By Steve Outing
This month’s “Carnival of Journalism” asked the question: “What does Google+ mean for journalists, today and tomorrow?” Of course, I don’t have all the answers; I’m not sure yet that I have one really good answer. Google+, Google’s first serious threat to Facebook in the social-media space, is so new that we’re all grappling with how to best leverage it.
(I have to laugh when I visit the Google+ Welcome page, which still mentions that the service is in “Field Trial” mode. With 25 million users for Google+, and still growing quickly, few companies would continue to call this a field trial — but Google is no ordinary company.)
Since plenty has been written about how journalists are discovering uses for Google+, I’ll pass on retrodding that ground. Here’s my alternate message:
- If you’re a journalist, you SHOULD be using Google+.
- If you’re a journalism professor or instructor, you MUST be using Google+.
Yeah, that’s easy for me to say. My career in large part is about identifying and leveraging emerging technologies that are relevant to journalism, testing them, experimenting, and conducting research. I enjoy checking out all the new digital stuff that our technology friends unleash on the world, and figuring out what’s useful and relevant to our profession — what will advance storytelling, reporting techniques, community, and news business models — and what’s not.
Many a journalist and many a journalism professor will recoil at the thought of trying out yet another social-media service. They want to do or teach journalism, not add on to what already may seem like social-media overload. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, Flickr, Digg… — and now Google+! Can’t we just stop already and stick to the basics of producing and teaching good journalism?!
I’m sympathetic to that sentiment, but only to a degree. For many upstart online, mobile, and social-media services that appear to be useful journalistic tools but have not yet caught much traction, fine, leave it to people like me to figure out if they’re of use to the profession.
Take VYou.com, a social-based video Q&A and audience interaction service that I’m very fond of. I think VYou has tremendous potential to be useful to journalists, and I encourage people to use it. At the University of Colorado Boulder, where I’m the program director for the Digital News Test Kitchen, I’ve convinced some of our faculty, researchers, and student journalists to experiment with VYou.com.
But I will not go so far as to suggest that you are a bad journalist or an incompetent journalism professor because you’re not willing to give VYou a chance and try it out. As much as I like VYou and the online and mobile interaction model it represents, the service has yet to prove itself.
Google+ is different. Google has tried before to get it right with a social-media service. Buzz, it is pretty well acknowledged, was a flop. Okrut, Google’s first foray into social media, got popular outside the U.S., but never caught on in Google’s home country. The company seems to have learned some important lessons and has incorporated them into Google+. The reviews for Google+ have been mostly positive — actually, very positive. (Count me as enthusiastic about Google+; I’m likely to be a loyal user, just as with Facebook.) Rapid growth to 25 million users in a matter of weeks since launch of the “field trial” should tell you that Google+ is a compelling social-media experience which poses the most serious threat to Facebook of anything else out there.
For that reason, I can take the view — certain to be unpopular among many journalists who are weary of keeping up with the latest digital-media developments — that journalists have got to become familiar with Google+, just as they must be familiar with and use Facebook and Twitter.
I mean, c’mon, tens and hundreds of million people are using those services, and they’re getting news from them! If you expect to remain a working journalist, you really have no choice but to understand the impact that Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+ are having on the news environment. And you can’t understand them unless you use those services.
For those who teach journalism, I will be even more emphatic. If you are teaching tomorrow’s journalists, and you are not up to speed on and using the services with hundreds of millions of users — social-media services that are profoundly changing the way people get news that’s relevant to them — then you’re doing your students a grave disservice.
Does everyone have to try out and/or use Google+, or Facebook and Twitter? Of course not, and huge parts of the population in the U.S. and other countries will continue to sit out the social-media revolution.
But if you are a journalist working today, or a journalism educator, you have an obligation to use and understand these services. I would hope that few reading these words are not already regular users of Facebook and Twitter. If you’re still holding out on Google+, waiting to see if it’s something worth spending some of your time learning and using, you’re late for the train.
Google+: Just use it, journalists!