By Hali Ortega
A new trend in journalism is the use of information obtained from social media platforms. It’s one thing to use social media as inspiration for news gathering, but another to rely on it for the story itself. The issue journalists must stay away from when using social media pulled information is not to make it the story, but to pull a story from the information.
CNN recently published, “Secrets spilled in life’s final minutes,” online by Dorrine Mendoza. The story covered the information in a chat room thread from the website Reddit. This thread’s question was, “To the doctors nurses, police, paramedics etc. of Reddit. Did you ever hear a death bed confession and what was it? Did you feel like it brought relief to the person confessing?” posted by twistedeye. The article goes on to cover this information by quoting users’ stories. The story is based on a thread without any further information. Readers could go directly to the thread if they wanted, instead of reading a secondhand source.
Poynter’s Regina McCombs notes the issue of using social media information in stories in her article, “How to keep social media reaction in perspective when covering the elections,” which could be generalized for any story. The big point relevant to using social media information is that, “…it’s important to listen to what different groups of people are saying. So make social media coverage just one piece of the public reaction you cover.” That is to say, a good story would take social media but offer other perspectives.
With articles like the one by Mendoza verification is impossible so you can’t be certain the information is true. Truth is the number one thing journalists strive for, which means relying on one source isn’t enough.
There are ways to get verification from online sources. Poynter’s Craig Silverman covers this issue with, “8 must-reads detail how to verify information in real-time, from social media, users.” The article is a collection of social media verification routes gathered by Silverman.
A good fix for stories that are interesting but offer no verification is pulling a story idea out of the information. Another example from the website Reddit was a video posted of a man named Darien Long. As a mall cop in downtown Atlanta he always carried a camera and a tazer for protection. One day a video of him tazering a woman after she hit him on the head a few times made waves on Reddit and then all over the internet. The video can be seen below.
Taking this information, the local station Channel 2 Action News interviewed Long and other local people. Here the information became a story instead of quotes from unverifiable sources.
At what point does taking information become simple copying and pasting versus true newsworthy information? Social media offers a vast amount of information, but how to use it properly as a journalist is still being worked out.