Social Media

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Almost all journalists use social media, survey reveals

Social media is becoming more and more important to contemporary journalists. International stories are broken by ordinary people on Twitter or other social media. The latest celebrity scandal will hit the internet long before it reaches the newspapers. In fact, by the time that scandal hits the cover of the big papers, it is often considered old news. The emergence of these new technologies seems to be changing the way we read news forever.

Surveys conducted in 2011 reveal that almost all journalists (97%) in the UK and Europe (96%) are using social media regularly for their work. Sites such as Twitter, Youtube and others are used as news sources and also to verify news stories. These results suggest that the use of social media has become a standard for contemporary journalism.

However, no such study has been carried out in Ireland, and though social media is a big deal to Irish journalists, it is hard to know the number of social media users here. This is where researchers at the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre INSIGHT@NUIGalway come in.

“As a research industry we need to find out if Irish journalists are using social media; if they are not using it, why they are not using it; if they are using it, exactly how and which one; how much they trust social media sources, etcetera,” said Dr Bahareh Heravi, the project leader and head of the Digital Humanities and Journalism group that is running the project.

In order to achieve this, the researchers have launched the first national survey on how Irish journalists use social media. The study aims to measure the prevalence of social media use among professional journalists, and determine the role it plays in the modern Irish newsroom.

“The ubiquity of social media is quickly changing the global media landscape, leading us to query Ireland’s contemporary journalistic practices. This survey will help to not only delineate these practices, but the data collected has the potential to ultimately result in more informed and accurate reporting,” said Dr Bahareh Heravi.

The surveys carried out in the UK and Europe show that social media is used in a variety of different ways, depending on the type of media. Social networks such as Facebook and microblogs like Twitter are regularly used to publish and promote the journalists’ work. But while content is often shared on social media, journalists are still relying on personal contacts, PR sources, press releases and traditional news sources for sourcing and verifying stories.

According to Dr Heravi, journalists seem to like Twitter because it is “accessible by almost everyone in the world”.

“These days we receive much, much more content from users that we would not receive in the past. A friend of mine was telling me one day that so many things happen in the world and in the past it wasn’t like this. It was quieter and not so much was happening.

“But it probably was [happening]; we just didn’t know about it because nobody was passing by chance with the mobile in his or her hand to take a photo and post it online. This technology is accessible by everyone and we can access [news] almost at the same time [that it happens],” she said.

Dr Heravi says that though social media seems to be a trend in Ireland, it does not seem to be used in the same way as the UK or Europe.

“There is not much firsthand international news coverage in Ireland. [Many news sources] will rely on what they receive on the newswire and then they will do a little bit of research around that. So maybe, because the amount of international news they cover is smaller, that’s the reason why [social media] is not used as widely in Ireland. But it might be that a lot of journalists are using it and we don’t know yet,” she said, adding that the survey may or may not confirm her thoughts.

The facts are not yet clear, but Dr Heravi is of the opinion that the younger generations of journalists are more prone to using social media than the older generations. Similarly, online news sources such as the Journal.ie or Storyful seem to be more focused on social media than traditional newspapers.

“I would think that services such as Storyful or similar to that would not necessarily replace news wires, but form an important part of news wires for contextualisation purposes,” she said. Dr Heravi is not the only one who believes social media is an important tool for journalists.

“I think social media is the greatest tool for journalists since the telephone. It allows them to engage with a far bigger range of authentic sources, most of them who are far closer to the story than the usual bunch of powerbrokers and pundits who end up quoted in old-style journalism,” said Mark Little, CEO and founder of Storyful.

He added: “I think journalists have to be trained to overcome the obvious risks with social media, which is clearly a great way to spread hoaxes and false information. But they can’t ignore it. If they do, they will put themselves out of a job.”

Over the past few years, social media has gone from strength to strength, and continues to grow as time goes by. The internet seems to be an integral part of every newsroom, with social media being to the fore of many news organisations.

Dr Heravi stressed the need for all journalists to get involved, from digital natives to those who don’t even have a Twitter account: “We are aware that there are some journalists who don’t use social media or even feel that it shouldn’t be used for journalistic purposes. It is very important for the study to capture all journalists’ opinions.”

The survey is can be accessed at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/IrishSocialJournalism and more information on the research group can be found at http://hujo.deri.ie/.

Dr Heravi hopes the findings of the survey will be available in December or early January.

**I wrote this in 2013 for the Connacht Tribune. It’s quite an old article, but it’s information is still quite relevant and its subject was far too interesting to ignore.

Written by Jessica Thompson