Social media is rampant, no questions or doubts.
As journalists, we can either embrace this new tool and add it to our information gathering tools and reporting techniques, or give it the cold shoulder and miss out on all the opportunities and pathways available.
Don’t get me wrong, social media has its downfalls – everything does – but in this age of online news, social media is a rapidly growing giant.
Rachel Olding (@rachelolding), crime reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald, recently engaged online with students and answered questions about the role of social media in her profession.
Social media is definitely my friend rather than foe when it comes to crime reporting.
Rachel explains that social media has developed into an “amazing source” of finding stories and people who are relevant to your stories.
She says that social media, in a lot of ways, is just like hitting the phones or door knocking to gather information and conduct interviews.
Sure, social media can be a gold mine for particular stories and information on crimes, but Rachel says they can also be a minefield.
It can be a minefield because you don’t know what to trust and what not to trust.
Rachel explains that her rule of thumb is to actively fact check anything she finds on social media via another means, like contacting the person who posted the information, or verifying the information with police.
But tight story deadlines pose a major problem on this verification process. Rachel says that within the time constraints, the decision to use information sourced from social media comes down to your own personal judgement.
So, should you use social media for sourcing stories?
Short answer, yes.
Longer answer, yes but.
Yes, but make sure you try as much as possible within a deadline to verify the information before publishing it. This does not simply mean going online to a different source.
The best way to verify something is by talking to people, particularly the person or people who posted the information you are wanting to use.