How reporters use social media (Facebook, Twitter) as reporting tools

I want to share with students about how today’s reporters use social media in their everyday work. From my readings and research, I summarized some typical uses of social media in journalism, all with real examples I came across on the web. .

1. break news: a very important use of social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+ is to get tips, interviews, photos, videos and any other materials that otherwise are not easily available.

  • An article talks about how editors used Twitter to solicit witness accounts, photos, videos in covering an airplane crash. It was a two-way communication between the news outlet and the public, as described in the article.
  • According to its editor’s account, a Trenton, N.J., newspaper, Trentonian, reports on an apartment shooting utilizing various social media tools.

2. localize a regional/national/international story: a basic news value is “proximity” – journalists need to find a connection between a larger issue/story and the target audience.

  • Japan was hit with a massive earthquake. How to localize this story? Search Facebook for contacts in your area: are there people who are Japanese immigrants? people who have relatives in Japan? people who once stayed in Japan?

3. get story ideas: a reporter can find story ideas by following conversations/discussions on Facebook (facebook pages of business or the media themselves) or Twitter; a TV reporter says he routinely checks tweets from other local media to make sure he doesn’t miss any big story.

4. get interviews: one routine job or challenge for a reporter is to find experts or other authorities to speak on issues at hand, which in the past depends on the connections and contacts the reporter has accumulated over the years. Facebook and other social media changed all these: now with Facebook search tools such as and, a reporter can easily locate a vocal and active source for most topics.

5. engage audience: before social media, to interact with readers, reporters used to leave his or her phone number and email address at end of article, hoping to hear something from readers. With social media, that interaction comes more naturally and quickly. Here’s how:

  • 48 Hours Mystery put a Twitter hashtag on the TV screen while an episode airs, so viewers could track conversations about the content.
  • according to an article: Across networks and genres, when TV shows bring hashtags, accounts, or other Twitter elements into the broadcast itself, we see a direct and immediate increase in engagement on Twitter—anywhere from two to ten times more Tweets created while the shows air.
  • New York Time’s social media editor recently talked about how they encourage readers to “participate in our live coverage by guiding our reporting in real-time,” using Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
  • an interesting NPR experiment showed that when NPR Facebook followers in Seattle were served local stories, the audience engagement rate went up significantly – meaning there were more likes, shares and comments, in comparison with engagement rates for a national or global article.

About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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