Octavia Nasr urges students to get on board with social media
The veteran journalist returned to her alma mater with a clear message: social media is here to stay and has changed how news is gathered, distributed, received.
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“I don’t believe that social media is tomorrow; I think it’s yesterday, and anyone who’s not on it needs to catch up very, very fast,” LAU alumna and veteran Middle East correspondent Octavia Nasr told an audience in LAU Beirut’s Gulbenkian Theatre on November 9.
Social media, also known as digital or new media, includes such online platforms as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and blogs. And according to Nasr, not only is this new medium here to stay, but it also has a vital role to play in stirring up the status quo.
“I’m seeing social media as an opportunity to bring change, to energize people, to inspire people,” she told the crowd of mostly students. “I don’t know where it’s going, I just know it’s going somewhere and I’d like to be in the driver’s seat. I want to play a role in telling traditional media how wrong they are about being scared of new media.”
Organized by The Institute for Media Training and Research at LAU, Nasr’s lecture drew around 150 people, in addition to hundreds of web viewers. LAU Social, a digital media class, was responsible for setting up a live broadcasting platform that streamed video, pictures and tweets to members of a wider online community.
“We had around 250 viewers from outside the university, mostly people from Lebanon, since Octavia Nasr is very well-connected with the online community” in the country, says Ayman Itani, LAU Social instructor, who is a digital media strategist and a three-year Twitter user.
The atmosphere in the auditorium was uncharacteristic of a traditional academic lecture. A group of LAU Social students tweeted and blogged live updates from their laptops for the duration of the talk. Many others could be seen tweeting and taking video on their smartphones.
Nasr too checked her BlackBerry for tweets throughout the session and encouraged students to tweet her questions. “That’s how people get my attention,” she said.
She challenged everyone in the audience to become responsible “citizen journalists.”
“Go beyond the headlines and go to the really meaty news about what’s happening in the world today,” she added.
Nasr started exploring Twitter in 2008, looking for a more dynamic alternative to traditional media. She grew tired of “the same people recycling the same sound bites on different TV stations,” she said. “I wanted something new.”
“People on Twitter are smart — they don’t sit there in front of their TV sets and … accept the news as delivered by channel A and then B and then C,” she said. “They look for the news themselves.”
An audience member asked if Nasr no longer had faith in traditional media.
“No one should even think of giving up on traditional media,” she answered. “But you can’t apply traditional media rules to new media — it just doesn’t work; it’s a different animal.”
She added that traditional media would remain the cornerstone of journalism. “We cannot depend primarily on citizen journalists. They’re not trained. … It takes years to become someone with a sense of editorial judgment,” she explained.
Dr. Yasmine Dabbous, TIMTAR director and an assistant professor of journalism and media studies at LAU, agrees: “Social media can’t be sustained unless you have trained journalists to sort out what’s right and what’s wrong, as well as to publish and distribute the news to a large audience.”
But both Nasr and Dabbous believe that the future lies in a marriage between social and traditional media, and hopefully, they say, a happy one.
Born and raised in Lebanon, Nasr has lived in the United States for almost half her life.
Throughout her 20-year career at CNN, the last 10 of which as the senior editor of Middle East affairs, she won numerous awards for her coverage of war zones.
As of last month, Nasr has been heading up Bridges Media Consulting, a company she founded to help media organizations and individuals bridge the gap between traditional and new media. She is also the editor of OctaviaNasr.com.
The lecture was part of TIMTAR’s Distinguished Journalists Lecture Series that was launched in January.