In the past week I noticed a few friends in journalism attempting a new type of newsgathering in the wake of the tragic plane crash near Buffalo. These unfailingly old-school journalists embraced new media, posting status messages on Facebook asking, very sensitively, if anyone knew people who may have connections with Continental Flight 3407 and who may be willing to tell their story.
I’ve spent many years on both sides of the journalism-media relations street. I’ve been an editor trying to find people connected to a tragedy, and I’ve done media relations as reporters sought people related to a sad story. The most memorable instance of the latter was on 9/11, as our campus was flooded with calls from reporters looking for someone, anyone with personal ties that could place greater context on that unthinkable event.
One of the worst journalism cliches is the sight or thought of a reporter sticking a microphone in the face of a grieving loved one to ask how they feel about a tragedy. Maybe this use of Facebook to find leads represents a kindler, gentler way to do business. My friends were working their connections but only looking for those ready and willing to speak. Those impacted by a bad situation are treated less like prey and more like partners.
It further shows how social media is changing the communication landscape. In Web 2.0, we are all a certain number of connections away from other people with whom we can establish various kinds of relationships. Moreover, it reinforces that social media continues to change the way we find, tell and share stories.