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How social media enriches broadcasting: a Northern Ireland perspective

Conor Macauley

is a reporter for BBC Northern Ireland

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Have you ever thought what it must be like for someone who wants to ring a newsroom? It's bound to be a daunting task. What's the number? Who do I ask for?

That's all changing thanks to social media.

The BBC Newsline social media project began about a year ago. We didn't want to get left behind and we wanted to use it to promote our content and get more stories.

Twelve months on we have almost 10,000 fans on our Facebook page and almost 5,000 followers on Twitter.

That's 12,000 people who get any content we post, directly into their news feed. They in turn have the choice to share it, and many do.

It's had another consequence too. It's made the BBC Newsline programme accessible to thousands of people.

They comment on the stories we're doing and make suggestions about how we do them. It's a place of lively debate. Our contributors talk to each other and to us.

It's also an invaluable way of gathering news. An exclusive interview by Health Correspondent Marie-Louise Connolly with the family of a baby who died from the Pseudomonas infection came after the child's father posted on our page and we contacted him privately.

We were alerted to a small earthquake in Donegal when a man posted on one of our reporters' work Facebook pages that his house had been shaking.

And a recent story about a child drowning on a so-called ghost estate in the Irish Republic prompted us to ask, via BBC Newsline's Facebook page, whether any of our followers had similar concerns about where they lived.

It sparked a lively debate about who was liable and we followed up with a TV piece featuring one particularly badly affected estate. Within days of the report, the contractor was back on site doing remedial work to make it safer.

It's increasingly a big part of how we gather news. On one day in January nine minutes of content on BBC Newsline's twenty eight minute programme was the direct result of stories sourced via social media.

We're getting smarter about how we use it. When our Education Correspondent Maggie Taggart broke the story about changes to special education provision in schools, we posted a link on Facebook to the News Online piece. Within an hour we had a dozen affected families commenting on the thread. We were able to contact several who agreed to take part in our radio and television reports. Their stories greatly enriched our coverage.

Social media allows us to reach more people and promote BBC Newsline to a new audience. In one week our Facebook reach was more than twenty four thousand people - that's those who've seen any of our content. And the bulk of them are in a younger demographic, seventy five per cent of them aged 18 to 44, split evenly between men and women.

For journalists social media does not mean the end of contact books and phone calls and quiet conversations with key people, but used correctly it can complement traditional forms of newsgathering.

Conor Macauley is a Senior Broadcast Journalist in Belfast. A reporter with more than 20 years experience, he has spent the last 12 years working for the BBC having previously worked for independent television and newspapers.

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