Use of Social Media by Journalists as Research Tools
||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (October 2013)|
Use of Social Media by Journalists as Research Tools
Social Media The advent of the Web 2.0 era ushered in the social media. Now content sharing wasn’t just a one-way process. Social Media is “social” in the sense that it facilitates “collaboration”. In other words it brings people, who may or may not really know each other but may share information and resources with each other. It helps in connecting different cultures like never before. Also, considering the immediate nature of the medium, social media enables its users to easily become part of conversations and also provide instant feedback when asked. Examples of social media include blogs (bloggerspot.com. wordpress.com), wikis, social bookmarking sites (Delicious), social networking sites (Facebook) and video-sharing sites (YouTube). However, this sweeping free sharing of information and messages may endanger rational and meaningful discussion to take place. Also, cyber crimes like identity theft, cyber bullying, and security breaches with regards to social media further hamper the process of information sharing and collaboration in social media. 
Social Media and Journalism
Social Media has transformed the way journalists produce and release news stories. With the instantaneous nature of social media, journalists are now in pressure of delivering stories even faster than ever before. In certain situations, it becomes difficult for journalists to gain access to the location where the news actually takes place. This could happen during events like natural disasters or perhaps even terrorist attacks or political uprisings. In such a scenario, journalists are in need for information for the news event taking place.
For instance, the 7/7 London bombings were inaccessible to BBC journalists early in the morning so instead they began receiving “texts, images and videos” from ordinary citizens who were actually witnessing the event in real time via the Internet. Other big events like the 2008 Mumbai Terrorist Attacks, 2009 Iran Elections and the 2011 Arab Spring also have highlighted the importance of User Generated Content (UGCs). Tragedies like the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and the U.S. Airways fight plane crash are also other examples. Although, there were concerns about inaccuracies regarding the information emitted by these social media channels; yet journalists could not deny that it provided them with eye-witness accounts, in the form of texts, images and videos, of the happenings of the event in real time. It was because of the real-time nature of these updates that journalists began to value social media as an important news gathering tool. This serves particularly useful for journalists covering international news in the absence of any reporter’s eye-witness account.   
Journalism challenged by Social Media
Unlike a few decades ago when audiences only had limited sources of Mass Media, they now can receive their news in the form of instant updates even if the event happened just a few minutes ago via the Internet. This makes it even more imperative for journalists to be able to reach out to their audiences beyond the older and conventional mediums of the television, radio and the newspaper and use the Internet particularly social media to give them their news faster. The news media has to look beyond traditional news media platforms and deliver news where the audiences are: the Internet. Social Media is the place where conversations take place and journalists cannot afford to be left out from them. In order to stand out from non-journalistic sources and bring a certain credibility and professionalism to the news, journalists have started to write blogs, posting status updates on social networking sites and sharing videos on video-sharing sites. One of the reasons why social media has began to resonate so much with audiences is the fact social media allows to people, is according to Picard is, “to express themselves and connect with like-minded people” and that, “Digital tools have made it possible for members of the public to take part in discussion with larger groups and draw attention to issues and topics that traditional news media might have overlooked.” Since the traditional news media can no longer to ignore this, journalists search for and get a lot of their story ideas from the social media. Today people have started losing faith in traditional news media and are opting for alternative sources. There is a shift in the “culture” from reliance on “old traditional scholarship” to “citizen experts”. People are relying more on a “collective wisdom” which is enabled by social media since it allows and encourages “contribution and collaboration” without any vested interests and that makes it more open and trustworthy. Wikipedia is an excellent example of this since it enables people to be part of discussion forums and make editorial suggestions in order to improve the accuracy and quality of its articles. 
The Ethical Issue
Even the corporate sector has realized the news media’s growing dependence on social media and has taken to make their presence be felt on such platforms. An apt example for this would be the micro-blogging website Twitter through which they can share information about themselves. Twitter also has features like the hashtags (#) so that journalists find it easier to find information in the form of ‘tweets’ related to a certain topic. As a result, Public Relations professionals have started engaging with social media like never before. However, journalistic ethics raises uncomfortable questions regarding the “accuracy, verification and objectivity” of the sources from social media. With the availability of cheaper technology like mobile phones which can provide video footage where journalists were not present and can be uploading on social networking and video sharing sites can be used by the traditional news media. Hence, User Generated Content has now become undeniably important for speedy news updates. Of course, news media commentators are worried about the inaccuracies regarding these sources, however, Social Media expert Clay Shirky counter-argues by saying that the instantaneous nature of the medium enables corrections to follow up the mistakes as quickly.