Crime Reporting and Social Media

small solving crime

Social media is a new investigative tool. Source.

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.

The Good

Social media is definitely my friend rather than foe when it comes to crime reporting.

Rachel Olding

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.

Crowdsourcing1

Social media is a gateway to information. Source.

Sure, social media can be a gold mine for particular stories and information on crimes, but Rachel says they can also be a minefield.

The Bad

It can be a minefield because you don’t know what to trust and what not to trust.

Rachel Olding

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.

Further investigation can reveal the truth about certain information published on social media. Source.

Investigation can reveal the truth about information on social media. Source.

The Verdict

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.

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