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Do Social Media Affect Journalistic Story Sourcing?

The next paper session at Future of Journalism 2011 starts with Megan Knight, whose interest is in the impact of social media on newsgathering. She’s already examined the level of social media-based sourcing of mainstream news reporting in the context of popular protests in the Middle East - which appears to remain relatively low; however, does such low overt use hide a greater amount of use of social media not as direct sources, but as generating story ideas and providing background which is then pursued further my journalists sourcing information from more powerful sources?

Megan pursued this question by observing the reporting processes at a major national daily newspaper in the U.K., as well as interviewing key actors and conducting content analysis. She found that stories originated overwhelmingly with state institutions, corporations, and government bodies; indeed, journalists increasingly appear to wait for power elites to approach them, rather than contacting them directly.

The vast majority of stories, Megan says, originates from secondary and tertiary sources: such stories emerge either from press and similar releases, backed up with original sources, or combine such press releases with additional available information from wire and other services.

Additionally, Megan found that the impact of new technologies on news sourcing and generation practices was negligible, even in spite of the relative youth of the journalists involved (on average, in their late 20s); they seemed to be worried about innovating as they were working with an older editor. Social media appeared not to play a substantial role here.