Earlier this week Cision and George Washington University released a survey, which reported that 84 percent of journalists believe social media sources are less reliable than traditional ones. Of the nearly 400 editors/journalists, which answered a custom questionnaire, 89 percent reported using blogs, 65 percent reported using social networking sites and 52 percent reported using micro-blogging sites like Twitter as part of their news gathering.
However, almost all of the respondents noted the reliability issues with Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites. In fact, none of the responding journalists / editors said “that news and information delivered via social media is a lot more reliable than news delivered via traditional media.”
Is this really a surprise though? I’m a huge advocate of journalists, editors and news organizations using these social media platforms, but I think we all understand that you need to take your bits of information and source leads with a grain of a salt. Yes, they’re a great tool for finding new potential leads, stories and information, but after that it comes back to the basic guidelines of reporting (verifying with two sources, fact checking, being objective, etc.).
That’s why this whole sending 5 journalists to a farmhouse in France with only Twitter and Facebook access to report stories doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Yes, it’s fun story. A bizzaro, Real World France-journalistic hybrid; but it won’t really prove anything. While these tools are growing in importance, they’re still just a part of your toolbox. The phone is still a powerful tool – people will say things there that they won’t say on social media or in an email (no paper trail). Your writing acumen, commons sense, etc. are powerful tools.
In addition, when looking strictly at news gathering – corporate Websites continue to be the most common destination for reporters doing background research or looking for information (Chart below).
Of course, the study also overlooks that social media is a powerful distribution / aggregation tool for journalists and editors. According to Venturebeat the NYTimes.com received nearly 3% of its traffic from Facebook in December 2009. And even with a scheduled move to metered traffic, the Times will still allow referral traffic from social media sites to see Times stories, without counting against their “meter”.
So while the five strangers picked to live in a farm-house in France, and have their stories Twittered, may have trouble confirming their sources and fact-checking, they should have no trouble distributing their stories.