03. Using social networks

Social network are quite useful to journalists. They grant you an access to breaking news, allow you to fact check them, and give you a means to call upon the general public for information. That’s it, if you have an actual social media presence.

Getting news from the right source

As with any type of media, sources on the Web have varying levels of credibility. To evaluate them, a journalist’s expertise is necessary but not sufficient. You also need to “practice” those networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). You need to create two accounts: one for your medium and a personal one. The personal and direct link between a journalist and his audience is a huge factor in participatory newsmaking. The more you explore those network, the more easily you’ll identify believable and relevant sources. They’ll become a way for you to constantly monitor news you’re interested in.

Verifying accounts

Watch out for fakes. Every time something big happens, pranksters will create a fake account to broadcast fake news. Such is usually the case when a madman kills innocent people. There’s free software available both for Facebook and Twitter that helps you make sure an account actually belongs to the person it says it does.

Another way to verify a story is to ask your readers for help. For example, Twitter users were the first to establish that the picture published of a dead Osama Bin Laden right after news got out he was dead was a fake. The bigger your community is, the better it will be at detecting rumors and separating good information from fake stories.

Asking for testimonies

This is yet another way you can use social networks: asking for testimonies fits with general interest stories. Say for example you want to know what people think about some news social usage. Avoid closed questions such as “Are you for or against the death penalty ?” Rather, ask open questions, such as “What do you think about the death penalty ?” Those will give you interesting stories you can put the spotlight on and use for an article. And don’t forget to moderate those calls for testimonies, lest you find yourself swamped with unwanted comments.

Concretely it’s more useful to broadcast a call for testimonies on the corporate account of your medium than on your personal account. But if you as a journalist are identified as a specialist in the topic you want to treat, then your readers will be the ones most qualified to answer the call. In this case, use your own account.