About five years ago, I was invited to speak at a Society of Professional Journalists meeting here in Des Moines, held in the old Des Moines Social Club. I was there to talk about how social media was forvever changing the face of journalism.
The room was divided between two "camps." The first camp was a group of newspaper publishers, owners and editors who thought that they should "own" the digital lives of their reporters and every single thought they thought or word they wrote.
The other camp was the reporters themselves, some of whom were listening intently but not saying anything. But there were a few brave souls who stood right up and admitted (GASP!) that they were starting to use social media in their reporting! And sometimes (double GASP!) they had personal opinions about things that they didn't really try to hide. They also asserted ownership over their own personal thoughts and written content (THE SKY IS FALLING!).
This created a vigorous debate amongst the group. There was a true upheaval taking place in the industry. The "old-school" position was that reporters were neutral arbitors of the news, had no discernable personal leanings, and isolated themselves from the commoners to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Fast-forward five years. In my estimation, most journalists still conduct themselves with the utmost journalistic intergrity and very carefully stay within the lines. However, many of them have found ways to be "one of us" and have joined social networks. While a few disclose their personal political bias, most stay neutral, at least publicly. But, the good journalists I know all use social media to further their craft.
Journalists can still use help from their friends and the general public and maintain journalistic integrity. They have always been trusted with the job of rooting through contradictory information and severly divergent viewpoints. Social media just helps reporters do their jobs more efficiently. Furthermore, I'm fairly certain that reporters get story ideas from conversations they witness on their social networks.
Journalists talk about themselves a little now. I can tell when someone is having a frustrating day. Or when they have an ailing parent. Or just need a hug. The thing I like the most is that I can really get to know them as a person before talking to them about a story. I can read their previous stories on Facebook and Twitter and know what beat they cover and what they are interested in.
Having this information makes me FAR more attuned to them as a person and as a professional. I really like having this new way to learn about reporters as people, not just paragraph stackers.
So when you're looking around for someone to tell your story to, don't forget...Reporters are people, first and foremost. It's likely that you can find out a lot about them by following them on Twitter.