It’s been over a week since I spoke at NPPA Convergence on using social media in the newsroom.  So much happened I needed time to organize my thoughts before writing out my thoughts.  Sometime before I started speaking on a panel Saturday, June 13 I saw a post on Twitter regarding the Iran Electionsand the protests that were just beginning.  Honestly, my first instinct was that of a journalist, “this is going to be a big story.” 


To be even more honest, after the conference ended Saturday night, I unplugged to spend the rest of our time in Vegas as a family.  I didn’t realize what was happening in Iran and how information was being disseminated via social media, specifically Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.  Monday morning or early afternoon I received a direct message from a friend on Twitter asking me if the station was going to tell the story of social media and Iran.  I quickly caught up on what had developed with hashtags, green avatars, CNN being blasted on Twitter #CNNfail for not reporting on the election, CNN referring to Twitter and Facebook 

I came back to work and there were mumblings of Iran and national stories were being aired on our local newscasts.  I asked about sources and information via social media, but didn’t get much of a response.  Tuesday consisted of short stories, vo’s, telling updates on Iran or packages from national reporters.  Wednesday though, as home video of the protests on the streets of Tehran on YouTube showed increasing numbers and increasing violence, the station assigned the first local reporter to tell this story.  The reason:  a local peg.  A reporter was granted an interview with former Colorado State University professor Thomas Sutherland, who had been held hostage from 1985-1991 by Iranian backed Hezbollah.


Sutherland’s interview gave us a local angle to tell the story.  Sutherland was able to talk about the politics and structure of Iran.  Was his interview any better than the national interviews?  Maybe not.  However, there’s just something about hearing from a former hostage, from Colorado who still lives in Fort Collins, that helps put the events in Iran in perspective for local viewers more than national experts.  He’s able to give us a personalization to the situation and we can feel a connection with him, more than we can with a national expert.  (The same way true, real, conversation on social media platforms can connect mainstream media to readers, listeners, & viewers.)  Finding the local angle is traditionally how local media outlets can jump in on a national or international story, to tell it with local reporters.


I've seen the comments on mainstream media being slow & way behind the story because of how fast the information was coming out on Twitter.  I see both sides.  Was the information coming out faster than it was being reported?  Yes.  Was the information coming from sources that couldn’t easily be verified?  Yes.  Would there have been more coverage if the information was coming from actual reporters, or networks?  Perhaps. 


Did I as a journalist who utilizes social media want to scream at the top of my lungs that the focus of the stories should be of how social media was being used?  Yes.  Did I?  No.  I didn’t shout it out; I suggested it and I jumped in on conversations about Iran coverage and asked each reporter: “are you going to touch on social media in your story? If so, I can help you with that.”  I didn’t shout because I do understand the necessity to be able to tell all sides of the story and to be able to use verifiable sources.  It’s ingrained in our journalistic DNA.  Sometimes the best course of action is a gentle nudge instead of a push that can take away focus from the actual story.  I knew the aspect of social media in Iran would develop.


It did.  CBS4 News had been reporting on the journalists that were being prevented access by the Iranian government.  We’d touched upon how social media was a major source line of information, but Wednesday, June 17 was the first time we said it ourselves in our local story.  Since, several reporters have been assigned just to do stories on the use of and importance of social media on the Iran election and protests.  I’m sure more CBS4 News reporters will be assigned to follow this through the end.


There won’t actually be an end though.  This evolvement of social media as a lifeline of information has just taken its first pecks in newsrooms and journalists are now thinking of social media in different ways.  This also will bring continued debate on the ethics of using social media sources that can be hard to verify. 


The stories will evolve from telling of what is happening in Iran, to the role social media played in the outcome.  There will be debate on whether or not social media had a true role or not.  College thesis’ and even dissertations will try to dissect what has and is happening at this time in history with social media. 


At some point someone will try to determine if shouts for cyberwar such as: “If you are on twitter, set your location to Tehran and your time zone to GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location & time zone searches. The more people at this location, the more of a logjam it creates for forces trying to shut Iranians' access to the internet down. Cut & paste & please pass it on” actually had any impact for either side in Iran. 

Someone could actually try to analyze this story now as it’s happening.  I’m sure there are computer and Internet experts, even local, who could at least make an educated guess on whether or not changing your Twitter location and time zone is actually making it harder for Iran security forces to crack down on bloggers. (ah-hem, gentle nudge.)