eBook - Tomorrow's Newsroom Today

New Tools Create a Good Starting Point for Audiences


Vaishnavee Sharma, Digital Editor, PBS NewsHour

Vaishnavee is a digital editor for PBS NewsHour, where she focuses on expanding online reach, audience engagement and packaging broadcast content for digital platforms—including the organization’s social media sites.

The newsroom is evolving to meet the needs of the audience, and sometimes that means using new tools to lead people to more information while maintaining control of content. The global pandemic highlighted the need for new tools because not everyone has the skills to find and clip video manually. However, Sharma cautions, newsrooms need to carefully choose what content can be boiled down to a 3–5 minute video. Big, complex events require context that won’t fit into a presentation of that length.

Newsrooms Are Responsible for Providing Context

There may be ways to use social media responsibly. “We’re experimenting with this format and doing a series called Five Stories You Might Have Missed. These are shorter stories that can be summarized and still provide adequate context,” says Sharma.

She also suggests that such short-format presentations can be created in a way that leads audiences to deeper context. “You can do the responsible thing and lead your audience to more context in captions or provide links to your website so they can do their own homework. You’ve provided that avenue.”

Five Core Principles of Authenticity

According to Sharma, there are five crucial aspects to making sure content is authentic and truthful:

  1. Make sure your sources are authentic and official.
  2. Let the video do the talking whenever possible.
  3. Fact-check everything, even if it’s from an official source.
  4. Keep in mind that “on the record” is better than “off the record.”
  5. Make sure your notes are in order, you follow a consistent style, and you’re loyal to the facts.

Following these guidelines isn’t the perfect solution, but following them is an important part of combating misinformation, deep fakes, and conspiracy theories. “Mistrust is at a high level right now because of all the misinformation,” Sharma notes. “Making sure your facts are straight and not trying to add partisan commentary is important.”

Audience Expectations

New tools and new methods of audience engagement are something of a double-edged sword for news organizations. Apps like TikTok and Snapchat are catchy and engaging, Sharma notes, and they allow people to do important work. She cites doctors using such platforms to correct misinformation about COVID. “Those kinds of apps also allow people to raise awareness about things that don’t necessarily get mainstream attention,” says Sharma.

At the same time, “Super-short formats make the job more challenging for newsrooms,” Sharma adds. “It becomes harder to fit in the who, what, when, where, and why of stories.” Still, short-format video presentations can be a starting point for conversation.

“I would never attempt this [format] for coverage of the situation in Afghanistan,” she says, adding that a short TikTok video with three important points about the story would be a good use of the platform to lead the audience to deeper coverage.
“It’s definitely a challenge for newsrooms to navigate that sphere. It can be done, but it needs to be done responsibly. Newsrooms shouldn’t shy away from it,” says Sharma.

Language Matters

There’s no room for opinion in traditional journalism, according to Sharma, but language matters. Newsrooms are afraid to appear biased and may soften their language. Yet, that softening itself can be problematic, as many news professionals are realizing.

The George Floyd killing forced a conversation about how the news covers racial killings. “It’s the difference between ‘so-and-so died during a traffic stop’ and ‘police killed so-and-so during a traffic stop,'” Sharma says. “They both mean the same thing, but the language alters our perception.”

As the newsroom evolves, Sharma sees a place for short-format platforms, traditional journalism, and fast coverage as long as organizations have the right collaborative and creative tools (and are responsible in their use), provide adequate and appropriate context for complex events, and follow the core principles of authenticity.

KEY POINTS

Social media can provide a good entry point to complex topics, but newsrooms need to provide a clear avenue for audiences to find more information via creative presentations that make viewers want to know more.

Authenticity is the key to combating misinformation.

Download the eBook for more advice and insights from ABC News, Bell Media, and Axios.

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