Value in Virtual Communities

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

In preparation for the end of the primary season Tuesday night, I looked at ways in which journalists can use virtual communities such as Facebook and Twitter to enhance their political coverage. It’s funny when I think back to this time last year. I used to have trouble seeing the value in social networking sites. Why not just step outside the office and report in the real community? I used to think.

There is great value in going out into real communities and talking with people, hearing their concerns and observing their work/living areas. But in researching social networking sites and their implications for journalists, I’ve come to realize that there is also value in online communities. Journalists are communicators of truth, so it only makes sense that they would explore the various forms of communication on the Web, so long as doing so doesn’t sacrifice their face-to-face time with sources.

Sites like Twitter can also help improve journalists’ writing. I’ve used the site to help curb my tendency to be wordy when writing. Because Twitter only lets you post 140-character updates, the site has helped me to think more concisely and to be more conscious of the words I use. With only 140 characters to spare, I can’t waste words. As with journalism, every word counts.

How have you used virtual communities to enhance your reporting/storytelling process?