Social Networking Could be the New Reporting Tool

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I didn't think it was possible, or even reliable for that matter, but apparently one reporter has decided to start using social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, among others, as resource tools when it comes to his work. On the surface, such a tactic has "unreliable" and "lazy" and "questionable" written all over it; after all, since the various controversies with MySpace, and the generally frivolous nature of such sites, one wonders what useful thing could be derived for a reporter from social networking websites? However, Khristopher Brooks points out that such websites help him track down stories, sources, and more often, contacts. Now, granted, Brooks is an education reporter, mostly using an originally college student only website, and his contacts are typically students, but this could be the beginning of a new form of journalism.

After having considered what seemed originally a shady and questionable tactic in reporting, I now realize that Brook's method of finding interviewees and contacts on sites such as Facebook makes perfect sense. As pointed out in the article about this new method, Facebook actually catalogues a multitude of listed qualities of a person's profile. Assuming they fill out most fields, and allow their profile to be found in searches, a reporter like Brooks could easily find anyone he needs for a particular story. For example, if he might be doing a report in a change of curriculum for business administration students, and needs contacts and student interviews, he could search on Facebook for anyone with business administration listed as their major. He could even narrow it by sex and age if he desired. Brooks says this allows him to cut researching times from hours down to minutes when it comes to finding contacts, and so with this in mind, and where everything else is going, I have to say this could be a new form of journalism, or will become an important tool of it at the least.

While Brooks admits many older editors are still very wary of using social networking sites as methods of research, he points out that he does not use information from the site for his stories, but only uses it to contact people for possible interviews, which are still conducted face to face. As long as this remains a standard in journalism, using social networking sites could prove invaluable in the future for reporting. Social networking sites are very practically a giant online phonebook, only instead of just a name and number and address, this phonebook might also include information on your age, sex, major, institution of study, what your hobbies are, your political views, and even your relationship status and religious views. Why wouldn't a journalist use something like this for finding leads and contacts for stories?


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