NASA is opening their doors to a new type of reporter on October 7 for the SpaceX Falcon 9 event. The space agency recently announced that in addition to traditional journalists, they will also allow social media representatives to attend SpaceX as an official member of the press.
In the past, NASA has invited social media users to cover launch events but not in the same capacity as traditional print or broadcast journalists. During the SpaceX event, social media representatives will be offered the same resources and attend the same conferences as traditional media reporters.
“I think we see it as a next evolution in media. The ability to disseminate information used to be controlled by organizations and companies — technology has changed all that,” Bob Jacobs, NASA’s deputy associate administrator of communications, told me in an interview. Jacobs added, “Now, you have individuals who have become citizen journalists, for lack of a better term, and I think there is value in including them.”
NASA and Citizen Journalists
Including “citizen journalists” comes with risks though, as many traditional journalists believe social media representatives may not adhere to journalistic standards and practices.
Jacobs spoke about the first time NASA included social media users as press back in February: “There was considerable push back by the traditional media because they were afraid that somehow they wouldn’t get to ask their questions, or perhaps the presence of social media would somehow diminish the quality of the information that was being provided.”
It’s no secret that traditional media has viewed social media reporters as amateur journalists for some time now, and this is something NASA is hoping to change with the SpaceX event.
“…What we are trying to do with an actual launch event is continue the NASA social but at the same time not make it so segregated that it’s a separate event,” Jacobs said.
Of course, with social media representatives attending the event as press, the risk of journalistic professionalism not being upheld is present. I asked Jacobs if NASA was worried about social media reps not accurately reporting events, and he told me, “That is always a risk, but at the same time, I have seen traditional journalistic standards be changed by technology.”
Jacobs went on to speak about traditional journalism evolving around social media, saying, “I see the lines converging at some point. Reporters can get away with more than they could 20 years ago in terms of how and what they share.”
NASA’s announcement hasn’t come at the request of social media users though; I covered a NASA social event back in May, and everyone there seemed content to just be touring a NASA facility. There weren’t any demands for professional press conferences — just a group of people excited to tweet and blog about the space program. I asked Jacobs why NASA is involving social media reps as press when there is obviously no push for the change:
“Social media in news coverage has already demonstrated its value,” Jacobs said, adding, “What we’re trying to do is determine if this is the next step for the use of social media for reporting and informing the public about what we do.”
There is no doubt that NASA has received a new lease on life through social media and internet enthusiasts passionate about the space program. For years, NASA coverage in traditional media has declined, which caused a drop in the general public’s interest in the space program.
Including social media professionals as press may be NASA’s way of thanking them for their support, but as Jacobs told me, it’s also about recognizing a new information outlet: “As we (NASA) lose avenues in traditional media through which to share our information — reporters spending less and less time covering space — we have an opportunity to get our information out through social media,” said Jacobs.
The deadline to apply for the SpaceX event ends October 3. You can register to be a social media representative for the SpaceX launch here.