Serving as both sources of information and channels for dissemination, social networks – and more generally the Internet – allow journalists to stay in apparently direct and constant contact with politicians, and in particular to keep up with their ideas, their proposals, etc. Because immediacy rules on social networks, the volume of information produced by political parties themselves has greatly increased. But beware, just because information is readily available does not mean that it is true or relevant. Tweets by public figures are first and foremost acts of communication. It is therefore still essential to always verify the information and to ask yourself why it is being disclosed.
channels of information and dissemination
Regular monitoring of social networks seems essential to keep up with what is going on. On the one hand, make a list of accounts which are “reliable” in terms of information, and on the other, subscribe to candidates’ official Facebook pages and follow them on Twitter. Everything you find on these official accounts can serve as raw material for preparing your interviews. Use it to pad out information collected previously. On Twitter (and Facebook), identify the people worth following: politicians and members of candidates’ campaign teams, associations, fellow journalists, media, bloggers, etc. When reporting, you can keep an eye on this thread to avoid missing an important news item happening at the same time (intervention by the President, announcement by the government, sensational quote from another politician, etc.). You will thus be able to obtain reactions right away.
It may not seem important, but the production and dissemination of ideas written down in black and white by those in the news is, for a journalist, also a kind of safety net. It will be more difficult for a politician to deny having said something if there is a record of it in his Facebook or Twitter account.
HELPING THE PUBLIC TAKE CONTROL OF THE ELECTORAL PROCESS
The presidential election in Senegal in 2012 is a case in point. Social networks became an important defence against post-election disputes, as well as against a potential civil war between pro-Wade supporters and opponents of the incumbent president, who was running for a third term. Journalists – especially local – along with civil society took control of the media coverage of elections by publishing, as and when on social media, the exit polls for each polling station, even before the official results were broadcast. The reliability of their work, which was also based on census data and official reports, was unassailable. Because the results were already available everywhere on social networks by the time the official counts got underway, fraud was impossible. Such popular action, which is entirely legal – since every eligible voter is also a legal and legitimate controller of the electoral process – represents a step towards the establishment of good democratic practices and confidence in electoral processes.
Warning: check before you tweet!
Posting a tweet is like publishing an article that has only 140 characters. The information in a tweet must be as thoroughly checked as when you write for traditional media. Beware of immediacy, which is no excuse for errors. Just because it’s Twitter it does not mean that the basic rules of journalism do not apply. And watch your spelling!
what sort of thing should you tweet?
During an election period, it is important to tweet or share on Facebook not only your publications, actualities and radio web links, but also other media offering different points of view. The aim is to offer your subscribers a sufficiently comprehensive overview of a given issue. However, every journalist also has their own way of working on Twitter.
Daïc Audouit (@daicaudouit), political journalist at France 3 Ile-de-France, believes that simply tweeting what a candidate says at a political rally offers no added value (except as regards key phrases). The journalist thus prefers to tweet “what people do not see” (the atmosphere at the event, etc.) and indulge in a little teasing.
Mariana Grépinet (@MarianaGrepinet), journalist at Paris-Match, special correspondent for the Élysée Palace, likes to tell the story behind the scenes on Twitter (any hitches on the road, wet weather, etc.). Moreover, as she suggests, on polling day, “if you spend the day at a candidate’s HQ, you can describe the highs and lows of the day or record a vox pop in the city”.
When tweeting, you can also provide additional insights (explain acronyms used) and provide context in relation to the speech delivered (why the candidate is talking about this subject, what the other candidates have said, etc.). Lastly, social networks allow you to establish a more direct relationship with your listeners. Exposed to the reactions of a wider and more diversified audience than usual, journalists may be challenged and sometimes criticised.