Should journalists be on social media? In 2016, that’s a redundant question, says writer and editor, Eliza Anyangwe

Eliza reflects on her experience of building audience and engagement for the Guardian and CNN International. Click here to attend the free Digital Identities seminar in Stockholm on 14 September, where she will be speaking. This seminar is powered by Google News Lab.

Eliza Anyangwe

Eliza, tell us a little bit about yourself
I am a Cameroon-born freelance journalist and moderator based in London. I am also the founder of a digital media platform focusing on African women’s stories called The Nzinga Effect. I started my journalism career at the Guardian when I joined the award-winning Katine Project in 2009.

How did your relationship with social media evolve at the Guardian?

The Katine Project Screenshot: https://www.theguardian.com/katine

With Katine we needed to build new audiences around the content, and engage existing audiences, and the word was that Twitter was maybe the way to do this. “Maybe” because using social media in newsrooms was still very new. So that was my first experience, personally and professionally, on Twitter.

“There was no official best practice, we simply tried things out, and learned from our mistakes then shared those lessons in the department.”

I worked part-time on the Katine Project until it officially ended in 2010 then moved to join the Guardian’s Professional Networks where experimenting with social media wasn’t seen as secondary to the real work of journalists; it was an intrinsic part of the work of the journalists in that department.

The professional networks were started with little visibility across the Guardian. So finding and building audiences that would then become more deeply engaged as members required for us to use LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook heavily. There was no official best practice, we simply tried things out, and learned from our mistakes then shared those lessons in the department.

The Guardian Global Development Professionals Network on Twitter

By the time I left in 2014, I was the editor of one of the fastest growing network in terms of members, global traffic and revenue — the Global Development Professionals Network — and we did it all in a team of just four people. Social networks were a huge driver of that success.

Over the past seven years, have you seen audiences evolve?
The perception of audience is evolving. This is partly because of revenue. As markets shrink nationally, media organisations are becoming more international. The Guardian has offshoots in Sydney and New York; The New York Times has a London office; CNN International (where I worked in 2015) has just opened its first office in Nigeria.

“Communities and countries that were once spoken about in a vacuum can now engage with what is written about them online.”

The notion of audience is also changing thanks to the immediacy of feedback. Communities and countries that were once spoken about in a vacuum can now engage with what is written about them online. So editors have started to consider the reputational effect of not being accurate in their reflection of the world.

So, has social media helped improve accuracy in reporting?
I wouldn’t go that far. Social media doesn’t police journalism. The bigger you are, the more you can bounce back from any backlash. I do think though that social media provides a megaphone for audiences to bemoan inaccurate reporting, but it also is an echo chamber.

Eliza chairing opening plenary at World Export Development Forum 2015 (credit: ITC, Geneva)

How important it is for a journalist to be on social media?
The fact that, in 2016, anyone needs to ask that question is crazy! Journalists have to be on social media because that’s where their sources and readers are! The pace at which information can be acquired is staggering.

“As journalists, the currency we deal with is networks. And social media has allowed me to build global networks for the news organisations I have worked with and also for myself.”
Jon Henley: why social media was crucial to Greece on the breadline / src: http://bit.ly/2ayikLQ

If you’ve been in the business for the past 5, 10, 15 years and you are still pushing back, take inspiration from the story of John Henley at the Guardian. He was very much a traditional journalist, who by his own admission was at best agnostic about social media. Then, at the height of the 2009 financial crisis, he went to Greece to report on the impact on Greek families. Using Twitter to find people and answers to questions, Henley was about to write the most powerful stories.

Personally, social media has offered me a wonderful opportunity to connect with people. As journalists, the currency we deal with is networks. And social media has allowed me to build global networks for the news organisations I have worked with and also for myself.

In addition to transitioning from staff to freelancer, you decided to setup your own organisation. Why?

The Nzinga Effect: a digital media platform focusing on African women’s stories

The narrative around Africa and African women continues to be one about victimhood. I want to create a unique digital and physical events space where African women could tell their own stories. To shift the narrative from victimhood to agency. We want to satisfy the appetite of digital audiences for much broader narratives. If we get this right, we will create relatable content that will engage audiences beyond African women themselves and see the content shared on third-party platforms.

Why do you think journalists should spend a day with us at the Digital Identities seminar powered by Google News Lab in September?
The media is a hungry beast and you have to keep feeding it. This doesn’t create many opportunities for learning and reflection. You can’t often experiment when you have a site to run, or commissions to deliver. The session is great because everyone deserves the space to breathe, think and be creative!

Eliza Anyangwe, Henrik Stahl and Sarah Cheverton will be speaking at the European launch of the Digital Identities seminar in Stockholm on 14 September. This free programme is powered by Google News Lab and is open to journalists across Sweden. If you plan to attend, please register soon as places are limited.