Commentary

Where Do Stories Come From?

A national survey, conducted by Cision and Don Bates of The George Washington University, found that an overwhelming majority of reporters and editors now depend on social media sources when researching their stories. Among the journalists surveyed, 89% said they turn to blogs for story research, 65% to social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and 52% to microblogging services such as Twitter. The survey also found that 61% use Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia.

Most journalists said that social media were important or somewhat important for reporting and producing the stories they wrote.

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Importance of Social Media to Journalists (% of Respondents)

Degree of Importance

% of Respondents

Important

15%

Somewhat Important

40%

Neither Important nor Unimportant

16%

Somewhat Unimportant

16%

Unimportant

12%

Source: Cision Social Media Study, October 2009

The groups placing the highest levels of importance on social media for reporting and producing stories were journalists who spend most of their professional time writing for Websites . Those at Newspapers  and Magazines  reported this less often. The differences between Magazine journalists and Website journalists is statistically significant.

  • Journalists who spend most of their professional time writing for Websites (69%) reported this the most often, and significantly more so than those at Magazines (48%)
  • 89% of journalists reported using Blogs for their online research. Only Corporate websites (96%) is used by more journalists when doing online research for a story
  • Approximately two-thirds reported using Social Networking sites and just over half make use of Twitter for online research. Newspaper journalists (72%) and those writing for Websites (75%) use Social Networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook for online research significantly more often than those at Magazines (58%)

While the results demonstrate the fast growth of social media as a well-used source of information for mainstream journalists, the survey also made it clear that reporters and editors are acutely aware of the need to verify information they get from social media.

  • 84% said social media sources were "slightly less" or "much less" reliable than traditional media
  • 49% say social media suffers from "lack of fact checking, verification and reporting standards

Heidi Sullivan, Vice President of Research for Cision, says "Mainstream media have hit a tipping point in their reliance on social media for their research and reporting...however... it is not replacing editors' and reporters' reliance on primary sources, fact-checking and other traditional best practices in journalism."
According to the survey, most journalists turn to public relations professionals for assistance in their primary research:

  • 44% of editors and reporters surveyed said they depend on PR professionals for "interviews and access to sources and experts"
  • 23% for "answers to questions and targeted information"
  • 17% for "perspective, information in context, and background information"

Don Bates, founding director of the GWU Strategic Public Relations program, cautions that, though "Social media provides a wealth of new information for journalists... getting the story right is as important as ever... PR professionals... have a responsibility... to ensure the information they provide journalists is accurate and timely... "

For a copy of the complete survey results, please go here.

4 comments about "Where Do Stories Come From?".
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  1. Al Hamman, February 15, 2010 at 9:17 a.m.

    Based on our recent experience for clients at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, I'm not at all surprised by these results. Editors with whom we spoke were very appreciative of the leads and information they were able to receive through social media links.

  2. Adrienne Obrien from NYIT, February 15, 2010 at 11:18 a.m.

    I'd be interested in knowing the best source for more stats on the users of social media sites. I understand who the journalists are; I understand which sites they are monitoring; I understand how the intensity of interest, for example, is measured for topics on particular sites. What I don't understand is who really knows the demographics on heavy social media site users?

  3. Randall p. Whatley from CYPRESS MEDIA GROUP, February 15, 2010 at 12:44 p.m.

    The numbers do surprise me. I would have guessed that they would be 10-15 percentage points lower for each category. I suppose it shows just how fast the changes are occurring. This was an interesting study. Thank you for making us aware of it with your article.

  4. Susan Tschantz from Renaissance Gallery, February 15, 2010 at 5:48 p.m.

    More and more I find that reporters depend on others for their research. A quike turn around the internet is all the time they have. Before when I would do a press release, I would get a follow up by a reporter, now, as often as not, the press release, with any accompaning photos will be dropped whole into the press, with the reporters by line, and name on the submitted photo. I don't know if it is a lack of time or training that has lead to this.

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