Why social media and journalists really can and should get along

Good journalism is good journalism, no matter the medium.
Good journalism is good journalism, no matter the medium.

Between 2006 and 2011, daily newspaper staffs across the country shrank by 25 percent; between 2005 and 2009, newspaper ad revenue dropped 47 percent. While I don’t believe print is completely dead, it’s certainly a shadow of its former self. As readers turn to their computers, smartphones and tablets to find out what’s going on, many news organizations have moved or are moving toward an emphasis on digital.

Unfortunately, the internet plays host to a lot of false information, and it can be tough to sort out what’s true and what’s not. That’s why it’s so important for journalists to be present where people are seeking information — social media. As it always has been, it’s the journalists’ job to shine light in dark corners; the corners just look a little different than they did 10 or 20 years ago.

We have to stop thinking of social media as only a tool for journalists. It’s not just an embed code factory, and it’s not just a bullhorn for us to broadcast our messages. Social media allows us to stay in touch with our communities — what interests them, what worries them, what inspires them, what they want to know more about.

Social media also allows us to sniff out breaking news, even when it doesn’t originate from an institutional news organization. Thanks to social media and blogging platforms, anyone can report news or write a column. Rather than turn our noses up at citizen journalists, we should embrace those who are willing to document something important happening in our community, nation or world. Maybe the guy tweeting photos of an interstate pileup doesn’t have a journalism degree, but that doesn’t mean what he’s doing doesn’t have value.

We as journalists would be wise to embed such a tweet, call the police for details and publish an article on our website. Because that’s what we do: confirm and dig deeper. Reporting in a digital world still requires the same principles of journalism we learned in J-school; sourcing, identification and verification are still important, even when bloggers are running with a rumor. That sets us apart and gives all journalists cause to embrace this digital era — because we have to continue shining our lights, even when the internet would have us believe the world is dark.

How do you consume news? Where (social media, news website/paper/TV, blogs, etc.) and from whom (friends, journalists, brands, etc.)?

Are you picky about your sources of news? Do you double check items that come from less-than-reputable sources?

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10 thoughts on “Why social media and journalists really can and should get along”

  1. Hi Julie,
    I consume news from various sites. While I do usually hear about things such as a celebrity dying from Facebook, I do always take the time to check a verified and credible source online. I hear a lot of news from my husband and my mom, truthfully. I know something is important when the two of them begin discussing something that they have seen or heard about. Other than that, I get my news from sites that I deem credible, such as CNN or The New York Times. I don’t follow any one particular person or reporter. I know that some people follow certain reporters or journalists that they like, but I really don’t. Great post!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Amanda! Since I work for a news organization, I don’t always trust myself as an accurate measure of how people consume news. So it’s useful to me to stay in touch with how people not in my field find out what’s going on. Word of mouth has always been a popular method and probably always will be. I’m glad to hear that you double-check the crazy stuff you see on Facebook and that you visit news sites, too!

  2. Hi Julie, I tend to hear most of my news first from Facebook or Twitter, but then I double-check on more reputable sites. I usually see big headlines on AOL (yes I still use it for my email) and if it’s not breaking news then I usually will just Google it. I mainly just follow entertainment news or sports news and less hard news so I look to Entertainment Weekly, E! and People as my top three sources. If one of them hasn’t covered it yet I am less likely to believe it until they do. I go to the Huffington Post for convenience, not necessarily because I think they are more reputable than the other three. TMZ is an absolute last resort for me, although they seem to be right most of the time unfortunately; I just don’t agree with the way they acquire their information. I would love to get your feedback on my post this week, I focused on these articles as well.

    1. It sounds like you have a sort of ranking system for news and its trustworthiness; I’m the same way. Just because I work for a more institutional organization doesn’t mean I don’t also read Gawker, Daily Mail and HuffPo — and sometimes, even TMZ. 🙂 I take in a large amount of news a day from many different sources. But, like you, I am aware of which sites I can trust and which ones require a grain of salt with their articles.

  3. Hi Julie, I’m so happy you wrote about this because I was just discussing this topic with a coworker of mine the other day. I like to get my news from television networks like FOX and NBC, however these networks rely heavily on social media to determine their topics on the day. I think this both a blessing and a curse. For instance, the other day when I was watching the Today Show the hosts spent more time talking about celebrity Halloween costumes then they did talking about the fact millions of Americans were going to receive letters that day saying they were going to lose their health insurance because of Obamacare. I think social media can often be focused on the superficial aspects of news and news outlets must report on these “issues” because it is what makes money and keeps the viewers.

    1. Good points, Alexis. If news organizations rely too much on social media for their content, they risk devoting time to too much fluff and not spending enough time on the important things. We always say that we have to balance what people want to know with what people need to know in our coverage.

  4. Great blog post, Julie! I will admit that I get my news from Twitter and Yahoo. It’s an easy and free way for me to stay connected while I am busy at work and with grad school. I also take any source of news with a grain of salt. This goes for citizen journalism as well as credible sources such as CNN, FOX, NBC, etc. Not every news source is correct 100% of the time so I am not the person who believes everything I read. I always double check information and see what others news sources are saying about it.

    1. Double checking any source is always wise choice, Victoria. As the Boston Marathon coverage shows (and certainly other news coverage flaws as well), even the big guys can get it wrong. Thanks for reading!

  5. I avoid tv news and get mine from social media – Twitter feeds, Facebook of friends, as well as from my family. I operate under the assumption that if something happens that’s newsworthy and worth me knowing, it’ll show up on social media. 🙂

    I Google anything that seems hard to believe or from a less than reputable source, so that I can verify the facts.

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