Monday, February 15, 2010

Whatever Happened to Shoe-Leather Reporting?

Where Do Stories Come From?

A national survey, conducted by Cision and Don Bates of The George Washington University, found that an overwhelming majority of reporters and editors now depend on social media sources when researching their stories. 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.

Most journalists said that social media were important or somewhat important for reporting and producing the stories they wrote.

Importance of Social Media to Journalists (% of Respondents)

Degree of Importance

% of Respondents



Somewhat Important


Neither Important nor Unimportant


Somewhat Unimportant




Source: Cision Social Media Study, October 2009

The groups placing the highest levels of importance on social media for reporting and producing stories were journalists who spend most of their professional time writing for Websites . Those at Newspapers ;and Magazines reported this less often. The differences between Magazine journalists and Website journalists is statistically significant.

  • Journalists who spend most of their professional time writing for Websites (69%) reported this the most often, and significantly more so than those at Magazines (48%)
  • 89% of journalists reported using Blogs for their online research. Only Corporate websites (96%) is used by more journalists when doing online research for a story
  • Approximately two-thirds reported using Social Networking sites and just over half make use of Twitter for online research. Newspaper journalists (72%) and those writing for Websites (75%) use Social Networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook for online research significantly more often than those at Magazines (58%)

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.

  • 84% said social media sources were "slightly less" or "much less" reliable than traditional media
  • 49% say social media suffers from "lack of fact checking, verification and reporting standards

Heidi Sullivan, Vice President of Research for Cision, says "Mainstream media have hit a tipping point in their reliance on social media for their research and reporting...however... it is not replacing editors' and reporters' reliance on primary sources, fact-checking and other traditional best practices in journalism."
According to the survey, most journalists turn to public relations professionals for assistance in their primary research:

  • 44% of editors and reporters surveyed said they depend on PR professionals for "interviews and access to sources and experts"
  • 23% for "answers to questions and targeted information"
  • 17% for "perspective, information in context, and background information"

Don Bates, founding director of the GWU Strategic Public Relations program, cautions that, though "Social media provides a wealth of new information for journalists... getting the story right is as important as ever... PR professionals... have a responsibility... to ensure the information they provide journalists is accurate and timely... "

For a copy of the complete survey results, please go here.

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