Bryan’s four steps:

  1. Identify your audiences
  2. Curate your following
  3. Create lists
  4. Engage

“It’s like tending a garden,” Bryan said. “It sounds like a lot of work, but in the end it’s fantastic.”

Learn from your peers

When aspiring to maximize your use of social media, take note of what other journalists are doing. Bryan cited Elise Hu, NPR’s international correspondent in South Korea. Hu maintains a Tumblr called Elise Goes East and fills it with tidbits about her life abroad. The posts don’t always revolve around her work life but offer glimpses into what life is like in Seoul for an expat.

“Elise represents the modern journalists who can do it all,” Bryan said. “She is really leading the way by showing [reporters] this is what we can do and can be.”

The social space also represents an opportunity for journalists with more to say to express themselves, Bryan explained. There’s no editor asking you to cut certain parts.

Be yourself — kind of

Bryan encouraged fellows to let their personalities shine through on social media, but also reminded them of their jobs as journalists. Review your news outlet’s policies and sit down with editors to discuss new things you want to try that aren’t necessarily covered in the handbook.

And sometimes, it’s OK to keep work life separate. Bryan keeps his Instagram account private, and fellow and Christian Science Monitor Africa Editor Paula Rogo maintains professional and personal social media accounts.

A thousand tools

“There are a thousand tools out there and you should use the tools that make sense for you,” Bryan said. But with a thousand tools, where should you start? “Figure out what you want to do and Google it,” he said.

Here are some tools you might want to experiment with:

  • If you message someone you’re not friends with on Facebook, we all know where that note ends up: the dreaded “other” box. But if you pay US$1, Facebook ensures the message goes to your potential source’s regular inbox.

  • IFTTT (If this, then that) allows users to create “recipes” to achieve social media efficiency. NPR international correspondent Ari Shapiro uses the service to post across all platforms simultaneously: You might see an Instagram photo Shapiro took of a fish auction in Scotland on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Beware of your audience though: Some avid followers might find the same content across all platforms annoying. IFTTT can also be useful for freelancers trying to keep track of expenses or traveling internationally: Recipes include “add incoming receipts to a spreadsheet” and “How strong is my currency in another country? Log the exchange rate every day.”

  • Your family and friends may want to see pictures of you having fun on their Facebook feeds, but maybe they’re not as interested in your latest story about a global issue or tax reform in the community where you report. To avoid “inundating people’s feeds,” fellow and Think Progress reporter Beenish Ahmed started a TinyLetter newsletter for people who actually want to see her work.

  • “If I were a reporter, I would be using [Periscope] everyday,” Bryan said, explaining that there’s a romance to putting what you’re doing in the moment into public view. “The Internet is visual.” Periscope also provides a two-way interface, Bryan noted. This allows your followers to comment on what you’re streaming, and within the video or on Twitter, you can respond.

  • When your editor says no one cares about a topic you’re pitching, use people’s tweets and posts as proof your audience has questions. Go find the community that cares by visiting Reddit and Facebook groups.

Check out Wright Bryan's full presentation by clicking here.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Eric Langhorst.