Zoom out and fear not

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The reality of journalism, and media in general, is that we live in a world that is more accessible than ever but our reach is no longer as potent. What you see on social media (where people often get their news) may be completely different from what your grandmother sees when she pulls up Facebook to see what the kids are doing these days.

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Photo Credit Harry McRoberts (used with permission). While working for PCN I did not get a haircut for 10 straight weeks resulting in the longest hair I have had since freshmen year of college.

Entrepreneurial journalism must now focus more than ever on breaking through the noise to reach its audience. We used to watch the nightly news to understand the world around us but people are now using Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media to live stream the events in real time. According to Carlo De Marchis, this is a prime example of the ever-changing playing field.

Adaptability, relevancy, and individualism seem to be the keys to the kingdom. People want news that is relevant – updating in real time – on apps that are tech-savvy in a way that makes it feel personal. Unsurprisingly this makes the media business an unsavory prospective industry.

While I agree that the media business is hard to break into, I have also seen another side. Working this summer at the Potter County news made me realize that media jobs are plentiful where you would least expect it.

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Photo credit Molly McRoberts (used with permission). Our family photo sits on my bedside table and I treasure it immensely. 

For example, the paper I worked on has well over 1,000 subscribers. The newspaper, while lacking much of the hard news found in famous publications like the New York Times, still covers the hard topics. With splashes of kids and soft news to make the rough stuff easier to swallow, the Potter County News manages to produce a paper that is financially viable for the foreseeable future.

Granted working in rural communities isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Plenty of people want to work at big name media production companies creating content that will be viewed by millions of people. However entering an environment already saturated by the cream of the crop isn’t always feasible for fresh college graduates. That’s where rural community newspapers can become a steppingstone to greater employment opportunities.

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The Gary McCloud Bull Ride. All I could think was ‘run cowboy run!’ 

My point is that entrepreneurial media looks terrifying if you only look at certain demographics. Zooming out and seeing the bigger picture indicates there may be more opportunities to reach beyond the noise in communities that are smaller, where the paper is less about notoriety and more about interconnectedness.

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Photo credit Molly McRoberts (used with permission). This photo was taken at the Half Ass Ranch, my favorite after Rotary spot in town. The man behind me is Don Hericks one of the kindest men in town. His mules April, May, and Pete are trained as a team for parades and such through town. 

 

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The professional necessity of social media

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Well folks, I survived. Not only did I complete an entire course on a subject I would rather avoid, I learned how to be a more effective consumer of social media. I learned how to build a professional profile for my platforms and how to market not only myself by my skills as a social media manager. I’ll admit there were moments where I felt aggravated but overall I enjoyed the class.

The social media strategy was simultaneously the most frustrating and rewarding part of the class. First I’d like to state that Tina Popson is an amazing woman and I thoroughly applaud her willingness to sit through 19 social media strategies.

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Photo courtesy of freerangstock.com and Jack Moreh

The strategy itself proved difficult because the Creighton Recent Alumni Association doesn’t have the same draw that a typical non-profit has. For example, the Humane Society has kittens and puppies to draw in their target audiences. The RAA, on the other hand, lacks the warm and fuzzy feeling that puppies and kittens bring to the table. My partner and I, therefore, made it our mission to make the messages delineated in our strategy give people the same comforting feelings.

Although difficult, by creating this strategy I have added one more marketable tool to my resume – which in today’s consistently fluctuating job market is never a bad thing. I learned that despite my aversion to the various social media platforms, my best bet is to be flexible and adaptable because my job’s requirements may change with a moments notice.

I am grateful for what this class has taught me because there is a virtual guarantee that I will use this technology in my future job. Similarly, I rediscovered a love of liking innocuous things on Facebook. I may not post often but I believe liking and retweeting things is a step in the right direction.

I found the most fascinating blog to be the public shaming blog, which centered on people who have been targeted by a negative viral movement. This blog assignment encompassed everything I have ever hated about social media – from the furious to the down right violent responses and more. More often than not social media feels like a trap being set and while I have several strategies to avoid the ire of the Internet, I am still hesitant to post anything vaguely controversial.

Simply put this class was a wealth of information and a veritable education for people like me who avoid the constant stream of social media. I am grateful for the skills I have learned and the many exciting projects we developed throughout the class.

Social media: the new public stockade

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I know that I’ve made my opinions on social media clear. I know that I haven’t always given it its due on this blog, but a large part of the reason I hate social media stems from public shaming. In Monica Lewinsky’s Ted Talk she compares the Internet to a public stockade, and she’s right. On the surface social media is a brilliant way to remain connected and for every horror story there are three or four good stories. Unfortunately, those good stories never seem to outshine the lack of compassion and inhumanity of cyber-bullying.

Maybe its because I’ve been told that some of my family members are going to hell, maybe its because I’ve been called the “damn liberal/hippy,” or maybe its because I have a bleeding heart but when I look at social media platforms all I see is a more accessible way to hurt people. I don’t think I was ever bullied, people said and did some hurtful things and I moved on with no lasting effects. But with social media the cruelty doesn’t end after school, it doesn’t end at night; it’s a steady stream of hatred that pours into every hour of every day until a new victim is found.

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Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com and Stuart Miles

While I am less inclined to sympathize with Justine Sacco than I am with John Higgins, Lewinsky and Michelle Ferrier, her stupidity shouldn’t warrant threats on her life. What she tweeted was senseless, racist, and cruel to those suffering with HIV and AIDS and I make no pretense to defend her. But was that tweet worth the total destruction of her life? Some might argue yes, others no. I stand somewhere in the middle. As a P.R. executive she should have known better and I do think firing her was appropriate but I’m reticent to say she deserved to have her life gobbled up by salacious magazines looking for a story.

Similarly Lewinsky, Ferrier and Higgins didn’t deserve to have their lives upended by the Internet’s insatiable need for malice. Humiliation and dehumanization are never the answer.

Imagine for a minute, if instead of making people regret their error by making them relive it, we saw fit to explain why what they did was hurtful. We teach children empathy for this reason, why can’t we use it to teach adults?

As mentioned earlier I avoid social media – it scares me. I’ve watched friends obsess over the latest Instagram post by Kim Kardashian and wondered if people even see her as human. What if we began to see everyone as human, as more than just a screen name? Would we change the way we talk to each other or even about each other? Or have we become so utterly desensitized to the idea of empathy that we now lack the ability to communicate with one another in more than just moral absolutes.

I don’t have the answers and I certainly can’t say I’ve never said a mean thing. I’ve had days where half the things that came out of my mouth were unkind. I just want to know why we stopped treating each other as fallible people and began expecting perfection.

 

The Social Humane Society

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After visiting the Nebraska Humane Society and hearing their Development Communications Specialist Elizabeth Hilpipre discuss their metrics, I was initially struck by how different her strategies were from Amanda Brandt’s. While the scopes of their work are different, they use similar tools – if different strategies – to complete their tasks.

Brandt’s strategy seemed more technical, driven by collected data but failing to embrace the social media aspect of the 21st century (which may be rooted in the newspaper industry’s similarly awkward attempts to embrace the internet age). However, while I think her approach is certainly more stark, I believe she is an expert in her field who makes the best of what she works with.

Hilpipre, on the other hand, seemed more open to a trial by fire strategy, using separate tones on different platforms to communicate the formality of her posts. Although it’s impossible to make a good comparison because they work for separate companies, it was immediately apparent to me that their approaches were different.

 

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Cartoon courtesy of freerangestock.com and Stuart Miles

Hilpipre’s tactics are fluid; they change according to the platform she uses, which is admirable from a bystander standpoint, but they also incorporate a “go where the audience is” strategy. She recognizes the necessity of not only being on top of the Humane Society’s accounts but also manipulating them to gain followers. I think this was especially apparent in her use of Snapchat as a way to promote the animals that haven’t been adopted. Her ability to assess the age of a sector of her consumers and then follow them onto their platform of choice, especially when that platform doesn’t provide clear and coherent metrics, demonstrates her expertise in her field.

The best advice she gave was more in her actions than in her words: be flexible. Everything in her social media strategy focuses on going where the consumers are and addressing them on a level that feels personal. She builds off what works, using a more formal tone on Facebook but a more relaxed tone on Snapchat because she knows the platforms’ demographics are distinctive. She creates Facebook event pages to avoid bogging down the Humane Society’s main Facebook page with event posts. Clearly she has built a persona for the Humane Society that is not only functional but malleable, something few other businesses or non-profits have mastered.

Animals, Adoption and Instagram

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The SPCA of San Francisco is a nonprofit Instagram that manages their account exceptionally well. Other than being a nonprofit dedicated to animals, which is sure to attract viewers to their Instagram, their captioning of cute photos is topical and informative. They balance the number of informative posts against the number of posts dedicated to finding homes for animals in a way that keeps their audience aware of problems and distracted with adorable animals.

While I’m sure there are plenty of people who adopt rather than buy their animals, it can still be a tough market to corner. There are assumptions of neglect and abuse that stigmatize animals in need of adoption and there are Internet trolls who attack those who have bought animals in the past resulting in further polarization of the market. The SPCA of San Francisco, however, encourages people to adopt but doesn’t demonize those that choose not to.

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Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com and Joe Targonski

Their Instagram account is also adept at advertising their different social events like Dogs on the Catwalk and Be Mine, which both promote the animals in need of adoption. Unlike most advertising campaigns on Instagram, however, the SPCA uses a gentler touch, sending out reminder posts without overwhelming their page. This tactic of sparse but potent advertising works in their favor because in doing so their account feels substantially more authentic. Occasionally posts that demonstrate the need of the nonprofit rather than the more marketable aspects can bog down nonprofit social media accounts. Suddenly instead of propagating the good the nonprofit is doing, the account only demonstrates the massive size of the problem and a feeling of defeat.

In terms of account value their social media plan is efficient at raising awareness and I think that speaks to a well-managed and effective social media campaign strategy. It strikes me that although they don’t post everyday, their strategy remains potent because they get their message across. Additionally because they often have animals in their pictures it’s hard to only look at one post. I think the main message I received (other than adoption rules!) is that social media campaigns have to have an inherent attraction to them that makes people want to read more, especially if they aren’t compulsively posting. Overall, I like their strategy and the beauty of their account, however simplistic it may be.

Changing

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She’s changing the world with love and compassion. That sounds erroneously self-important doesn’t it? Don’t worry I think so too but I also think it’s the best way to describe who I want to be.

Today I could go on Facebook and see hundreds of posts filled with violence. There may be news reports of a school shooting, someone live-streaming a fight in the parking lot, or pictures of horrifically abused animals and children. And while I believe its critically important to talk about these issues, I think society has become utterly desensitized to the images, so much so that scrolling past them barely phases us.

In a world that swipes through pictures that should disturb us, I want to remain sensitive to these pictures because they show me what needs to be changed in the world. Pictures of suffering peoples should be intolerable to see because they reveal the dire circumstances that exist and need to be fixed. I think in order to change the world you have to remain affected by it.

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Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com and Chance Agrella 

I don’t believe I can singlehandedly change the world; create world peace and end hunger. Those are lofty goals that are far beyond what one person can achieve. Instead I believe that remaining sensitive in a world that forces us to be hard is the first step to changing the status quo.

When I feel outraged by the President’s dangerous actions, no longer can I be indifferent; I am motivated to become a better activist. When I see a news report on a school shooting, I ask what can be done to prevent this unnecessary violence.

I can honestly say that some days I wish I could turn the sadness off. There are days when closing my eyes and saying lalalala as loud as I possibly can are appealing, but on those days it’s more important than ever to act lovingly and compassionately.

My philosophy class has been discussing the Dalai Lama’s Ethics of a New Millennium, in which his holiness describes why the world is in need of a spiritual revolution. He argues that we have become self absorbed, too focused on our own troubles to be in solidarity with others. His statement is not meant as a rebuke of society, especially western society, but rather as a wake up call; a call for our actions to be made with the good of others in mind.

I am not perfect nor would I ever claim to be. To follow the Dalai Lama’s indictment is to radically shift my thought process so that I am consistently thinking about others before myself, which is – and surely will continue to be – a long process. But if I have to contain myself within a sentence, she’s changing the world with love and compassion, is what I strive for it to be.

Social Media and the Death of Privacy

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If I’m being honest social media is not my forte. I rarely post pictures to my Snapchat story or update my Facebook status and I tweet only when forced to. Each of the platforms I use serves a purpose: Facebook allows me to keep in contact with my best friend when he is home in Thailand; Snapchat allows me to take stupid pictures of myself with funny filters to send to my stepmom; and Twitter was forced upon me by my desire to become a journalist.

My reasons for despising most social media platforms is rooted in my family’s general desire to keep their cards close to their chest. This is especially prevalent in one family member’s case. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a few years ago. As a man on disability he is subjected to insurance fraud inspections, which can include former FBI agent showing up on our doorstep to investigate him (yes, this actually happened). The man walks with two canes and yet a picture on Facebook can spell the end to his disability. This may sound like the ramblings of an over-dramatic ex-theater kid, but I cannot tell you how much I wish I were joking.

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Photo courtesy of Jack Moreh and freerangestock.com

The truth is the more I learn about social media and its ability to track our daily activities the more hesitant I am to use it. Although I applaud the various CEOs who push back against the government’s ever growing power, I cede that United States citizens are far more likely to give up their privacy in favor of feeling secure than they are to defend their rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

As paranoid as I sound I do enjoy the contact that Facebook and Snapchat have afforded me. A few close friends reside abroad (whether for the semester or for life) and through social media I am able to keep up with their lives.

Although communication itself is easier in the age of social media, connection on a deeper level is far more difficult. LOLs and emojis have overtaken heartfelt conversation and defriending has taken the place of interpersonal conflict.