Social media has changed the way that news is distributed and is now becoming one of the essential tools in gathering information and sharing it with audiences. While many journalists are cursing the rapid fire opinion based nature of tweets and status updates, they need to realize that additionally, social media is also a resource for journalists to use to develop stories.
Journalists can monitor social media to see what may be evolving in local communities or in specific areas of interest. Checking interest lists on Facebook or trending hashtags on Twitter are already widely used ways that journalists collect relevant sources and stay up to date in real time. Other sources are also available that have specifically been developed for the use of news seekers. Storyful is only one of the tools that automatically checks on multiples lists on various social media sites and by inputting key words can result in hundreds of threads. With a heavy data platform it also analyzes the significance of specific topics. They have numerous other features and additionally there are other competitors doing similar monitoring such as NewsWhip or Mention, and these are becoming more refined and numerous as mobile technology continues to boom. Many of these require subscriptions so be sure to compare the various features prior to investing.
Building your contact networks via social media is also essential. When you need to track down an appropriate source for quotes or expertise, a vast network will facilitate this challenge. One can also find live video or validating data via sites such as YouTube or Mashable but be sure to verify the sources and fact check the information included in any footage. Ensure that you acquire the necessary permissions to use anything you find online and have a conversation with the poster if possible to determine the circumstances under which it was produced.
Some big players have full time people engaged in tracking and validating user generated content. There is unique intelligence that can be acquired from the feet on the ground. Mobile videos and photos have been used to alert the right authorities and media to various situations as they are occurring. These were extremely useful in the G20 Summit in Toronto when protests erupted and there were ongoing clashes between crowds and security. They also played a role in intense weather disasters such as typhoons and tsunamis as well as on many other occasions.
Geolocating technology is integral in assisting media to find sources and stories as well. With the automation of this on sites such as Instagram, journalists can verify if pictures are actually being acquired where they say they are taken. GPS tags can determine where a variety of sources are located while news is happening. Looking forward, wearable technology such as Google Glass will revolutionize this process and turn individuals into mobile broadcasting sources where applicable.
The greatest challenge for investigative journalists using SM as tool for locating sources, checking facts and finding media to accompany stories is to manage and validate the thousands of possible resources that become available in real time. Without the proper electronic tools, this could consume far more time that is manageable.