An overwhelming majority of reporters and editors now depend on social media sources when researching their stories, reports a new national survey conducted by Cision and Don Bates of The George Washington University’s Master’s Degree Program in Strategic Public Relations. Among the journalists surveyed, 89% said they turn to blogs for story research, 65% to social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and 52% to microblogging services such as Twitter. The survey also found that 61% use Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia.
While the results demonstrate the fast growth of social media as a well-used source of information for mainstream journalists, the survey also made it clear that reporters and editors are acutely aware of the need to verify information they get from social media. Eighty-four percent said social media sources were “slightly less” or “much less” reliable than traditional media, with 49% saying social media suffers from “lack of fact checking, verification and reporting standards.”
“Mainstream media have clearly hit a tipping point in their reliance on social media for their research and reporting,” said Heidi Sullivan, vice president of research for Cision North America. “However, it’s also clear that while social media is supplementing the research done by journalists, it is not replacing editors’ and reporters’ reliance on primary sources, fact-checking and other traditional best practices in journalism.
“While this is a survey of North American journalists, we believe the findings mirror behavior among journalists in the UK, more so than elsewhere in Europe” said Falk Rehkopf, head of research for Cision Europe. “There might be some lag in wider adoption, but media professionals are ahead of the curve when it comes to social media – such that, in many ways, Twitter can be thought of as a de facto social network for the UK media industry”.
According to the Cision/GW survey, most journalists turn to public relations professionals for assistance in their primary research. Editors and reporters surveyed said they depend on PR professionals for “interviews and access to sources and experts” (44%), “answers to questions and targeted information” (23%), and “perspective, information in context, and background information” (17%).
“Social media provides a wealth of new information for journalists, but getting the story right is just as important as ever,” said Bates, founding director of the GWU Strategic Public Relations program, and currently a writing and media relations instructor in its online courses.
“As PR professionals increasingly utilize social media as a means of communicating," Bates added, "they have a bigger responsibility than ever to ensure the information they provide journalists is accurate and timely, provide access to the primary sources who can verify the facts, and be knowledgeable enough to provide accurate background and context.”