As a social media producer, Elamin Abdelmahmoud spends a large part of his time beginning conversations with TVO’s online audience.
Before starting those discussions, he usually gets to TVO’s office at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto at 9:30 and goes to a pitch meeting half an hour later, he said.
“We all present our pitches and talk about what stories our readers will care about.”
Abdelmahmoud is responsible for promoting those stories. He develops a strategy to get the word out about them once they are published, he said.
“Whether it’s saying, ‘This is what the story’s about,’ or picking out facts from it and developing what might be the best way to share that particular story.”
TVO wants to be a “public policy public space,” he said.
“Starting discussions is a big part of my job. Positioning stories so that people see their relevance to their daily lives is also a big part of my job,” he said.
“What we’re figuring is that TVO wants to function as a space where people come to have these conversations, and so we’re having them with them through social media.”
His role in media, as well as social media’s role in journalism, is a new one, but, successful news organizations have always found ways to engage with their audience, Abdelmahmoud said.
“It’s always been the case that media organizations that listen better to what their readers are interested in ―what their audience are interested in ― do better. I think this is just a better way to measure it and it’s a very visual way to measure it because we can see the interaction immediately,” he said. “That can kind of help guide and inform what you do.”
In addition to being a tool for community engagement, social media is an emerging platform that news agencies are using to not only promote the news, but, increasingly, deliver it, he said.
“NPR has a newscast they do every day on Snapchat,” he said. “Is that crazy? Absolutely. Is that wonderful? Yes, it is,” he said.
Abdelmahmoud uses social media platforms for current affairs journalism, on shows such as The Agenda with Steve Paikin, which isn’t bound by the urgency of breaking news, he said.
“By the time we take our content online to say, ‘Hey, engage with this,’ we’re pretty confident that people will find it, one – interesting, and two – thoughtful,” he said.
Abdelmahmoud has worked in a daily news environment with stints as a researcher for CBC’s George Stroumboulompoulos Tonight and then as an editorial assistant for The National. But these weren’t online roles, which affects how he uses social media in his job at TVO, he said.
“I don’t have online experience working in a daily news environment,” he said. “If I did, I think I would be bound by the rules of that environment, which is only responding to the stories that are breaking,” he said.
Abdelmahmoud moved to The Agenda, and later to TVO Digital, because it was an opportunity to work online and in current affairs, he said.
“When The Agenda opportunity came up, it was an online opportunity, and it was also an opportunity to work for a show that is current affairs, so it was not as bound by the news cycle as The National was. So those things were just really interesting experiences with entirely different landscapes,” he said.
Working with social media on a current affairs show that isn’t tethered to the news cycle challenges the notions of the immediacy of the internet and the short life-span of social media platforms, he said.
“The Internet has a bias for the quick, but a few websites have kind of proven that the content does not need to be that short. People will watch it if it’s good, and if you make them care about it,” he said.
Now, Abdelmahmoud says, he is looking forward to what the future of online journalism holds.
“It’s a very interesting landscape, and it’s changing very quickly,” he said. “The idea that tomorrow there could be a new tool in digital journalism, or social media, that didn’t exist today is very exciting, but also means that you have to keep watching what people are doing.”