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For next-generation journalist, social media’s a must

Ryan Terrell is news editor for the Suburban Life.

Ryan Terrell is news editor for the Suburban Life.

By Margaret Sorce

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Ryan Terrell works as news editor for the Suburban Life, which publishes papers to a majority of the western suburbs of Chicago. Terrell is responsible for producing news sections for these publications, helping to develop teams assigned to report in these communities.

Most important, Terrell focuses on social media − the new generation.

Terrell has been in the editing world since 2006, working his way up. A self-described “next-generation journalist,” Terrell believes that social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, will help connect communities. Understanding how Facebook and Twitter work is very important in today’s society. Most people use one or the other every day, if not both. Social media has taken its place in the journalism world, and Terrell believes that’s how communities will get their breaking news.

Given this world of text messages, tweets, and notifications, I was eager to ask Terrell about a certain story back in 2011. On Oct. 27 of that year, 14-year-old Kelli O’Laughlin was killed after walking in on what appeared to be a robbery. She lived in Indian Head Park, only one town over from where I grew up, and attended Lyons Township High School, the same school I graduated from in 2009.

At the time, the story was heartbreaking and hard to believe. Our communities had never experienced anything like this. Hearing about how the communities had come together to mourn and remember O’Laughlin was heartwarming.

What I wanted to know was this: Had Terrell felt it was respectable to tweet about this girl’s death, or should the paper simply have written a print story?

He said he had had a rough time with this story, especially when later that week, horrific details about the murder were released. The man who would eventually be charged with robbing the house and killing the girl had stolen the 14-year-old’s phone and was sending text messages to her mother.

Terrell had been with the Suburban Life for only about two years when this crime occurred. It was one of the hardest stories he had had to write about. The communities had the right to know about this tragedy, Terrell said he wasn’t sure social media was the way to inform them. Terrell is not only the news editor, he is also a member of the editorial board that meets weekly to discuss and produce editorials that seek to help better the community.

Terrell said he didn’t know how the murder of a 14-year-old girl was going to better the communities.

I told Terrell that I had first seen the news of the crime on Facebook when my cousin, who had known Kelli, posted an article to her wall. The next thing I know, the name “Kelli” is in everyone’s status or tweet: RIP Kelli, We Miss You Kelli. It seemed as if this was how people were expressing their feelings about what had happened.

Terrell said he was glad to see the community coming together over this girl’s death, especially because he hadn’t been sure how the community was going to react.

To this day, the town of Indian Head Park and surrounding communities still come together for fundraisers, memorials, and tying purple ribbons around trees to remember Kelli O’Laughlin.

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