Social Media Information in the News

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.


8 responses to “Social Media Information in the News

  1. I recently spoke to a source for an article I am writing. Rather than offering answers to some of my questions the source suggested I go to a specific post on his blog which addressed that issue.

    I understood his desire to save time and to offer responses that were well thought out, but as a journalist I was unsure if I could use their blog post to effectively make my point. I knew I’d spoken with them and received their permission to use their wording but I didn’t think my readers would know that.

    Social media has been great for offering journalists new story ideas but I would agree it has created a new dilemma and perhaps even let some less motivated journalists take the easy road on reporting for articles.

  2. I agree that social media kills at offering new story ideas. I also think we should use it as a chance to find sources as well. Sources are usually easy to find on sites, and many social media sites also offer a direct message option to the source. This allows journalists to get the whole story instead of just the snidbit that was posted in 140 characters.

    These sources also lead to other sources. Pretty soon you have a full story from a 140 character post or a four minute video. For example, you know who shot the video, you could interview the woman who was tasered and a bystander who watched the entire fiasco. Now you have the whole story inspired by a four minute video.

  3. I too, Monica, have had the same thing happen to me. When I was interviewing someone for a story they directed me to their page that their assistant made for them to pull something off it because they couldn’t think of it right then, but I wanted them to say it so I could have quote and know that I got it straight from the primary source.
    I think using social media (a tweet or blog post) is great for inspiration from a story or to even pull quotes from it but not use as your primary source.
    I agree with you, I think with all the social media has tempted journalist to take the easy route instead of digging further into stories.

    • I think it is awesome both you and Monica took the extra step in the story. It’s the same thing I would do. To me a story means more when you actually put in the effort to talk to a source.

      If the journalist won’t put in the effort, why should the audience?

  4. I agree that 140 characters is not enough to write an entire story on, but it can be a start. I feel like journalists are getting lazier if we are basing a whole story on social media snippets that we haven’t verified. After reading this post and some of the comments I wondered what other people are thinking of journalists. It seems like there are constantly cases of stories being written that ended up being false or missing facts that have angered the public. It makes me angry too. We are suppose to be delivering information to people. How are they suppose to trust us when we are basing our reporting on a tweet? Social media can be a very helpful tool, but it definitely can’t be the only tool we use while reporting.

  5. This is a great post! People often times get so caught up in the pro’s social media presents for journalist that they become naive to the con’s that challenge what creates a story. Just in reading the comments I agree that social media outlets are helpful for developing story ideas but you can’t build a story from a 140 character tweet. My question is, where are the editors and the fact checkers? It’s sad that journalist become lazy in their storytelling, but it is the job of editors and fact checkers to challenge journalists work when it seems to be falling below journalisms high standards of reporting.

  6. Social media is great for journalists in terms of seeing what others are writing, but I agree with you that there is no way of knowing if it’s true. Sometimes seeing stories even on Twitter can be confusing, as two stories could contradict each other or have different facts. I don’t think Twitter is a viable platform for reporting news. There is absolutely no way of conveying a truly complete article in 140 characters. Readers like myself need background, quotes, things to back it up. I’m just not sure how great social media is for journalists in the long run.

  7. I think you bring up a really good way to responsibly use social media in journalism. Although nothing on the web can be treated as fact until it’s verified, social media and the internet can make for some really interesting story ideas. Using online stories as a springboard for your own, diligently researched and reported story is a great idea so long as you verify all the facts and people involved in the story. In all, it would be silly to ignore the presence of social media in the way we learn about things and distribute information, but it would be equally silly to use it as your only source. Thus, keeping in mind all perspectives, journalists can use social media as inspiration, if not a reliable source.

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