Social Media: A Threat or an Asset to the Professional Journalist?

Access to information and the ability to spread it to a large audience is now an equal opportunity venture in the age of social media. Anyone with an internet connection and a mobile device can break news, which is an exciting development for journalists who are strategically utilizing social media and adapting the profession to keep up with the changing trends.

The smart journalist will use social media as a professional tool through methods like crowdsourcing, researching, and social listening. This allows them to get better information, faster, all while forging a stronger connection to their audience. The mobile and social media journalist can:

  • Get inside inaccessible areas where news is breaking, and do so almost immediately
  • Identify potential stories before other reporters in the field
  • Find and connect with sources quickly
  • Engage with a broader audience to increase viewership and build trust
  • Acquire video and photos without having to send in a camera crew

Let’s be clear, though: the professional journalist will never be replaced by informal social media news-sharing.

Audiences can aid in news gathering, but professional reporting principles and traditional journalism ethics still apply to the digital age. It’s important for journalists to keep in mind that they are still professionals online, and they must conduct themselves as such.

Some of the most important traditional reporting guidelines to keep in mind when utilizing social media are:

1. Sources – verify, verify, verify

This becomes much trickier online, but journalists still bear the burden of verifying and corroborating information in the digital sphere before spreading it. This is has recently become especially important with the proliferation of “fake news” by individuals, interest groups and foreign governments.

2. Professionalism – we are still wordsmiths

The general informality of social media, or the technical limitations of certain platforms (the 140 character word count on Twitter) can make it easy become less deliberate with your word choice and phrasing in posts. As a journalist on the job, it is your responsibility to deliver information clearly, accurately, and succinctly – this still applies, I would argue even more so, when you are online.

3. Accuracy – context is key

Journalists should not simply be recirculating news reported by others, they should be gathering information to advance the story and take it further through their own reporting. Go deeper than breaking news – be the person who situates what is happening in a broader context to reveal the deeper story.

Social media is only a threat to professional journalism when journalists don’t adapt to their audience’s preferred means of information gathering, which is becoming increasingly digital. When done correctly, harnessing the power of social media can actually empower journalists to identify, collect, and disseminate important information to larger audiences with greater impact.

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