From shoe leather to blogs: Journalists increase use of social media to aid reporting

One of the first stories I reported as a young journalist in Southeast Florida focused on business owners’ “off-season” struggles. To secure the necessary interviews, I started walking along a major thoroughfare in Delray Beach and before long, came upon a small clothing business. As I walked in, I noticed a sign on the door. “Closed.” It was mid-afternoon.

“I almost didn’t come in,” I said to the owner, indicating the sign.

“Oh?” she said. “I must have forgotten to flip it over. I haven’t had a customer all day.”

Instantly, I had the opening for my story, thanks to some local-level or shoe-leather reporting.

Increasingly, media are finding such golden nuggets of local information without opening those doors, or wearing down their shoe leather.

Earlier blog posts and this article  describe the value and use of hyperlocal news sources, from small business owners to residents who blog. A recent national survey from Cision, a software company that services public relations firms,  and a professor at George Washington University now offers addiitional insight into the extent to which journalists are utilizing social media for their reporting.

As Jack Loechner of the Center for Media Research reports, 89 percent of the journalists surveyed said they turn to blogs for story research. In another measure, 55 percent of journalists who responded said social media was important or somewhat important to their reporting efforts.

Much of the information provided is local, up-front and personal. But not all. Social media helps journalists find such fundamental facts as the contact information for a valuable new source. Or it can offer a deeper dive, such as the viewpoint on a complicated trend.

“Newspaper journalists (72 percent) and those writing for Web sites (75 percent) use social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook for online research,” Loechner wrote.

This reliance on social media certainly raises questions about sourcing and accuracy. (Even though a blogger says the door sign shows “closed,” how does the reporter know that is true?)

Another question also comes to mind: If media in significant numbers are using these sources to gather information, doesn’t that mean these same channels are becoming increasingly effective tools for those who wish to provide information to the media? 

Seems as if the two-way dialogue smart media are creating is rapidly coming together.

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