Part 1 of 2: International Broadcasting in the Era of Social Media

Public-Diplomacy-Conference-Schedule 1

On March 8, I attended the conference “International Broadcasting in the Era of Social Media” at the University of Southern California’s (USC)
Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism in Los Angeles, co-sponsored by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy.  There was so much that happened, I’ve had to split this summary up into Part 1 (below) and Part 2.  Below is a summary of what’s on the mind of some of the most influential international media organizations.

This conference attracted a number of influential speakers on the panels and the audience was full of journalism- and public diplomacy-minded folks who were eager to hear what social media strategies the international media giants use.  (There was also a follow up event on April 1 in Washington DC, co-sponsored by The USC Center on Public Diplomacy and The Public Diplomacy Council, at the American Foreign Service Association.)


Key Takeaways from Panel 1

Opening remarks were made by Ernest J. Wilson III, Dean, of USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, and Philip Seib, Director, of USC Center on Public Diplomacy.  Mr. Wilson discussed the role of the BBG/VOA in the international broadcasting realm and also discussed the role of newly appointed Secretary of State, John Kerry.  He noted that conferences such as this one have the potential to create a space for discussions to happen that can eventually lead to more solidified public diplomacy plans within the BBG and State Department.  He expressed his hopes that such discussions would make their way back to Washington DC.  Mr. Seib noted that he sees social media as a way for all of us to be participants and journalists.

Panel 1 consisted of Moderator Jay Wang (Associate Professor and Chair of USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism), Rajesh Mirchandani (Correspondent and Anchor of BBC News), Robert Wheelock (Executive Producer of Al Jazeera English), and Nicholas Wrenn (Vice President of CNNI Digital).

Mr. Mirchandani pointed out that journalists and producers who had a firm personal grasp of how social media was used and its potential effects generally translated into a better understanding of the tool’s professional scope.  He recommended going to where the action is, where the audience is, and to tweet where you are.  He said it is important for journalists in the field to follow tweets of those related to the story and to tweet quickly to his audience (as well as to tag his newsroom, @BBC, “so that the news desk sees and then re-tweets it to 9 million followers.”)  He notes that their biggest strength is that they have approximately 93 foreign bureaus, but their biggest challenge is “commercial and funding pressures”.  He and his team do see the benefit of translating content into as many languages as they can for web and radio, but that it is most beneficial to “have a core product” and that “credibility and continuity must be in everything.”  He agrees that it is a journalist’s job to “act as a filter and provide context” to tell an audience why an issue is important to them and to the world.

Mr. Wheelock admitted that he and his team weren’t sure how to incorporate social media in the beginning.  Initially, they tried getting “social stuff into coverage by having an attractive woman reading emails” on air.  He also discussed the newly purchased Al Jazeera English satellite channel and that they are trying to figure out how to adapt content for American viewership.  He noted an interesting fact that 40% of all Al Jazeera English web traffic indeed comes from the United States, but that substantial number of people in Africa also get their news from Al Jazeera.

He is unsure how social and TV will cooperate to work in the US as it does in other areas of the world since cable tends to be a risk in the US.  Referring to their American audience, “most prefer web,” but that Al Jazeera has a goal of being accessible on “all platforms” to reach everyone from students to policymakers.  As for the website, his team realized that “using the website to do long-form pieces” seems to work well.  An “eight minute piece online is better than a three minute piece on TV,” when it comes to storytelling, he explained.  He and his team are also encouraging the public to take pictures of specific issues, to get and touch and then ask others to verify in order to make the newsgathering and reporting process more open and transparent.

Mr. Wrenn assisted in launching CNN iReport.  CNN leadership had “an initial fear about the inability to control it,” he said, however, they later realized it could compliment traditional news by “keeping up with the audience and their habits.”  This required staff to continue to follow the rules of traditional journalism by being a filter, telling people what and why particular things are important.

He sees social media as a way to reach new audiences who see following updates on Twitter as easier than reading articles on the Internet or watching TV.  Mr. Wrenn wants CNN to “be part of a platform for conversation” with their 10 million Twitter followers.  Mr. Wrenn and his team know that CNN mobile use is highest in Nigeria (accompanied by very low desktop use).  They are focusing on the best platforms for particular audiences, all the while trying to focus on profits.  He recommends that journalists should not use Twitter for personal matters.  “They should only tweet things that they wouldn’t mind putting on air.”  He separates his Facebook and Twitter feeds into personal and professional streams for different audiences.

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For more info:

Check out this massive list of resources from the USC Center on Public Diplomacy—specifically on the topic of “International Broadcasting in the Era of Social Media.”

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Thoughts?  Post in the comments section below or tweet me @BBGinnovate.

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(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)

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April Deibert

April Deibert

April Deibert is the Multimedia Blogger/Producer for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow her on Twitter: @BBGinnovate and @AprilDeibert.

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