Sree Sreenivasan on journalism’s future

Sree Sreenivasan

Columbia School of Journalism professor and dean Sree Sreenivasan, who describes himself as a “tech evangelist/skeptic,” will be speaking to Northeastern journalism students in a few moments. I will try to live-blog this as best as I can, though at the moment my connection seems a bit flaky.

Here are Professor Sreenivasan’s tips on social media. Perhaps his most important observation that didn’t make it into my notes below is that journalists should use social media mainly to “listen,” not to “broadcast.”

3:10 p.m. “I consider myself a print guy who happens to like some aspects of the Internet,” says Sreenivasan. He reads two newspapers and subscribes to five magazines. “I’m hoping there will still be print for many decades to come.” Believes there will be print for some time, but it might be “more expensive,” “more specialized” and “more niche-ified.”

3:16 p.m. Sreenivasan finds that when he talks with prospective journalism students, “there’s a sense of optimism and excitement about the media that isn’t shared by older people.”

3:23 p.m. Sree is sharing a post written for Mashable by one of his students called “8 Must-Have Traits of Tomorrow’s Journalist.” Perhaps the most important trait: be entrepreneurial.

3:24 p.m. “I may be the only Indian in the world who can’t do math.”

3:27 p.m. Need to be able to do video, photos, audio slideshows. Sree’s involved in a start-up called DNAinfo, which covers New York’s neighborhoods, and it involves the heavy use of multimedia skills. Also need to be a blogger and a curator. “Be a great pointer.”

Being a good pointer is in “direct conflict” with what a traditional journalist does. You have to be able to point to your own work, talk about it, and point to other people’s good work. Hard to do because journalism “has traditionally been such a competitive field.” If readers believe you can be trusted to be a good follower, they will follow you.

3:30 p.m. “The Tra-Digital Journalist” is a phrase coined by one of Sree’s colleagues — “a traditional journalist with a digital overlay.” Traditional journalism skills are as important as they ever were.

3:33 p.m. “I have news for you. All of you are going to be radio journalists whether you like it or not. Only it’s not called radio. It’s called audio.” Check out Blog Talk Radio, which allows anyone to have a talk show. “Problem: not everyone who wants to have a radio show should have a radio show.” It’s a great way to practice.

3:39 p.m. Following the Mumbai terrorist attacks, Sree and other members of the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) interviewed some 50 guests via SAJA’s channel on Blog Talk Radio.

3:52 p.m. “It’s really important to add these vitamins to your media diet”:

  • Mashable (the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times of social media)
  • MuckRack (follows only the tweets of journalists)
  • LifeHacker (“how you can use technology to improve your life,” explains Sree)
  • ReadWriteWeb (how the Web is changing)
  • PaidContent.org (the future of the newsroom and how people are going to pay for our content)

3:53 p.m. Need to learn skills now. “When the plane lands in the river, it’s too late to learn about Twitter.” Students should join LinkedIn now, for instance, even though they won’t need it for job-hunting until later.

3:59 p.m. Facebook can be used as a tool for journalism. “Learn to use it better.” In a course he teaches on social media, he tell students it’s a professional tool, and they should take more control. Three advantages:

  1. Find sources and stories
  2. Connect with your audience
  3. Bring eyeballs to your work

Human attention is an increasingly scarce commodity, and Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can help command some attention.

4:04 p.m. “Facebook is the greatest time sink in human history.” You should put people in lists and label them. If you’re a Washington Post reporter, you can see what Senate staff members are talking about, or State Department employees. “You’re not learning everything that’s going on, but you’re learning something.”

4:08 p.m. “LinkedIn is one of those things that everyone is on, or should be on, but they don’t know how to use it better.” If you’re writing a story about the Red Sox, you can use LinkedIn to find not only people who work for the Red Sox, but who used to work for them, and who live near you. Also, you can pose questions to your community, a useful reporting tool.

4:11 p.m. Some acronyms: BAW (bored at work), CPA (constant partial attention), CCT (conference call time), CMS (content-management system) and Bit.ly (a link-shortener that provides you with analytics).

4:14 p.m. “The power of Twitter is not in the tweet. The power of Twitter is in the retweet.” To be a successful tweeter, you should do everything in 120 characters, because “I want people to retweet my work.” He’s often wanted to retweet something, but he doesn’t because he has to edit it. “Don’t make me work for you.” “Make it as easy for them as possible.”

People are often skeptical of Twitter because of the 140-character limit. Yet there are virtually no newspaper headlines that are longer than 80 or 90 characters.

“Success on Twitter is listening, and then listening to the right people.”

4:18 p.m. One of Sreenivasan’s students was stuck in Haiti when the earthquake hit. He was able to let his wife know he was all right because someone tweeted it.

4:23 p.m. @Digidave, founder of Spot.Us, is a former student of Sree’s.

4 thoughts on “Sree Sreenivasan on journalism’s future

  1. Hey Dan, this is a great post! Sree spoke here at UMass a few years ago, and he’s one of the smartest guys out there on digital journalism. Check out Sree’s Columbia Journalism School audio seminars on blogtalkradio.com.

    I’m using LinkedIn more in reporting lately–you can search for groups that cover the topic you’re interested in, and you get quick responses from potential sources.

    For students, LinkedIn has really expanded its services and now includes a place where teachers and employers can put recommendations, so it’s a real good tool for young job-hunters.

  2. Mike Saunders

    Greg, with all due respect to your MIL, the point isn’t how many individual newspapers you read, it’s how wide and varied a news net you’ve cast. You can read five, eight, 10 newspapers and still not catch everything of interest to your most important audience: you.

    I would bet serious money that the combination of RSS feeds, Twitter alerts, and other specific filters generate a news diet that’s substantially more filling than anything purely on paper.

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