Why don't some media pros 'get' social media?

An OJR reader recently emailed:

“I am amazed at how behind the curve some/many/most PR people seem to be with social media and I keep wondering why they don’t ‘get it’ – their field is communication and [social media] can be such a powerful way to communicate. But the people doing the PR seem to be stuck in the mud. Why?”

I wrote back that PR people who are used to serving as gatekeepers between sources and the press (and by extension) the public, aren’t going to be thrilled to embrace a medium that allows their clients to connect directly with the people the PR agent’s been setting them up with for years. It’s the same hang-up that many journalists have with social media – if you’ve built your career as the go-between for readers and sources, would you rather support or try to tear down an innovation that makes your go-between role unnecessary?

Unfortunately, too many journalists and PR people are either ignoring or trashing social media when they should be taking notice of the many new opportunities that social media’s created for media professionals. No, we’re not needed as gatekeepers anymore. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still much for us to do.

Here are five new roles for media professionals in social media:

Proxies: Sure, social media allows newsmakers to connect more directly to a global audience. But not every newsmaker has the time to watch a Twitter feed scroll by all day. Nor does every newsmaker have the technical chops (or patience) to learn every new iteration of the Facebook user interface. That creates a need for media professionals who can serve as proxies for these newsmakers, monitoring and publishing in social media on behalf of their clients.

Coaches: Let’s say a newsmaker (or wanna-be newsmaker) wants to take a hands-on role and watch and post on Twitter or Facebook for himself or herself. Smart newsmakers probably will recognize that they haven’t the time to learn social media best practices on their own. And they certainly don’t want to risk making a public mistake while they learn. These individuals will continue to need social media coaches to (a) show them best practices in these new media and (b) help them continue to improve the quality of their engagement with the public, over time. As Atul Gawande wrote in The New Yorker earlier this month, even world-class professionals can benefit from routine coaching.

Conduits: Not every great voice online is heard. The Internet might have removed the requirement that people access a media gatekeeper in order to speak to the world, but it’s delivered no guarantee that anything anyone says actually will be heard. So while worthy voices might no longer need access to a global conversation thanks to social media, they continue to need amplification to be heard by more than a select few. Journalists and public relations professionals can become the conduits that deliver unheard or under-heard voices to larger audiences of influence. We might not control the gate any longer, but we still have access to the express line through it.

Judges: As we media professionals have the ability to amplify worthy voices, we also should exercise our power to challenge unworthy claims. The information marketplace expanded by social media still needs judges who have the knowledge, ability and courage to stand up and challenge others who present information that is false or misleading. This is an important traditional role for journalists that persists in the social media arena, but reputable public relations professionals should not be timid about standing up and challenging bad information from others as well.

Curators: Great conversations should live beyond their moments in social media. Newsworthy tweets, posts and observations ought to be preserved for the public, especially when their authors attempt to delete or deny them later. Media professionals can help ensure these things happen by assuming a curator’s role toward social media, using archiving, narrative tools and whatever other technology they choose, develop or deploy to maintain significant moments in social media for future readers.

Gatekeeping? Who needs it? With all this work to be done in social media today, what reporter or press agent would have the time?

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at http://www.sensibletalk.com.


  1. says:

    Robert, as a music journalist and critic, I certainly realize the enormous footprint of social media. However, especially for freelancers, there’s just no way to monetize all the time and effort spent on trying to maintain blogs, Tweets, etc. We have our hands full just trying to pitch stories, research and write them, and now we have to do all this other stuff? For free? I know pressure’s put on those still lucky enough to hold down newspaper jobs to churn out these e-missives, too, in addition to their usual responsibilities. Not a complaint so much as an observation, but my priority is still putting the time into the actual work, and you know, getting paid for my labor.