Since 2008, Marianne Barriaux has been part of the Agence France-Presse (AFP) team. She has seen the organization's social media strategy with many different international backdrops, from covering protests in China to the recent US elections. Recently, Marianne took on the role of Social Media Editor at AFP's Paris bureau. This week, Marianne gives GEN an inside look at the relationship between the AFP and social media, and how that dynamic might evolve over time.
GEN: What are some of the challenges which are unique to your position as the social media editor for the AFP?
My challenge is to increase AFP’s presences on social media and social networks on the Anglo side. We write in six different languages, with French and English being the main ones, and the AFP is very well known in France and on the Franco side. While we are one of the big three news agencies in the world with The Associated Press and Reuters – with over 2000 journalists around the world and bureaus in almost every country – many parts of the world just don’t know who the AFP is, yet they are familiar with The Associated Press and Reuters. It has been a bit difficult getting an increase of followers on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, but building this presence in the Anglo world is necessary. It makes the AFP better known, and in turn helps journalists’ work down the road. If journalists are reporting internationally, it helps if people who are being contacted know the AFP.
How is the social media newsroom structured at the AFP’s bureaus in Paris?
We have quite a small social media team compared to a lot of our competitors. We have three people working in French and I’m the only one on the Anglo side, however we are all collaborating. We work really closely with the group of global editors who oversee the whole coverage of the AFP, and we also speak to the regional editors. Essentially, we tell them if we spot something on Twitter, or if there is something that appears to be emerging or breaking news. That way, they can relay it to the various bureaus who would be concerned. Equally, if we see something that is interesting – not necessarily breaking news – we notify the editors and they can suggest it to whomever might be concerned.
Your previous job position was working for the AFP in China as the Deputy News Editor. What are the main differences in the way social media was used as a journalistic tool in China and in France?
The way we use social media in France, UK, and US in comparison to the way we use it in China is not much different, in that journalists monitor social networks closely for news wherever they are. The main difference though is how effectively journalists are able to work in China relative to before the social media era. Just a few years ago, information was really hard to come by because the traditional media is strictly censored. It was difficult to get information from government sources because even if you had a number for the officials they would not answer your calls. We might not have even heard of events such as protests happening in remote parts of China because people had no way of sharing this information with journalists. Now though, with Weibo (a Twitter-like service in China), people are able to post information as soon as it happens, despite the attempts to censor sensitive information. For example, if there is a protest happening in China, a lot of the time people will immediately post their mobile phone numbers and email addresses. The censors are obviously censoring the weibos, but they can’t get to all of it fast enough because the information gets shared and re-shared too quickly. We are able to get the contact information, get in touch with the people on the ground, get confirmation, and write our stories. Increasingly, official sources also have their own weibo accounts, which we can check.
What was your experience in covering the elections on social media?
It was really crucial to our activities. We are realizing that most big news stories have a social media angle these days. The idea at the AFP is going forward on big events there will always be a social media team, at least in the next few years, who will go to which ever bureaus where the story is and assist the team. The regular journalists on location will still be monitoring the social networks, but they won’t be able to do that task the whole time because they will have a lot of other stories to write. Our team will monitor the social networks and write social media angle pieces. We all knew that the US elections was going to be a big topic because both candidates used social networks extensively to campaign, to get supporters, to push people out to the polling booths, etc. It took an even bigger dimension when Obama announced his reelection on both Facebook and Twitter. As the first television network called the reelection, he posted the announcement on his social networks and then all the other networks piled in and called his election. It was unprecedented for a leader to do that on social media. We also did things like Facebook chats with our White House correspondent, who answered questions from the public. On the Franco side, there was a special AFP Twitter feed for the elections, and that strategy went really well.
Given your professional experience, what is one piece of advice you can offer to social media editors?
I’d say don’t get too attached to the job title, as I think our position is going to become redundant in the next few years. Right now it is useful for people like us to monitor social media all the time because it gives the media organization a bigger idea of what is going on in the world, but as more journalists do it literally as part of their own work and do it all the time, we won’t need to be there anymore. Part of our mandate now is to train the staff on how to use social networks effectively as a journalist, position the organization on social networks, and to alert and write articles with a social media angle. However, social media is going to become so ingrained in everyday work for journalists and editors in news organizations, so I don’t think we are going to be here forever.
Do you think it is realistic to expect journalists to be on Twitter all the time while maintaining their journalistic responsibilities?
I think it is, especially if you have an area of expertise. If you are doing general news then it becomes a bit more difficult I suppose. Although I’m not talking about your presence as journalists, you may have a Twitter account but not use it that much, it’s more the monitoring bit to get information which I am talking about. When I was in China, I monitored everything coming out on Twitter that was China related. If you are in Paris and covering the Élysée for example, you would set up your TweetDeck for alerts every time something came up on the Élysée, and refining this search as it relates to your interests.
Once you get going and know how use it, social media really isn’t that difficult. It doesn’t take that much time, but it’s just getting into the process of it when you have so much other stuff to do, but it is doable. Maybe we’ll still be around, but our roles will be quite different. In terms of production, it’s kind of the same deal because when there will be a big event news organizations are going to be thinking about the social media angle and will be writing the articles with this aspect in mind like any other story.
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