Social Media
Credit: Image by Tanja Cappell on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

There are numerous free online communities available to journalists on the web, readily accessible to both established and student journalists.

But how are these groups and discussions on social media useful to those in the industry, and how can we get the most out of them?

Support for freelancers

Journalist, coach and mentor Susan Grossman started the Facebook group JournoAnswers in 2014, which has now gained over 1,300 members worldwide.

"I was a freelancer myself for going on 30 years, and as I started to teach journalism, I realised that most of the people who were emailing me and asking me questions were freelancers coming up the ranks, and all of them had exactly the same issues as I had," she told in a recent podcast.

The online community provides a place for journalists to share contacts, news, jobs, data and advice.

"Most freelancers work on their own, some of them in their pyjamas, and often don't see other people from week to week," said Grossman.

In order to tackle the isolation that freelancers can often experience, the JournoAnswers community can ask questions to the entire group, which includes people on the same level as them and those in more senior posts.

"It is very supportive, at a time in a profession where people are used to not really having any support at all," Grossman said.

"People will post news about what is happening in the place that they live in and somebody from another country may pick it up as a story."

Fresh and immediate job opportunities

Journalists from a range of countries including the UK, Australia, Brazil and Finland are also able to use the group as a jobs board, in which they can often see the profile of those applying, and get fast responses from those interested.

"There is a continuous feed of people who are asking for journalists, specialists in certain areas," said Grossman.

"They might be looking for a money writer, someone who can turn around digital content in 24 hours, or someone sitting in Barcelona who can go and research a story for them."

Online communities can also be useful for journalists looking for a specific contact or name that will help them with their own work.

"If people share, other people are very grateful and then in return, will share something else," Grossman said.

"There is an element of trust there and I have not noticed in a year and a half that I've been running JournoAnswers that anyone has run with somebody else's idea or that anybody has got cross about something – I haven't had one post about that, not one."

A place to network

Freelance journalist Livia Albeck-Ripka has found members of online communities to be extremely supportive, regardless of journalism's competitive nature. 

"It is nice to see people celebrating each other's success," she said.

"Often I find that if I have just written someone a message, even if I don't want anything specific, and just said: 'Hi this is what I do, what you do looks really interesting, can we chat for 5 minutes?', that actually people are kind and they are open to it."

Albeck-Ripka notes that JournoAnswers is the closest thing to a really organised body where she, as a freelancer, feels she has rights.

"I am quite new to the freelance world and so it is good to have a community of people that you can reach out to and just ask for advice," she says.

Albeck-Ripka is a member of a variety of different online communities around the web, and has found that they give her the support that those working in an office often have.

"If you were based in an office, you would be able to call across the desk and say, 'hey, this is a weird email I just got, what should I do about this?', but as a freelancer you often don't have that, and it could be much more time consuming than what is necessary," she said.

Informative discussion

Ivan Lajara, life editor at the Daily Freeman, believes that asking questions and responding to other people's posts within online communities can be extremely beneficial to journalists.

He runs the popular #dfmchat on Twitter, an active session on Wednesday afternoons about a journalism related topic, discussing subjects such as  best practices and the latest industry innovations.

"It is a very informal chat... it is to get a sense of what other colleagues in the field are doing, but we also have our own opinions," said Lajara.

With varied content, the chat attracts journalism students as well as professionals who want to find out more about something in the industry or get something off their chest.

"Sometimes it is a little bit of criticism, sometimes it is a little bit of theory and sometimes it is how we personally deal with certain issues," he said.

"The idea also being that if something is lacking in terms of, say, journalism ethics or something like that, we try to elevate the practices of the rest of the field by bringing attention to the topic. A lot of it focuses on what can we do now as journalists or as audience members to affect change or improve journalism in general."

So online communities are also playing a role in encouraging debate, allowing journalists to express their opinions with others.

"I see a lot of people who are monitoring the field but not quite participating and I also see a lot of post-chat reads of it, you know people who come in later when the chat is over," Lajara said.

"Lurking is a good way to familiarise oneself with what is going on, but I think participation is key. [Journalists] see a lot of value in these discussions because they do influence and help shape what eventually happens in news organisations, I believe. "

Listen to this week's podcast below.

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