Social media viewed as a relevant part of journalistic research, study reveals

Poll Finds 89% Use Blogs, 65% Use Social Networking Sites, and 52% Use Microblogging Sites — but Reliability is a Major Concern

A national survey conducted by Cision and Don Bates of The George Washington University’s Master’s Degree Program in Strategic Public Relations 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.

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. Eighty-four percent said social media sources were “slightly less” or “much less” reliable than traditional media, with 49% saying social media suffers from “lack of fact checking, verification and reporting standards.”

“Mainstream media have clearly hit a tipping point in their reliance on social media for their research and reporting,” said Heidi Sullivan, Vice President of Research for Cision “However, it’s also clear that while social media is supplementing the research done by journalists, it is not replacing editors’ and reporters’ reliance on primary sources, fact-checking and other traditional best practices in journalism.”

Journalists Depend on PR Professionals for Primary Research and Context
According to the Cision/GWU survey, most journalists turn to public relations professionals for assistance in their primary research. Editors and reporters surveyed said they depend on PR professionals for “interviews and access to sources and experts” (44%), “answers to questions and targeted information” (23%), and “perspective, information in context, and background information” (17%).

“Social media provides a wealth of new information for journalists, but getting the story right is just as important as ever,” said Bates, founding director of the GWU Strategic Public Relations program, and writing/media relations instructor. “As PR professionals increasingly utilize social media as a means of communicating, they have a bigger responsibility than ever to ensure the information they provide journalists is accurate and timely, provide access to the primary sources who can verify the facts, and be knowledgeable enough to provide accurate background and context.”

For a copy of the complete survey results, go to http://us.cision.com/journalist_survey_2009/

About the Survey
Cision, Don Bates and GWU jointly conducted the survey to inform best practices and teaching in the public relations and political management fields and to deepen understanding of how editors and reporters use and value social media and other resources. A custom questionnaire consisting of open-and close-ended questions was sent to 9,100 editors/journalists in the fall of 2009.

SOURCE: George Washington University

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