By Katy McCumber
Maritsa Georgiou, a 37-year-old broadcast journalist, spent 15 years at NBC Montana before moving to the national market as a correspondent for Newsy, a multi-platform news channel often watched on streaming services. An alum of the University of Montana School of Journalism, Georgiou has covered COVID-19, politics and wildfire coverage while working for NBC Montana. Additionally, she won the 2021 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism. The Cronkite Award is given every two years to “shine a spotlight on journalism that seeks truth, examines inequities, serves the public, and demonstrates the indispensability of a free and trustworthy press.” The judges highlighted her investigation into the planned removal of USPS blue collection boxes before the 2020 election. With nearly 12,000 followers on Twitter and 2,400 followers on Facebook, Georgiou boasts a large audience on both social media and as a news anchor.
UM Journalism student Katy McCumber recently chatted with Maritsa about her work while Maritsa was covering hurricane Ian in Florida and they specifically talked about how she uses social media as a journalist. Below is a transcript of their conversation, edited slightly for brevity.
Q: Let’s start with the big question: what’s the biggest challenge on social media in your job as a broadcast journalist?
A: Definitely the nastiness and hatred that circulates online. In the last six years, if you go to any news I’ve posted on Twitter or Facebook that gets a lot of comments and traction, there aren’t many stories that don’t turn political and nasty. Most posts take a turn for the worst. The things you would think of being a totally benign story, that there’s no way they could make political, and all of a sudden, someone’s fighting in the comments. It’s wild.
Q: What are some of the journalistic guidelines you follow within your own work on social media?
A: Well, the one thing is, I really try not to inject my opinion wherever I can. The whole point is to put posts out there and let the audience make their own opinions and judgements. Now, that doesn’t mean that I won’t spell some things out for people, like, you know, follow the trail, this is interesting and here’s why, or here’s the course that this took. That’s my number one rule. My number two rule is to really, really, really, double check everything before I post it. With the nastiness on social media, there is nothing worse than making a mistake, because you become fresh meat. But if you do make a mistake, acknowledge it, correct it, apologize, and move on.
Q: For sure. Could you give me an example of a mistake you’ve made on social media?
A: Oh, when I first started covering COVID, I inverted a number once on the number of cases in a certain area. Those numbers are super important- if you get it wrong, that totally changes what you’re trying to report.
Q: Does being a journalist make you use your social media differently?
A: Definitely. There are things I post on my personal Facebook that’s private for only my friends and family that I would never post on my public accounts. For instance, my kid. In recent years especially, when I’ve seen hatred against journalists grow more, I’m really protective of my son, and I don’t want to make him the target of anything. Also, on my personal page, I don’t post political things. Often, the things people use social media for, I don’t, because I have a responsibility to keep my personal opinions out of things. I can get personal on my private stuff, but I don’t get political, because that’ll kill you.
Q: Where do you find your biggest audience: through social media or through Newsy?
A: Hmmm, that’s hard. I think I get my biggest audience on Newsy because it’s national and you don’t know how many people at any given time are watching it. But as for my personal audience, probably through social media. Even people who didn’t live in my viewing area for NBC Montana would still follow me because they relied on me for news from that region. Or for people who don’t watch TV news but looked to me on Twitter as a trusted source for Montana news. I have a lot of engagement on Twitter, and that’s really special to me. I’m a strong believer that everyone you know is a source. Everyone has a great story to tell. They may not know they do, but they totally do once you talk to them. This network that I’ve built up has been invaluable in my career. For any story I’m doing, I stop and think, “Who on social media do I know that does this?” And you can find a source that easily, and I think that’s very cool.
Q: Here’s my last question: How do you think social media has affected the way we receive and share information? And how has this affected your work as a journalist?
A: Oh, it’s transformed our entire industry. It’s not even the same industry than it was when I started. The best way I can think about it is, I think Twitter is the best place to find breaking news. If you follow trusted people, they post information and it’s quick and easy. They don’t need to write copy; they don’t even need to write in complete sentences. They can just send out things like, “Queen Elizabeth died.” But you can’t just put that on a website. Journalists would need to write copy, write context, write background. Also, I had a boss tell me once, “If you go digital, you win everything.” And it’s true! That’s where people look for news. They don’t rush home anymore to switch on the TV. I like to think of it as an analogy that someone told me to view the change in our industry—People used to make an appointment to watch TV news. They would have an appointment each night at five o’clock to sit down for a half hour and get caught up on the world. But the thing is, with our phones and the use of social media, people don’t make that appointment anymore.
Katy McCumber, a sophomore at the University of Montana School of Journalism, has dreams of becoming a news anchor and often seeks out Georgiou for advice and inspiration. So far, she’s worked for Montana PBS by writing and delivering news briefs in the journalism school studio, as well as filming, producing, and anchoring video assignments for her broadcast classes. McCumber hopes to start her anchoring career in the Montana market and eventually branch out as Georgiou did. McCumber is a student in the UM School of Journalism’s Social Media and Engagement class, which conducted Q&As this semester with journalists as part of a research project on best practices for journalists on social media. See more of the Q&As here.