Love-Hate Between Social Media & Journalists


Dubai Newsroom image by Broadcast Design International

“Journalists are a cynical bunch — we don’t like crap content and social media is full of it. Add the shameless self-promotionists, and the sheer mundanity of so much of the content, and it’s a pretty unattractive mix,” said 2015 John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University Cordelia Hebblethwaite who most recently helped launch BBC Trending. Journalism and Social Media: It’s a Love-Hate Affair

“I hate social media,” David Clinch, Global News editor for Storyful admitted. “It’s painstaking, it’s hard to learn, and hard to work with. But it’s like wild horses — once you tame it, you can have huge success.”

Finally, those who share my sentiments to a tee. So why do people in the news profession use social media? Just for starters social media can assist any news person in getting story tipoffs, research on experts, obtaining crowdsourced images, listening for trends and problem areas, following a specific beat, and finding interviewees. Among news people, Twitter is known as the biggest news social source followed by Facebook interest groups.

There is no secret to social media. It’s just about using some of the common basics mentioned above and combining with good old-fashioned journalism as well as some handy tools.

Let’s take a more in-depth look into how several specific news professions can add additional value to their reporting efforts through some helpful tips and tools.


(Courtesy of The American Journalist In the Digital Age: Key Findings)

Foreign news correspondent

With more than 2 billion people actively using social media each month, its value to a foreign correspondent is a no-brainer.

When they want to know what’s trending on Twitter around the world or in a specific country or city, they can use Trendsmap. TwXplorer or Tame can help manage the constant stream of tweets on any correspondent’s timeline. When the stream of tweets is unmanageably fast, Tweetdeck’s filter button and advanced options can exclude words, filter out retweets, only view tweets with images, or see just the most popular tweets.

Verification can take a lot of time where Storyful holds its own. Correspondents can source news-related content from social media using a number of proprietary tools and then do the legwork of verification and clearance for use. Storyful specializes in international news and have recently moved into licensing viral videos and identifying trends on social media. They have a couple of free services – Facebook Newswire– which highlights newsworthy content on Facebook, and the Open Newsroom where journalists and researchers are invited to help verify content, and share information. They also have a free Chrome extension, called Storyful Multisearch, which scans across Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram and other sites.

According to How journalists used social media to cover the biggest news events of 2014, here are some of the unique ways foreign correspondents used social media last year:

  • The World Cup – Correspondents covering the biggest social media event to date were active on Twitter, using it to report on both sports and stats as well as the surrounding social commentary in Brazil. As part of their coverage, AP photojournalists throughout Brazil used Instagram to highlight “offbeat, behind the scenes views of soccer’s premier event.” Fusion, a news and entertainment cable network focused on millennials, using live-blogging as well as the “honeycomb,” a social aggregator built on Fusion’s soccer site that allowed them to surface social media content based on location and influence. For this coverage, two to three Fusion editors at a time mined and tracked all 12 stadiums where the tournament took place based on certain key elements like hashtags and the influence of people in the stadium.
  • Ebola – Covering the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history was challenging because of a slow and minimal social media presence in locations where the outbreak is strongest. However, public health sites like WHO and BBC Africa were strong Twitter influencers. BBC Africa also launched an ebola public health information service on WhatsApp that provided audio, text message alerts and images to help correspondents and citizens get the latest public health information. The Guardian’s News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson made news after his Vines showed snapshots of the situation, which packed an emotional punch despite their short length.
  • Ferguson Protests – Fusion’s Director of Media Innovation Tim Pool is one of the first to use drones and wearables to live-stream breaking news events from Occupy Wall Street and demonstrations in the Middle East. He routinely broadcasts his stories via TwitterInstagramLiveStreamVine and YouTube to his tens of thousands of followers.

While he was covering the protests, Pool even coordinated a Reddit AMA (“Ask me Anything”) which garnered almost 600 comments.

  • Conflict in Gaza – New York Times’ Jerusalem correspondent Jodi Rudoren used her Facebook page to spur discussion and debate throughout the Gaza conflict.

(Photo by Hyosub Shin / AJC Staff Photographer)

Local beat editor

Many large newsrooms are investing in a digital specialist to train traditional beat reporters and editors to use social media in a higher capacity. Most of this training involves knowing what tools are available and how to use them such as Adobe SiteCatalyst for analytics.

At the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the most innovative is the “Hot Topics” team, which constantly keeps track of what’s happening and identifies stories that will linger for a few days or weeks. For example, during the Department of Veteran Affairs scandal, the Hot Topics team devoted reporting resources to covering it from a local angle and looking into any need for investigation. The size of the staff doesn’t allow AJC to have a full-time VA reporter, but the flexible team allows AJC to match daily assignments with what readership is expecting to see. It’s a different way to think about beats and a lot more teamwork involved, especially while smartly managing shrinking newsroom resources. AJC editor: ‘I can’t have people stuck on beats’ without audiences

Twitter lists are a great way of following a specific beat such as Tweetlogix. One of the good things about lists is they allow you to keep an eye on accounts, without actually following them. Topsy allows you to quickly trace the origin of how a hashtag started.

Here are some other valuable tools local beat editors use to maximize their resources and time (15 Tips and Tools for Using Social Media as a Reporting Tool)

  • One of the most important things to remember with social media is that nothing is verified. The Verification Handbook is a fantastic guide for all things to do with social media verification.
  • CrowdTangle focuses on monitoring and navigating through Facebook including every news organization in the US and lists arranged by news category and highlights the posts that are doing substantially better than expected.
  • Gramfeed is an easy way to search Instagram by location, keyword, or hashtag. One of the great things about Instagram is that so many of the posts are geo-located, making it one way to find people posting from the scene of a news event (e.g. an earthquake or demonstration). One of the most useful tools for finding social media from a specific location is Geofeedia.
  • As a journalist you can get a free upgrade to a premium LinkedIn account after taking a short web tutorial. This gives access to send “InMail” to people you are not connected when trying to get in touch with a potential contributor but can’t find their contact info listed anywhere. An advanced search allows looking for an expert on a certain topic which can be refined by location, field, or company.
  • Dataminr is a breaking news alert system based on Twitter, specifically designed for journalists. The algorithm detects tweets which are gathering momentum fast – at a very early stage giving early tip-off on stories. Dataminr has been working with news organizations around the world to refine the service, and there are many examples of their alerts “beating” standard news agencies. Some beat editors rave about Dataminr while others complain about the number of false positives.
  • SAM is useful for news teams working on social media content, as you can share your work, and add notes.

TV Cameraman

On Sept. 11, NBC News staff cameraman Jim Long, based in Washington, D.C., sent a tweet asking his followers a simple question: “Where Were You?” He received hundreds of responses from people all over the world on Twitter. Long retweeted many of them, noting that everyone has something to say and a story to share, aided now by social media. Where Were You?’ A Simple Question Leads to Social Healing on 9/11

There are many freelance TV cameramen, and one of the best ways to get good assignments is to market yourself via social media. Philip Bloom started a blog writing camera reviews, tutorials, latest shooting gigs and what he learned every day. He used the platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr among others. His efforts have made him so well known that today his site drives more than a million visitors a month. He even worked on a high budget Hollywood movie (Red Tails) after Lucasfilm hired him for his expertise with DSLRs. Go Freelance, Make A Life, Write A Blog

Okay, so maybe we don’t hate social media so much after all seeing as it gives news people an added dimension to morph traditional storytelling into an innovative and creative form. Social media also gives news people the unique opportunity to work collaboratively together or individually to distribute news content in a way that creates a special experience for social media audiences.


Cook, K. (Nov. 14, 2014) Working as a freelance camera operator

Gebauer, J. (Nov. 25, 2015) Go Freelance, Make A Life, Write A Blog

Hebblethwaite, C. (March 16, 2015) Journalism and Social Media: It’s a Love-Hate Affair

Hebblethwaite, C. (Nov. 4, 2014) 15 Tips and Tools for Using Social Media as a Reporting Tool

Kirkland, S. (June 20, 2014) AJC editor: ‘I can’t have people stuck on beats’ without audiences

Turnbull, M. (Aug. 13, 2014) Foreign Correspondents, their importance and their future.

Weiss, J. (Dec. 19, 2014) How journalists used social media to cover the biggest news events of 2014

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