Why Facebook is here to stay for newsrooms

PLEASE LIKE ME: Facebook has become an important source of global and community news. Picture: Shutterstock.
PLEASE LIKE ME: Facebook has become an important source of global and community news. Picture: Shutterstock.

Isaiah Mustafa is better known as the Old Spice Guy. 

In 2010, his appearances in “The Man You Could Smell Like” campaign brought him global fame after the accompanying commercials were watched more than 50 million times.

What Isaiah may not have been aware of at the time was that he was the subject of The Examiner’s inaugural Facebook post.

An article entitled ‘Old Spice Guy takes the web by storm’ was the first to be included as part of the newspaper’s page after it was launched in July 2010.

Like other news outlets, The Examiner’s presence on the social media site has grown to the point where readers merely have to check Facebook to see updates on the latest news stories. 

With the New Year came the accumulation of 50,000 likes for the page, representing a worldwide audience for the ever-changing Northern Tasmanian news cycle.

Not only has the content changed, but also the way it is presented. 

Fairfax Tasmania managing editor Mark Baker said Facebook had changed how people consume news but more importantly how newsrooms engaged with their readers. 

"Before Facebook a newspaper was largely the source of news and it was curated and presented in whatever order the editor deemed best," Baker said. 

"There was an element of preaching from the pulpit but now the reader is front and centre of our discussions. 

"What's great about social media is the direct engagement journalists and editors can have with their audience. 

"Before Facebook, the reaction to stories might come in the form of a letter to the editor a few days later. And, unless it was a phone conversation, that feedback was a pretty one-way affair. 

"Now that feedback is much more immediate. It might be a reader sharing their opinion, passing on extra information, or praising or criticising the story. 

"Whatever that feedback is, having that two-way conversation is good for a newsroom. These are members of our community having their say."

The Examiner’s initial Facebook presence consisted of about four shared links from its website per day, as well as a status update on the news to be included in the next day’s paper.

Seven and a half years later, and as many as 20 posts are featured on timeline daily, including a mix of multimedia content, such as videos and galleries.

The present day Facebook timeline not only gives readers the opportunity for immediate feedback, but also allows them to interact with stories in a way that is not possible within the print edition.

Fairfax Australian Community Media social media editor Gayle Tomlinson said Facebook had come to stand on its own as a source of news.

"In the last five to 10 years, how we consume news has changed dramatically, with many of our readers now using Facebook as their main source of information,” she said.

“As a local publisher we've worked hard to find ways to make sure that we continue to provide local news in the formats that we know are important to our readers. 

“Facebook is a hugely important part of that strategy allowing us to take our communities to the story by using Facebook Live or allowing us to listen to our readers opinions through Facebook comments. 

“Being able to engage with our communities in those ways means our storytelling is richer and more diverse than ever and as a result we continue to grow our readership."

It not only a place for journalists to share news, but also to gather it, with politicians and organisations often taking the step of bypassing press conferences to speak directly to followers via separate pages.

In August, an announcement from Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff regarding the school starting age was broadcast via Facebook live video on Premier Will Hodgman’s official page.

The 144-second announcement received 286 reactions and was shared nearly 700 times, with the community receiving the information the same time as Tasmania’s news outlets.

The move sparked debate amongst journalists on Twitter, some of whom questioned whether the development could be scrutinised in the same way as it would be in a press conference. 

Professor of Journalism, Media and Communications at the University of Tasmania Libby Lester said Twitter and Facebook had each evolved to be distinct information sharing platforms under a social media tag.

“I think Twitter was adopted very early on by the journalism and political elite, and it became great for journalists and sources to exchange information,” she said.

“What’s happened recently is that Facebook has re-emerged as an expanded network, which is both good and bad.

“It’s bad in the way that a lot of people still don’t understand the production side of what goes on behind Facebook, which can create vulnerability.

“Any news should be approached with scepticism if you have no idea of the production side behind it.

“We understand the production pressures associated with a newspaper, but Facebook is different.

“In the end, it is a platform for sharing information, and there are still human elements there.”