Linking in

A couple of years ago, I heard WNBC “tech guru” Sree Sreenivasan recommend the free social networking site LinkedIn as indispensable for journalists. I didn’t join then but I have now, and I’ve discovered a few things. First off, it was easy to create my profile. The hardest part was deciding which information to include and make public, but the good news is you can change your mind and your profile any time.

The bad news is that building a list of contacts can become time consuming. Whenever someone agrees to join your network you can browse their contacts and decide if you want to invite any of them to link to you. It’s fun to play “Where are they now?” and reconnect with people you haven’t heard from in years, but it’s easy to get lost in a rabbit hole of searching and clicking.  And I’m still waiting for the “indispensable” part. What exactly is the point of all this linking?

If you’re job hunting, there’s no question that it makes sense to be on LinkedIn–a kind of Facebook or MySpace for professionals. In a WebTips column, Sree explains how he uses it:

Nowadays, when someone asks me for contacts at a media outlet, I tell them to join LinkedIn, connect with me there and search my contacts. They use the system to send my contacts a message via me. I then judiciously decide whether to forward the message or not. I have declined to forward messages in some cases when the contact would not be appropriate. In the old days (i.e., last year), I would have just c.c.-ed my contact and the job seeker. I still do that, on occasion, with very good friends, but this way is better so that the contact can decide whether he/she wants to respond, without the job seeker automatically getting hold of his or her e-mail address.

So it’s great for job seekers, but what about reporters? Can journalists use LinkedIn to find sources for stories? From my limited experience it doesn’t appear all that likely. When I search the contacts of people I’m connected to via LinkedIn, it appears that most of them are in the same business I am: journalism or media. That’s useful for me since I’m a media writer, but how does it help a reporter who covers transportation or any other beat? At this point, I’m reserving judgment.

Being on LinkedIn does provide some insight into the social networking phenomenon that all journalists absolutely need to understand. Need proof? Check the list of top search terms from Google and Ask.com in 2007. Facebook and MySpace are in the top 10. But is insight enough, or do journalists need to actively participate in social networks?

Columnist Steve Outing believes they do. In fact, he urges journalists to sign up for both a Facebook account and profile for personal use, and a separate Facebook page for their professional personae, like the ones ABC News has created:

ABC has assigned a correspondent to follow each of the major U.S. candidates for the Democratic and Republican parties, and each of those journalists has a personal page on Facebook. These aren’t normal Facebook user profiles, but rather “Facebook pages,” which are the same format as used by businesses wanting to create a page for themselves. With a Facebook “page,” a journalist can collect followers or fans of his/her work.

Jake Tapper’s page, which you can see only if you’re logged in to Facebook, includes a list of supporters, stories, a map of his travels, and frequently updated status messages like this one from November 30: “Jake is wondering if any of Giuliani’s opponents are going to try to use this latest story against him.” Give ABC News credit for trying to connect with the Facebook-generation audience. We’ll keep watching for a payoff.

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