Social Networking as a Means of Newsgathering

The Journalist’s Guide to Facebook

Leah Betancourt, from the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, blogs about how reporters have successfully used Facebook to facilitate the newsgathering process, from discovering new leads to connecting with potential sources. Betancourt reminds readers that with such an interconnected arena comes ethical concerns, just as in any other medium.

In Betancourt’s eyes, “Facebook gives reporters a means to connect with communities involved with stories, find sources, and generate leads. For media companies, Facebook is a way to build community and reach a larger audience.”

She notes how both CNN.com and The New York Times used Facebook to engage the public in conversation during the 2008 election while spreading their brand.

She compares the development of a social networking presence to working a beat. It takes time to build a community of contacts, but it’s well worth it in the end. Her post also discusses the questions that sprout up when an organization forms social media ethics policies.

Finally, Betancourt includes a list of Facebook tips for reporters given by J.D. Lasica, founder and editorial director of Socialmedia.biz:

1. Be human. You’re not a detached observer, but a participant who need to share and give back instead of just taking.

2. If you’re using Facebook just to publicize stories you’ve written, you’re using it wrong.

3. Remember that Facebook is about sharing, not about broadcasting.

4. It’s all about karma. The community won’t share with you unless you’ve shared (your experiences, your thoughts, your passions) with them.

RSS + Social Media = “Passive-Aggressive Newsgathering”
Paul Bradshaw from Birmingham City University’s (UK) School of Media, made a post in 2008 that continues to serve as a crash course in social networking and RSS components and offers a display of tools available to the budding online journalist. He describes the new wave of online journalism as having two components: the “passive” news aggregating half, and the “active” social networking half.

He recommends that journalists subscribe to feeds of keywords in their area on bookmarking sites like Digg. Though such sites aren’t exactly social networking, Bradshaw suggests looking at who else has bookmarked a particular site, who bookmarked it first (and is therefore potentially the quickest source).

He notes Facebook is a decent tool, but also recommends journalists to go further and find networking sites tailored to a particular beat (such as LinkedIn for professional sources). The list is extensive and provides tips and suggestions for each item.

An article by Josh Catone on Mashable helped me understand how social networking tools are being used for newsgathering. NPR’s online presence is across the board in Facebook, Twitter, blogs, mobile applications, etc.

“…But NPR has embraced social media in more ways than just having an active presence on top social media channels. They’ve also put social media to work for them. In October of 2008, for example, NPR asked listeners to factcheck the US Vice Presidential debates and communicate findings via a Twitter hashtag. And in February, NPR’s social media strategist (@acarvintalked about Twitter on air, including hundreds people tweeting back comments in the conversation.”


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