Myanmar: Social media as a newsroom tool

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Myanmar SocMed 2 skuren- Social media is amazing, says Letyar Tun, executive Editor at Popular News in Yangon, Myanmar. I am not familiar with modern technologies normally, but with this I can send questions to reporters in the field, get a text back in the message box, edit it and publish it within minutes!

It's early morning on deadline day at Popular news. Like most newspapers here, it's a weekly publication trying to deliver news to its readers despite the competition with dailies. Some of the weeklies use social media, like Facebook, between distribution days but only a very few have gone all the way when it comes to using social media in the entire production.

At the top of everyone's agenda in Myanmar these days is the constitution and demands for amendments to it before the expected elections in 2015. Amendments that will change the exclusion of National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi as a presidential candidate.

Letyar has assigned the correspondent in the capital Nay Pyi Daw, to a story expected just before deadline tonight about the Parliamentary discussion concerning the constitution.
Myanmar SocMed 1Letyar sent him the questions last night via Facebook messenger and he is now discussing which ones to delete since the Speaker of the Parliament will answer only one of them. When that is settled he takes on the rest of the day.

– I use Facebook for information to all staff, he tells me while walking over to the chief reporter's desk.

– We have a secret group on Facebook so we can share anything. For example if I get in late, I will let everyone know simultaneously. We put the week's assignments for the next issue on the same wall after our weekly news meeting and many in the staff also give comments, or ideas to the list in real time.

But that's not all. Since a lot of the news can't wait a week, or even a day to be published Popular News updates its fan page sometimes several times a day with breaking news.

– When a reporter finishes a story, they post it to our own "Ready to post" wall , one of the editors goes through it, posts it and it's out there!

Fojo spends three intense days here working together with the editors on moving the newsroom management one step ahead, discussing the news process from idea to publication, smoother workflow, maximising resources and developing an online strategy. With an election expected next year, resources needs to be well planned and adjusted to the new media climate - a transition period that is as difficult for everyone involved. Apart from the advanced use of Facebook as a management tool, the newsroom looks like most in Yangon and functions in a traditional way, but social media allows Letyar to manage a large amount of information and communication in a short time.

– But sometimes I wonder what I'm doing, sending a message to someone two desks away, he laughs. Then I just have to get up and talk myself around the room.

But when the story goes out on Facebook before the print edition is out, doesn't that make the paper version useless?

– Yes in a way, but then again, only a very few people has access to Facebook still, so they also need the news in the paper.

Myanmar SocMed 3 skurenAnd of course posting on Facebook also has its disadvantages.

– Sometimes we had attacks on our page and we have to go in and moderate it and stop it. Also there is the copyright belonging to Facebook issue but, in Myanmar, we still don't have a new copyright law, so from my point of view it's a positive as we can share freely our material.

So far, he adds, saying that they always give credit if they use someone else material.

The lack of people using the web stops them from putting great effort into that, even though you can sell ads to a webpage in contrast to a Facebook page where Facebook themselves sells the ads. But with speed comes less control.

-It's inevitable, we all publish as fast as we can, and sometimes it's not right, even though we have a minimum of two check stations for everything. On top of that our CEO and Editor in Chief are very active in giving feedback, checking our page and taking part in what we publish.

The tradition of weekly newspaper in Myanmar is a problem for most media houses and many has tried other ways to be first with a story. Few think that all the weeklies will last and the search is on for a combination of print media and social platforms that still give some revenue - the same problem as in many parts of the world. Still the countryside and other major cities rely heavily on the paper format.

As we speak, Letyar takes a last look at a text from the Parliament with breaking news, pushes publish and then of course the Internet breaks down.

Myanmar SocMed 4– You can't really rely on the Internet he says, there must always be a backup plan with phones.

Everyone in this room is aware of the problems print press is facing here and everywhere else, the questions is who survives and on what platforms.

– I would like to be able to publish videos, have the reporters shoot short documentaries and news, edit it on their phone, send it here for editing and then straight out to our followers, Letyar says and uses his tablet to do research on a story as he walks.

– Speed is everything and instant news more and more important.

Petra Quiding
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