How New Social Media Apps Can Help the Media

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Phil Bronstein's long career in journalism includes reporting stints from conflicts in El Salvador, the Philippines, and the Middle East, as well as several years leading the San Francisco Chronicle. Now an editor-at-large for the Chronicle, Bronstein has written a lengthy blog post on what has become a special focus for him: how to heal the news business. In 2007, towards the end of his editorship, Bronstein famously declared that that industry "is broken, and no one knows how to fix it."

His post isn't a play at saving journalism so much as a gesture at modernizing it a bit by fusing two of Bronstein's great interests: technology and traditional, on-the-ground reporting. So-called "digital timeline" social media applications, he says, may be the way forward.

In our hysterically sharing but existentially unsatisfying social world, thousands of "Friends" or a mayor's badge from a local bar can't necessarily answer the bigger contextual questions of your life and where it fits in the grand scheme.

But the technology universe is just now providing us with some mapping possibilities to find ourselves in space and time. It can now tell us more than ever before about our own personal histories, and how they intersect with other people and events.

"Timeline" tools like Dipity, Intersect and Historypin easily gather our memories - whether recorded through text, audio, video or photographs - and chart them together to tell a much richer story and help us each get a bead on our place in history and the world. Suddenly geocoding and social-media-storytelling mean more than just "Checking In" at your favorite sushi restaurant or sharing drunken stories from last Saturday night.

How does this happen in practice? Bronstein explains what it was like to report from war-torn El Salvador in 1989 with the pen-and-paper tools of pre-Internet reporting. But digital timeline tools, he says, could revolutionize how a journalist records, researches, and ultimately relates a story such as the El Salvador rebellion.

I'm guilty of not having tried out all of these sites yet, but I will soon and can imagine how satisfying it would be, both professionally and personally, to have all the pieces of Salvador charted out in a timeline, with contributions from other witnesses.

I believe that is an experience helpful not just to journalists and historians, but to all of us.

As Ben Bradlee, probably the last leonine newspaper editor alive, said awhile ago: Good journalism has always been about telling a good story. Still is. Today we have better tools to do that.

Read more of Bronstein's reviews of digital timeline applications and his suggestions for putting them towards journalism here.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.