GSPM study: Journalists increasingly utilize social media sites

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Correction appended

A national survey co-conducted by the founding director of a Graduate School of Political Management master’s degree program recently found that a majority of journalists routinely utilize social media sources when researching stories.

The online survey, conducted during September and October of last year, found 56 percent of the 371 print and web journalists surveyed said that social media was important or somewhat important for reporting and producing stories. Of those who use social media, 89 percent said that they use blogs for their online research.

Social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook were less popular for research, with two-thirds of journalists using these sites. Just more than half of the journalists reported using Twitter in their research.

“It’s clear that pretty much all reporters and editors use online media for a variety of reasons in addition to simple research, for example expert comment, quotes, story ideas, contacts and facts,” Don Bates, the survey’s co-author and current instructor in the GSPM, said in an e-mail.

Despite the trend toward using social media, journalists responded with a high distrust of information from social media.

About 84 percent said news and information delivered via social media was slightly less or much less reliable than news delivered via traditional media. Only one out of seven respondents said the information was as reliable or slightly more reliable.

“The Internet is where most of them begin their searches but suspiciously, as the survey indicates, their conventional mistrust of sources is no less on the internet than it has been with traditional media,” Bates said.

The study found that blogs are the most popular social media tool for publishing stories, with 64 percent of journalists saying they turn to blogs to distribute articles. Social networking sites and Twitter were not far behind, with 60 percent and 57 percent respectively.

The news department at WRGW, the University’s radio station, maintains a blog that regularly publishes news stories and polls, as well as Twitter and Facebook pages that seek comments from readers and listeners. The sports department also maintains a blog that offers analysis of Colonial sports teams and games.

Editor in Chief Andrew Dunn said the University of North Carolina’s Daily Tar Heel has made social media much more important this year. Dunn said he expects the trend to become more important in the future.

“I’ve heard a phrase more often recently. ‘If the news is important enough, it will find me.’ Readers are not going to our website not nearly as much as the news is finding them on sites they frequent like Twitter and Facebook,” he said.

The Daily Tar Heel utilizes social media to connect with and interact with readers. Every Monday, the newspaper publishes a feature called “That’s What You Said,” featuring reader comments made via Twitter and Facebook as well as reader photos.

Trevor Seela, online managing editor of the Daily Northwestern, said story ideas and news tips often stem from tweets from student groups on campus. In the future, in order to reach their audience, Seela said the newspaper will need to increase its social media use.

“Newspapers are no longer just newspapers. They are publications that often combine both print and online media. As we see a switch towards a more web-oriented mentality, we have an increased need to promote articles via Facebook and Twitter to reach our audience,” he said.

Twitter allows the Georgetown Voice to update readers on breaking news in a timely manner and alerts staff members to news tips and events, something that would not have been possible just a few years ago, Managing Editor Juliana Brint said.

“We certainly do have staffers spending time on social media – checking our Twitter feed, uploading photos to Flickr, liveblogging basketball games – that weren’t even on our radar a few years ago,” she said in an e-mail.

The future of journalism and social media remains to be seen, but Bates said all indications point towards greater use of the different tools such as social networking and microblogging sites over the next decade by journalists as well as public relations professionals.

But, he cautioned, the trend will not erase the need for traditional media sources, but rather transform how these sources are produced.

“Traditional media won’t disappear. Most in the category of traditional media will evolve to encompass a balance of online and offline production. Increasingly, the Internet will be the engine that drives media of all sorts, skewed more and more to snackable writing, interactive content and video,” he said.

The article has been revised to reflect the following correction. (Feb. 4, 2010)

The Hatchet erroneously reported that Don Bates is the director of a Graduate School of Political Management master’s degree program. He is the program’s founding director but now serves as an instructor.

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