How journalists use social media to source stories and disseminate news

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.

Read more about this in Social Media Reset.

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 social media 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.

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.

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 from friends, family, and groups rather than publishers. And, its recent focus on local 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.

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. 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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