Social Media and Journalism

For my very last blog post of the semester, I get to focus on how the future of social media will affect my field, journalism. There has been a long discussion since social media transitioned from passing fad to internet staple of whether real journalism can have a home on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. One of the reasons I am in this program is because I know that the field is set to transition to social media in the near future and I want to be ahead of the curve when that happens.

One of the most important things that journalists have to watch out for regarding social media is to not let citizens steal their jobs. What journalists have to do, according to Yahoo, is to supplement their work with “sources from the street.” Get the stories themselves, but realize that trusted sources don’t necessarily have to come from organizations, they can come from your friends list. And if those sources can also help you increase engagement on your content, acquire them as an influencer. This could help you down the road when you need a post to go viral. This walks the fine line that I was taught in undergrad about conflict of interest, using people you know as sources, because most of the people on your friends list have a personal connection to you.

Is there a conflict of interest when using friends or followers on social media as a source for a story?

A few concerns that the Huffington Post raised with this transition actually fall in line with some of mine. From skills to accuracy, there are those people that will never trust what they read on social media because it’s not a proven source. I find myself checking Google or a more trusted news source after I read something on social just to make sure it’s true. I’ve fallen for the Jackie Chan death hoax way too many times to ever take anything on social media at face value without fact-checking first. The people churning out the news may not have gone to school like most journalists, including myself, and haven’t acquired the proper training to report on high profile stories. Social media also leaves some journalists wondering if they have wasted their time and money getting an education or training to become a publishable journalist when all they needed to do was create a Facebook profile. I have those concerns from time to time, but as I sift through the massive amount of content where I can immediately tell they are not real journalists, I am thankful that I have the tools to rise above them and be considered one of the more reliable sources in social media.

Do you trust what you read on social media or do you Google it yourself to see if it’s true?

Before I continue my response of the Reuters Handbook on Journalism I have to say, they shouldn’t worry about social media ruining their reputation when the page filled with typos is doing that enough for them. I was afraid that when I started reading this I would be annoyed at all the self-righteous language they would use about them being professional and the things they aren’t allowed to do on social media. I was clearly wrong. What Reuters does is allow their journalists to be people, but be transparent and let Reuters off the hook when the person makes a comment the publication may not agree with, which is fair. I also respect Reuters for telling their journalists to hold off on publishing a story so they can fact-check and edit beforehand. I wish they had done that with this handbook, but I have seen so many typos and factual errors on other news sites that I respect when organizations favor accuracy over eagerness to publish first.

Neiman Reports echoed this sentiment by saying that it doesn’t matter who is first, but who is right, citing Michael Jackson’s death as their example. I can come up with a more recent example involving four stories on the same day, two were true and the other two were false. News broke that Cory Monteith had died of a drug overdose on the same day that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin. There were also false reports that surfaced on Twitter and Facebook that Casey Anthony was pregnant and that actor Kyle Massey had cancer. What these stories have taught us as consumers and creators of content is to think before you react and you might make more of an impact. I’ve had a lot fun this semester giving my feedback on all of these tips, soaking them in, and utilizing them to make me a better journalist and consumer. As always, feel free to leave comments and connect with me on all of my social media channels.

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3 thoughts on “Social Media and Journalism

  1. I’m not really sure about a conflict of interest when using friends on social media as source. I never formally studied journalism as an undergrad. I think it would depend what exactly they are sharing with you and what type of story you are covering. I do feel that there must be some validity to it if you plan to use it and you should be able to back it up from at least one other outside source.

    I definitely Google anything big that I learn about through social media. If a friend posts something that is breaking news, I need to read it for myself before I share the news with anyone. I might tell my husband what I just learned from Facebook and tell him to standby while I check it out on Google. Then I find a legitimate article and we read the whole story. At that point, I’ll share the actual article if I make any mention of it through my own social channels.

  2. Great post and great questions! I think it *can* be ok to use a friend as a source, if that person is truly the best person equipped to answer your questions or confirm information. But most of the time, the best person for the source job is going to be someone you’re going to have to do a little more work to track down. That said, asking a question on social media is a great place to start. For example, “Do you know anyone affected by this new law?” Add a hashtag specific to that new law on Twitter, and you’ve potentially reached a whole new audience that you don’t necessarily already know.

    Like you, I’ve been burned enough times on social media that I Google ANY news items of consequence before assuming they are true. And then when I find out something being shared is untrue, I resist the urge to comment on everyone’s statuses and correct them. 🙂

  3. Posing a general question to get responses is a great idea Julie and can possibly lead to a better source that you may not know of who has connections to one of your followers. But I agree with both of you that unless they are the best people to answer, Facebook friends should not be sources. Here’s another scenario though. What about opinion pieces where a source doesn’t have to be an expert? Does using a personal connection as a source ruin your credibility if you are asking for their opinion? Julie, I wish it were that easy to resist correcting people. I might do it once or twice and stop if I see people are being ignorant, or just let others correct them.

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