“If it isn’t right, it’s wrong.”
Jennifer Preston, the vice president of journalism for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, quoted Bob Dylan to highlight the importance of truthfulness in journalism. She spoke with School of Communication students and faculty on Oct. 11 about the value of storytelling and the impact that social media has on reporting.
The Knight Foundation is a national foundation, based in Miami, that invests in journalism and the arts in the cities where the Knight brothers once published newspapers. Preston joined the Knight Foundation in 2014. She moved to Miami from New York City where she was a journalist, reporter, and editor for the New York Times for 19 years. While in New York City, she also taught journalism at Columbia University and the City University of New York.
In 2009, Preston was named the first social media editor for the New York Times. Her role was to figure out what value social media held at a publication like the Times. They began to invest time and money into their presence on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which proved to be effective because more people were reading stories on their website than in the paper.
“Putting content … on social media is very important for a place like the New York Times to find and build an audience beyond its regular core audience around the country and around the world,” Preston said.
Social media is critical for breaking news. However, with the competition of trying to be the first to break a story, it is more important to get the facts right.
“I ran into a number of people in the New York Times who were very, very nervous that the pressure to break news, the pressure to get [the story] out first, would compromise our values and standards,” Preston said.
Preston said that an ongoing debate for publications everywhere is when a tweet that contains a mistake is sent out, should it be deleted or should corrections be made? Preston believes in both: the incorrect tweet should be deleted and it should be corrected with multiple follow-up tweets. She firmly believes that any tweet containing an error should be taken down because it will continue to show up in people’s news feeds.
Preston feels that the biggest challenge that journalists face today is building trust with their audiences. One way to build trust is to use social media platforms to engage with users. Asking followers to tell their stories and use a specific hashtag can help a journalist or news organization gain trust.
Having dedicated much of her career to working cohesively with journalism and social media, Preston said that when social media is done right, journalism is more effective.
“I am one of the most enthusiastic supporters of using social media for storytelling,” Preston said.