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Many journalists working for traditional media are reticent about joining the digital revolution, but there is little doubt that social media has helped build a more cohesive and supportive traditional journo community.
Here are five ways in which Facebook has bolstered the solidarity of those still working for ‘the old order’:
In the movies and in real life too, many newsrooms once came custom-fitted with a dingy whiskey-soaked bar across the road where journalists in scruffy old leather jackets would drown their sorrows. In more recent times, with newsrooms cut to the bone and time always in short supply for over-worked staffers, there isn’t time for such luxuries. Nowadays, journalists often get that emotional support on Facebook. A colleague of mine covered the harrowing story of a fatal crash between a train and a taxi full of school children, and within hours of posting how traumatised she was on Facebook, many other journalists had come forward to offer her much-needed words of comfort.
Widening the circle
In days of yore, journalists from different publications either didn’t know each other at all or only ever met in the hectic context of being “out on a job”. Nowadays, Facebook has joined the dots of those engaged in the same work, and it is common for fellow journalists to ‘friend’ each other online, despite not knowing each other from a bar of soap. It is often just a plethora of ‘mutual friends’ that is enough to initiate an online bond of sorts.
Expressing opinions more freely
The professional norms of journalism require all reporters to aspire to that elusive stance of “objectivity” in their writing. There are also rigid parameters to do with space in the newspaper or sound bytes on television. Often, however, it is hugely stimulating – and amusing – to hear what a journalist really thinks. Facebook has given reporters a platform to express their thoughts when they’re not constrained by their professional capacity.
Whether it’s job losses or a government encroaching on media freedom, social media is ensuring that journalists have a better chance of forming a united front in the face of any issue affecting them. For this, there are concentric circles – from a plaintive digital cry in one newsroom about a broken coffee machine to a swell of outrage at the stage-managed arrest of a South African journalist whose story illuminated government corruption.
Many freelance journalists complain of the same problem: the delicious freedom of working for one’s self is matched only by the terrible isolation that sets in after a few hours of having no newsroom buddies to bounce your ideas off. While Facebook might be way too tempting as a form of work-avoidance behaviour, it does save many a freelancer from the deafening silence of working in a vacuum.