How do journalists use social media, and is it important for reporting the news? A 2014 Indiana University School of Journalism study, reported in The Washington Post, revealed that yes, journalists use social media as news sources. But some other surprising findings emerged from the study of 1,080 U.S. journalists.(http://wapo.st/1mBIJH2)
In the section of the study devoted to social media, the journalists were given a choice of social media outlets they used. They were asked to choose from “blogs by citizens;” “professional sources,” like LinkedIn; audio visual venues such as YouTube; crowd sourcing, such as Wiki; blogs by journalists; and micro-blogs such as Twitter. The findings revealed that the most popular social media platform for news is none other than Twitter (or other micro-blogs). The study also discovered that since IU’s first study of journalists 12 years ago, the internet has had the most profound affect on reporters and how they cover news. According to the study, 40 percent said social media networks are “very important” to their work. Many of these journalists surveyed said they spend “30 and 60 minutes each day on social networking sites.”
Twitter and Micro-blogs
The study found that 53% of the journalists who use social media “regularly” choose micro-blogs and Twitter to gather information and develop stories. In some respects, this is a disturbing trend because there are plenty of cases where reporters in their rush to break a story, relied on unreliable news sources to report body counts, for example, as a result of a tragedy. Checking for breaking news is the No. 1 reason journalists consult social media for tips, as 80 percent responded that “they regularly use social networking sites to stay on top of recent developments.” And because ratings drive networks, and big news drives numbers, journalists keep track of their competitors by trolling social media sites to see what the competition is covering, a fact supported by the study’s 73.1 percent who said they use social media to follow competitors’ news stories. Over half of the journalists reported that they use social media to find story ideas, to connect with their audiences, and to “find additional information” and locate sources for stories. Though not mentioned in the study, we see a growing trend of news media using Twitter as part of their news coverage, using close-ups of Twitter feeds to project viewer comments on screen about a given topic. WFAA-TV in Dallas, for example, features viewer Tweets about the weather especially during storms to lend color commentary to an evening weather report.
PR and Self-Promotion
Taking a page from the PR Playbook, journalists have hopped on the self-promotion bandwagon. The IU study revealed that more than 80 percent of the journalists surveyed said they used social media for self-promotion and to publicize their work. For publicists, this is an important finding. Savvy PR pros scour Twitter for media posts and to uncover not only angles for publicizing their clients, but also new contacts for pitching stories. Got a big travel client, for example? Look for Peter Greenberg (https://twitter.com/petersgreenberg) on Twitter, one of America’s most influential travel writers. Love fashion? Check out one of fashion’s most respected authorities, Christina Binkley, (https://twitter.com/binkleyonstyle) who writes about fashion for The Wall Street Journal.
Social Media is Faster
IU’s study also revealed that social media contributed to “faster reporting,” with 62 per cent agreeing, although less than 30 percent said it “enhanced my credibility” or helped them “cover more news”. Only 25 percent said it “improved my productivity.” When it comes to workload, however, a tiny percentage, just 6.3 percent, said social media lessened it. Perhaps that’s a subtle hint that social media isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when it comes to covering the news.
The Washington Post’s report on journalists’ use of social media represents only a small portion of a much larger study entitled “The American Journalist in the Digital Age” which followed other similar reports “published in 10-year increments since 1971.”
For a complete report on Indiana University’s 2014 study, “The American Journalist in the Digital Age” go to http://news.indiana.edu/releases/iu/2014/05/american-journalist-in-the-digital-age.shtml.