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Social media is like an amplification, like a megaphone

From breaking news on the death of popstar Michael Jackson to leading coverage of Iran's post-election violence, social media websites have transformed the news industry forever, a paper from the Reuters Institute of Journalism says.

Where websites such as Facebook and Twitter have led traditional newspapers have now followed and are encouraging their users to spread and discuss stories, BBC journalist and author of the paper Nic Newman said at the paper's launch on September 30.

"The social media revolution is not a fad and it has absolutely revolutionised the media," he said at the BBC's Broadcasting House in central London.

"The one-way broadcast is over. People want to interact and answer back."

Readers' comments, blogs and tweets are now almost ever-present features on news websites, allowing users to interact with reporters and editors in a way that they have never previously been able to.

This transformation is now central to the future of traditional news outlets because it increases the reach of their content, boosts engagement and loyalty levels and potentially tells a better story by increasing reporters' source base, Newman said.

Also on the discussion panel at Broadcasting House was Meg Pickard, head of development of social media at the Guardian, and Kate Day, Communities Editor at telegraph.co.uk.

"Social media is like an amplification, like a megaphone," Pickard said.

She said that is was important for journalists to understand the editorial imperative of social media.

"In my experience telling a journalist that social media will open up their work to more people and more recognition is fairly effective," she said.

Day explained how the Telegraph had created an online community at its website my.telegraph.co.uk with about 25,000 to 30,000 registered users.

"Some blog but most use it as a social networking site," she said. "It is building up a strong identity and group."

But what social media isn't - or not yet anyway - is an answer to newspapers' financial woes.

Social media increases the number of people using media but does not have an answer to the industry's core challenges - falling advertising revenues and the spread of free content.

"It is still early days in the social media revolution," Newman wrote in the conclusion to his paper.

"There is much still much to be learned, but overall there is new confidence in the underlying values of journalism and the role that social media might play in keeping those values relevant in the digital media age."

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism is based at Oxford University and receives most of its funding from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

by James Kilner, Thomson Reuters Foundation