In the past week, I have witnessed two incidents in which a mainstream journalist—one print and one TV—used Facebook to gather source material for stories. In both situations, people who questioned the credibility of Facebook as a source for journalists criticized these reporters.
When I joined Facebook three years ago, I noticed that very few mainstream journalists had joined the crowd. After talking with a few of them, I learned why. Here were the reasons they gave:
1. I don't want to expose my personal life to my work colleagues, boss, and the public.
2. My boss won't let me join Facebook.
3. My station blocks Facebook, and I can't access it remotely.
4. I can't maintain journalistic integrity and have opinions about the news of the day.
Those barriers are falling one by one.
Personal vs. professional
Most professionals have found that there is such a thing as a “work/life” balance on Facebook. At least they learned to enjoy Facebook, while realizing that being a journalist in the public domain means they have to watch what they say.
Most of my journalist friends post pictures of their kids, talk about where they might eat dinner, and complain about being tired or sick—just as the rest of us do.
Guess what. They're human; it makes them more credible, not less.
Mainstream media news directors are finally hopping aboard the social media train
More important, they're learning that allowing their journalists to use it for professional reasons is a huge advantage. Sure, it's risky, but as long as the companies train the journalists on how to use social media properly and trust them to be professional, journalists can employ social media to investigate, discover new story angles, find information quickly, locate sources, and report the news.
News outlets are unblocking social sites as more reporters use it to do their jobs
The evening newsdesk guy at the Des Moines Register
now checks in on Foursquare to the “paragraph factory,” and his employer is obviously aware that he's using Facebook to gather news. His co-workers, once warned by leery editors not to use Facebook, are now often required to do so.
Social media has fundamentally changed our society and the way the public uses it to communicate. It would be plain foolish for a naturally curious reporter not to use this powerful tool to listen to people talk and gather information. Of course, reporters have to be careful about what they say, but they should be fully aware of the implications before using it.
Are you “friends” with reporters on Facebook? What's been your experience interacting with them?
A version of this story originally appeared on Celsi’s blog, Public Relations Princess.