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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

WOUB panel ‘pros’ should ask ‘amateurs’ for new media tips

In a conversation I had with a bright Ohio University alumnus about choosing a web hosting service, I referred to Scott Johnson as my friend. I’ve never met the guy, but I feel like I know him well enough to share his caution on “unlimited bandwidth” with him. Maybe it’s the Utah connection we have. Maybe I listen to too many of his podcasts. Or maybe it’s because Scott using social media technology online so effectively that I feel like I have become his friend.

After listening to a panel of distinguished Ohio journalists and alumni talk about how to use social networking, it’s a lesson I think is worth sharing.

Veteran journalist Martin Savidge (at about 26:00) admits that media professionals don’t know how to use social media, so with this post I’d like to introduce him and the other participants in WOUB’s NewsWatch InDepth panel to people like Scott Johnson.

Twitter, Facebook, and even comment and message boards on a Web aren’t just for providing content. You can’t just use Twitter or Facebook to promote your stories as Allen Miller, managing editor of the Columbus Dispatch said (see his response at 17:50). The value of Twitter is connecting with the audience, which is a staple of what independent web content developers such as Johnson are doing.

In the same vein, hosting comments or a forum on your site isn’t enough either. Podcasters such as Johnson prove you need to actually interact with audience. That’s how you make friends.

What’s standing in the way of journalists making the same kind of friends is the assumption that those who don’t have a journalism school degree can’t compete on equal footing with those who do. The responses (starting at 19:50) to OU student Sarah Neely’s question on citizen journalism reflect that attitude. Savidge says the beauty of the Internet is connectivity, and journalists want to speak on a level playing field. How does establishing some as professional and some as amateur accomplish that?

I also think it’s interesting that journalists talk about the “training process” in reference to citizen journalism, but discount the need for a journalism degree in their newsrooms.

Hugh Martin gets it right and makes me think he might be a closet podcast listener like myself. Citizen journalism exists to bring the issue that matters to people to the professionals attention, Martin said, and those professionals won’t ever see it as long as they think of citizen journalists as “amateurs.”

As critical as I’ve been here, I encourage you to watch the entire hour because the panelists are experienced newspeople trying to come to grips with a changing world. When you’re finished, however, pop over to FrogPants.com or Leo LaPorte’s TWiT network, or even Rocketboom. If journalists and journalism students want to understand how to work in the new media world, they need to turn to those who’ve already figured it out. I agree with Wayne MacPhail that journalism educators are failing if we are not teaching out students about these non-traditional, or as most of the panelists would say non-professional sites.

PhotoCredit: Thanks to Scott Johnson, ExtraLife on Flickr, for the use of the logo of his podcasting network.

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