How journalists are yaking

By Tamsyn Stonebarger

Created in 2013, Yik Yak has grown into an “anonymous twitter” around college campuses and other populous locations. Yik Yak’s unique feature is to post anonymously within a 1.5-mile radius, allowing others in the area to see varying opinions on events.

Journalists are using Yik Yak not only for crowdsourcing but also for engaging with the natural conversations that are going on around them. This has been a popular tactic in education and university beats because many college students are having unedited conversations via this app.


A YikYak conversation about journalists using the app as a source. (Screenshots courtesy of Tamsyn Stonebarger)

Journalists from around the nation have begun using Yik Yak to understand views on stories within their locations. Journalists like Dave Weigel, who reported for Bloomberg at the time of this report, used the app to gauge the public’s response when Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president.

“It’s a way to kind of summon the surrounding crowd,” Weigel said.

Weigel has only used Yik Yak for his article on Sen. Ted Cruz’s announcement. However, he said if he were covering education it would be a tool he would use more often.

Recently, Yik Yak has partnered with the University of Florida’s Innovation News Center to do more research on how UF can use the app to engage with students during breaking news, asking questions and giving updates.

Kaila White, who covers Arizona State University for The Arizona Republic, uses Yik Yak on a daily basis for crowdsourcing and to engage with the natural conversations that occur around the college campus.

“The way that I use it is to really just to overhear what’s going on and to notice any trends,” White said.

White has asked questions via Yik Yak in the past, but she mainly uses it to keep an eye out for potential stories.

“When they know that a professional is on there using it for work, I think it takes away from the fun of it and people won’t be honest with you,” White said.

Yik Yak’s “Peek” feature allows users to look into conversations in other areas. Yik Yak has experimented with this feature with media outlets like Bleacher Report during March Madness.

White’s offices are in downtown Phoenix, which makes it easy to tune into the downtown campus. With Yik Yak’s “Peek” feature, she’s able to see the conversation happening on the Tempe campus as well.

“When I first started using it I loved using the peek function because you can look everywhere, which is wonderful because you can get a gauge for what it is like in any neighborhood,” White said. “So if you’re in Arcadia the feed is completely different then if you’re in Tempe. I love that alone, just to get a sense of lifestyle.”

Although Yik Yak is predominantly used by college students, the peek feature makes it convenient for beats beyond the university as well.

“Any tool that can hone you into a place can be used for a lot of different beats,” White said.

Yik Yak has been in the news for incidents of cyberbullying, but White thinks that it isn’t necessarily the app’s fault.

“I think that it has the potential to be used negatively, but also anything on the Internet could be that way,” White said.


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