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SXSW panel report: Sources in the Social Media Age

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By Stephen Lepitak, -

March 9, 2013 | 5 min read

Journalism has been heavily affected and influenced through the advent of social media, both in terms of making communication with readers and contacts faster, and in many cases easier, but also in allowing journalists to reach their own audience.

This morning I caught a conference session at SXSW entitled Sources in the Social Media Age, which involved Edmund Lee, media reporter for Bloomberg News; Greg Galant, CEO of The Shorty Awards; Joe Ciarrallo, head of PR for salesforce.com and Mike Isaac, senior editor of All Things Digital.

The discussion focused on the merits of sourcing information through mediums such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and it was interesting to hear how large media organisations allow their journalists to operate using these platforms.

They all took the use of social media very seriously, but in general it was viewed more as an addition to their work in sourcing a story rather than a replacement for the traditional routes of calling and meeting contacts, which are still seen as the best way of maintaining relationships and finding news.

Quoting tweets by personalities is something that has entered mainstream reporting, but it was agreed that using social media posts as a quote was generally restricted to when reporting the words of a famous or important figure, as has been the case since media mogul Rupert Murdoch began to tweet his thoughts openly.

This week's announcement by Facebook that it is revamping its newsfeeds was briefly touched upon and seen as the social media giant attempting to muscle in on Twitter's territory of quickly sharing breaking stories. Facebook was said to have been seen by media companies as a place where content could generate comments and in turn drive traffic, and it was felt that this development may change that going forward.

Lee discussed his interesting experience of contacting sources related to breaking stories through LinkedIn. Having reached out to a contact related to one story who quickly responded to the direct message, this then led to them exchanging private emails and moving the conversation away from the platform entirely. However he said the direct approach through LinkedIn was definitely an effective launching point for the conversation.

When it came to choosing the subject of interviews, it was clear that because someone had '10,000 Twitter followers' was not yet enough to make them an interesting subject.

The trend of companies controlling coverage through the posting of blogs by directors to steer a story their own way was another element of the conversation. Many journalists find themselves blanked when it comes to attempting to follow this up for further information. This was clearly a source of frustration for the panel who did add that it did not deter them from attempting to contact those within the company in order to attempt to move the story forward.

I asked the panel their views on whether it was fit for a journalist to commentate through social media while researching or sourcing a breaking story and was not surprised to find that they did not feel the need to do this in order to avoid getting scooped on their own story.

Also, the idea of asking for comments and thoughts through social media was not a popular method of news reporting - with Galant making the point that many such commentators could have their own agenda when wishing to share their viewpoint of certain stories.

What was clear from the session was that journalists are still in command of their own work despite the massive amount of information and commentary now available to them in real-time through social. While companies are attempting to be more controlling of their own coverage through the use of communications staff and posting messages on their own sites and platforms, journalists are also more determined to stay ahead of them in reporting their need and being aware of these announcements in advance too.

So while social media is being blamed in many ways for the expiration of traditional media reporting, it is clear that journalists still steer how a story is broken, reported and analysed, and social can be used to ensure that work is communicated to the masses instantly and then discussed at large. It is not yet, however, taking over from traditional methods of news reporting and sourcing, despite the possibilities it offers reporters.

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