How social media is humanizing journalism

By Joe Coffey | The Fifth Estate

“Welcome to the team, meteorologist Kalie Pluchel. Like her page.”

That’s what it says on the KCRG Facebook page photo that was shared on May 29. It features a photo of a smiling Ms. Pluchel, station logos and graphic design elements associated with the KCRG brand. It’s an official introduction and invitation to connect with a person who is now part of the KCRG information distribution machine.

This is the way local media works now. The actual people who bring you the information you want are now directly accessible in the digital-social realm.

It’s no secret to TV news directors and the behavior consultants who help them shape the news that audiences long for a connection with the people who report it. We already know how and where to get the latest stories, columns, weather updates, news tidbits, etc. Why not take it a step further and connect directly with these people? Maybe they’ll give us some extra content.

Follow the links from their employer’s webpages and you’ll find extra content galore.

KCRG meteorologist Justin Gehrts has an adorable corgi.

CBS2/FOX 28 reporter Eva Andersen was “30, Flirty, and Thriving. [heart emoji]” on May 6 (#birthdaygirl).

Gazette public safety reporter Kat Russell has been clean and sober for 11 years.

KWWL anchor Abby Turpin’s grandmother passed away last year.

Little Village arts editor Genevieve Trainor is tired of being told she should buy local.

Is that too much information?

Plenty of Corridor journalists are more old-school in their approaches and keep their work-related social media accounts rather non-social. They’ll share the prerequisite “here’s what I’m reporting on” post here and there, as well links to finished stories. Kudos to that bunch — may they last as long as they can.

But there’s a missed opportunity in keeping a journalist’s social cues so close to the vest. I actually checked out every local media person’s employer-linked social media accounts in preparation for this column. Along the way, I found myself connecting with the personalities and real-life events that were being shared. I appreciated the links to good reads. I felt sympathy for those sharing sad news. I found myself wanting to high-five anyone who shared a good human achievement. I cracked up at some extremely dry humor.

It’s 2019, don’t ya know. Haven’t we evolved beyond the notion that a good news reporter is a quiet, socially invisible, apolitical public servant who files their reports and then slips back into the shadows?

Personally, I want to know that reporters are human. I want to see Monday morning coffee mishap stains, boasts about favorite sports teams and musings about life. I want to see clips of bad karaoke and mischievous pets being hilarious. Some news-related stuff is welcome, too.

Here’s my best attempt to explain this. Not every day is an interesting news day and I think we all tire easily of media presentations that suggest otherwise. We’re more likely to make it through slow news cycles or ratings-driven, overhyped bluster if we feel a human connection to the people who are presenting that stuff to us.

There is a risk, of course. Reality can become unsuspended in a social media feed. A free-sharing journalist’s photos and personal stories can perhaps reveal too much information and contribute to unsafe situations with potential stalkers. A journalist’s non-news-related musings could also reveal a less-than-desirable level of intelligence or maturity. Political persuasions or religious affiliations could be revealed.

So, there’s the rub. At some point, any human revelation about or interaction with a journalist is a potential betrayal of their secret humanness, and thus, their biases and actual place in this world. It’s no wonder that it took the rise of social media for us to realize that we shouldn’t hold journalists to such unhuman standards.

In true Iowa fashion, 300-plus people liked, commented on and shared KCRG’s welcome post about Kalie Pluchel. I’m willing to bet that most of those commenters saying “Welcome Kaile!” and “Enjoy watching you” are complete strangers to her. For now, anyway. •

Joe Coffey has 20 years of experience as a journalist, educator and marketer in the Corridor.