Sharp Insights from Journalists on Reporting in the Social Media Age

SXSW sources in media age panelDuring the South-by-Southwest session, Sources in the Social Media Age, Joe Ciarallo, senior director of PR at salesforce.com, moderated a lively discussion with an all-star panel that included Greg Galant, CEO of Sawhorse Media (the group that brings us Muck Rack), Mike Isaac, senior editor at All Things D, and Edmund Lee, media reporter, Bloomberg.

The result was refreshingly straight talk and a fascinating flood of quotable insights, the highlights of which I’ve broken into categories below:

Quoting from Social Media
Ciarallo kicked off the conversation by citing a recent survey of journalists, in which 55 percent said they use social media sources.

Lee: “Journalists have gotten lazy.” In an environment where reporters are under tremendous pressure, “social media allows you to get there first, faster.”

Isaac: “A lot of articles will say, ‘people are saying this on Twitter,’ but then the tweet quoted is from some random guy who doesn’t matter.”

However, Lee noted that, “there isn’t anything else sometimes. For example, News Corp. – Rupert Murdock isn’t accessible (to publications he doesn’t own), but he’s on Twitter all the time. If I see him tweet something that’s relevant to a story, I’m going to grab it and use it.”

Reporting tactics
Isaac: “Some companies have Twitter lists of everyone who works there. I follow these lists of companies I report on – sometimes (an employee) will say something stupid. For example, when a product manager mentions an upcoming product.”

Lee: “There are all these corporate Twitter handles that don’t tweet- they’re just there to monitor, or maybe some use them to refute a story that’s out there. I use (those handles) to publicly call out companies that aren’t contacting me back – sometimes that works.”

Participating in social media
Galant: “It’s the first time in history journalists can write something that hasn’t been approved by an editor.”

Isaac: “There’s something to be said for having yourself out there a bit personally – moving away from just the commoditized version of the story.”

Lee: “Social media does two things- it helps you market your stuff, and also get/find sources.”

Isaac: “Yes, I have a personality on Twitter. I enjoy it, but it’s also another tool and way to know people and have them know me.”

Nurturing sources
Lee noted that he once found an organization’s whistle blower in Brussels through LinkedIn. “He was more open to talking to me.”

Isaac responded, “I feel like that’s an outlier- most of my sources are people I’ve met in person.”

To which Lee replied, “(Journalists) believe our special art is being able to coax and work our sources. At the end of the day, that’s still the best way to get stories. But sometimes, with social media, there’s a weird magic for some people — that you found them that way.”

Galant: “Social media is like Craigslist for sources. You may find people there, but you don’t complete the transaction there.”

Isaac: “People like it when you get the medium, which can work to your advantage.”

Isaac added an interesting point regarding those who share information with him confidentially: “I can DM people who follow me, and they don’t have to worry about an email hitting their corporate servers.”

Audience Q: Is journalism abandoning objectivity?

Lee: “Journalists have never been objective. It’s not possible. We choose what leads first, what comes next, and what to leave out. We do that based on what we think is actually happening.” Today is “not that different from what journalists have always done.”

Isaac: “Agree- we shape the story. But, that’s becoming more up front.”

Galant: Journalists have “always had a point of view, but you didn’t know as much about the person and what shapes that point of view. Now (with social media), there’s more information to give insight into that.”

Galant asked the others, “is there a responsibility with journalists to democratize your sources?”

Lee: “No. Next question.”

Q: How important are page views – is there pressure from those who are pushing influencers?

Lee: “Yeah, it sucks and there’s nothing you can do about it. We’re crossing our fingers and wondering how long that can last. Those that chase traffic- how long will readers put up with it? We’re trying to ride it out.”

Isaac: “All Things D does an event each year, which helps provide revenue and frees us from having to care as much about traffic. The business model is more diverse (and other publications are starting to do this, too).”

It’s always interesting to hear directly from well-respected journalists, isn’t it? What do you think about their points – which do you find most interesting? Have you heard anything different from your key contacts?

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