In the past week, I have witnessed two incidents in which a mainstream journalist, one print and one TV, have used Facebook as a tool to gather source material for stories. In both situations, they were criticized by people who questioned the efficiacy of Facebook as a credible source for journalists to utilize.
Three years ago, when I first joined Facebook, 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:
- I don't want to expose my personal life to my work colleages, boss and the public.
- My boss won't let me join Facebook.
- My station blocks Facebook and I can't access it remotely.
- 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. Or at least, learned to appreciate that they can truly enjoy using Facebook for most things, while realizing that simply by being a journalist in the public domain that they have to watch what they say to some extent, while still enjoying Facebook in all the ways their friends do. 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 like 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. And more importantly, they're finding out that having their own journalists use it as part of their jobs is a huge advantage. It's risky, for sure. But as long as the companies train the journalists on how to use social media properly and trust them to be professional, journalists can use social media to investigate, discover new story angles, quickly find information, locate sources and also report the news.
News outlets are unblocking social sites as more reporters use it to do their jobs. The evening news desk 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 leary editors not to use Facebook are now often required to do so.
Journalistic integrity: Our society has been fundamentally changed by social media and they way the public uses is 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?