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The risks of social media for sourcing stories

Recent fake news controversies have forced journalists to look with more critical eyes at social media channels. And today, journalists may find themselves even using social media more sparingly to source stories, vet ideas and share information.

And yet, given tighter budgets and deadlines, journalists still rely on social media. After all, they might find it more efficient to canvas social media feeds for new ideas than pick up the phone or meet someone in person.

All of this raises some important questions:

  • Will journalists seek out new social media networks they trust more than let’s say Facebook and Twitter?
  • Or will Facebook fix its algorithm to minimize the impact and reach of fake news?
  • Which other channels will become more relevant, e.g., the traditional press release, personal contacts, or word of mouth?

Do journalists favor Facebook?

So far, our research shows that journalists still use the mainstream social media channels like Facebook and Twitter to research and source their stories. Until now at least, we don’t see any other channel in this category superseding Facebook.

But, because of the past fake news dilemma, we may see journalists relying less and less on Facebook. And they may very well shift towards the more traditional channels.

Facebook's and Twitter's role as a source of information has decreased compared to last year. In 2016, 66% cited these social media channels as a critical source of information, whereas in 2017 only 53% mention it – a 13% drop. We expect this trend to continue.

There are, of course, other channels journalists use: Blogs (33%), Google alerts (28%), YouTube(26%), LinkedIn(24%). But, nothing sticks out as much as Facebook and Twitter, with over half those surveyed using it (see table 1).

Also, regarding channels journalists use to report or distribute their news stories, Facebook is yet again the dominant player. Some 66% of journalists worldwide cite it as a news-distribution channel, with some regional differences in the level of use. Twitter is also an active contender, but not to the same extent in Scandinavian and DACH countries (see table 2).

Table 1: Social media channels used to research and source stories


Global average US, UK, CA, AUS & IR Scandinavia DACH
Facebook 55.40 % 49.92% 68.36% 47.50%
Twitter 50.11 % 51.61% 49.42% 45.50%
Blogs 32.73 % 32.77% 33.49% 34.00%
Google alerts 27.82 % 35.53% 13.63% 31.50%
YouTube 25.93 % 22.82% 28.41% 33.00%
LinkedIn 24.34 % 27.26% 23.79% 16.50%
Reddit 5.59 % 7.35% 4.39% 2.50%
Quora 1.89 % 2.14% 1.62% 1.50%

Table 2: Social media channels used to report and distribute stories

Global average US, UK, CA, AUS & IR Scandinavia DACH
Facebook 66.06 % 67.53% 72.06% 51.00%
Twitter 52.34 % 66.92% 39.03% 34.50%
LinkedIn 19.76 % 25.91% 14.55% 12.00%
YouTube 13.88 % 16.31% 9.93% 14.50%
Facebook Live 8.82 % 11.59% 5.77% 6.50%
Snapchat 2.64 % 2.44% 3.46% 2.00%


Will Facebook tackle fake news

Recent fake news controversies will force social networks, like Facebook, to clamp down on trolls and bots, both of which are skewing conversation to the most extreme views. Will they succeed? It’s hard to say.

Interestingly enough, Facebook has recently decided to prioritize news fromfriends, family, and groups rather than publishers. And, its recent focus onlocal stories, in theory, should also lessen the impact of fake news because the exposure of it will be to a smaller audience. Such steps could potentially help, but again it is too soon to tell.

Traditional media tactics more vital now

As the news media wrestles with issues of credibility and sustainability, journalists will need to be more skeptical of stories they source on social media. Fact checking and going to the original spokesperson is and always will be the right thing to do.

As Johanna Snickars, communications lead for Microsoft in Sweden, explains: “Technical platforms are mainly platforms; they are usually not sources of fact-based information.”

For that reason, the good old traditional methods of investigating stories and sourcing ideas are probably more relevant now than ever before.

Our findings show that a journalist’s network, according to over 75% of respondents, is still by far the best place to source ideas. As every good journalist knows, get a first-hand account of an event rather than rely on secondary sources.

And who said the days of the traditional press release were over? It holds second place as a trusted source of information, and its role is only increasing in English-speaking markets (76%) and the DACH region (80%). Again, data shows that we shouldn't discard the use of the press release.


Traditional channels used to research and source stories

Global average US, UK, CA, AUS & IR Scandinavia DACH
Personal network 76.49 % 73.97% 77.14% 84.50%
Email: Press releases 74.07 % 75.96% 68.59% 79.50%
Email: press release digests, newsletters or alerts 62.81 % 61.41% 62.12% 69.50%
Word-of-mouth 58.59 % 59.42% 59.35% 57.50%
R alert platforms 24.49 % 22.36% 30.48% 18.00%

Multichannel news distribution is still key

In this digital era, communicators should not discard one channel for the other. Our recommendation would be for every communicator to adopt a multi-channel approach to their PR and communications. So the good old press release, sent by email, is just as important as Facebook if you are aiming to target journalists with your news stories.

Overall, improvements in news accuracy and reporting politically unbiased news will be an ongoing challenge for journalists. And journalists will need to use various channels when researching stories or looking for new ideas. But, with all things considered, the news media’s role as a watchdog – something that has always been a critical part of its identity – is and still will be their right to fulfill.

To understand the power and limitations of social media for news storytelling, get a copy of our latest ebook Social Media Reset.

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Mynewsdesk is the Nordic region's leading platform for digital PR and communication, with about 5,000 customers and 77,000 users. The cloud-based service includes media monitoring, news distribution, and PR analytics. The company was founded in 2003 in Stockholm. Since 2008, Mynewsdesk is a part of the Norwegian media group NHST Media Group AS. In 2018, Mynewsdesk acquired Mention, a social media management and listening tool.Visit www.mynewsdesk.com for more information.

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