Journalism: the Other Information Profession

DHelen Edwards: Editor Refer

Like librarianship journalism is concerned with finding and communicating information on things that matter to people.   Social media is having a huge impact on how news is created and reported. For librarians working in information services looking at how journalists approach social media can offer an interesting alternative perspective.

Inspired by the free course Community Journalism from the University of Cardiff offered on the MOOC platform Futurelearn this is a short introductory overview of a journalist’s perspective on social media. It also draws from the BBC Academy of Journalism which has a section devoted to social media skills and the work of journalist and media tutor Susan Grossman.

Finding Stories

Speaking in March 2014 Sunday Times journalist Eleanor Mills describes how Twitter has transformed the news. Twitter is now the first source many journalists look at for breaking news, so much so that if a story only appears on the newswires it has the chance of being missed. Mills believes it is the brevity and immediacy of Twitter which gives it its huge power and the fact that it is in the public space and that, in many ways, “Twitter curates how we see the world”

Twitter monitoring tools such as Netvibes, Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Trendsmap, Twitterfall are recommended to keep track of multiple alerts by helping to sort and search through tweets, tweeters and hashtags on a breaking story. Tools such as Storify go a step further. They help users to curate stories on a topic from multiple social media platforms, build a context and provide a narrative.

Finding people

Journalists are very focused on people: finding experts, witnesses and people impacted by news events. Journalism tutor Susan Grossman presents a pyramid structure for researching people. At the top are professional bodies and trade associations who can help identify experts who can then be contacted to provide quotes. Tools like Followerwonk and SocialMention can be used to identify people who comment on specific subjects. Professional tools like InkyBee (free trials available) take this even further by helping to track bloggers and influencers by criteria such as size of audience, level of engagement, frequency and recency of posts and numbers of followers on Twitter and Facebook. Free web tools like PIPL WebMii are useful for checking people out, to collate their web presence and get a broader view of their expertise. Advanced Search features on Twitter can help identify people in a particular location and Facebook Graphs can be used to find people who have moved from one area to another – all useful for getting local opinion on news events.

Using data

The Open Data Initiative means that official data is increasingly available to the public over the web. is now the portal to over 9000 government datasets. This notion of transparency lies in the belief that if the public are aware of how much government is spending, how well it is meeting its targets in areas such as health and education or transport, then it will drive public service reform. It opens the door to an army of armchair auditors who can scrutinize how government actions affect them down to the level of their street. There is also the belief that open data will increase innovation and encourage new businesses to be created using the data. Britain is not alone in its championship of open data. In 2013 the G8 signed the Open Data Charter which set out the 5 principles for access to and release and re-use of data.

Open data provides many new opportunities for journalists and even a new speciality -data journalism. Journalists use data to research their community, create niche blogs and stories and use data to illustrate key points. It makes it possible to add a local dimension to national stories – see Damian Radcliffe 5 Ways Hyperlocal Sites can do more with Data


The use of social media has brought new issues of verification and authenticity. The revolution in Iran was one of the first newsevents that relied heavily on Twitter reports. Some of these turned out not in fact to be accurate. Journalist Alex Murray speaking on the BBC Academy of Journalism site believes verification is now an important part of every day journalism. He describes his own experience of how images submitted, supposedly of the Concordia before it sank in 2012, were really of another ship in New Zealand in 2008.

Metadata can be useful for checking the authenticity of images. Tools such as TinEye enable a reverse image search to find out where an image actually came from, how it is being used and if there is a modified version of it. The BBC Academy of Journalism recommends using Google Streetview to check out photographs of places by matching landmarks – monuments, street names – and checking weather reports to ensure they correspond to the date in question.

While librarians may not be making the decision as to whether to use images and video in news reports these examples are vivid illustrations of authenticity issues that apply also to other types of research.