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Sourcing News Stories from Social Media

The final speaker in this ASMC14 session is Ansgard Heinrich, who explores the use of Twitter as a sourcing tool. Social media can be sources of information (and misinformation), a device for comments (and rants), a tool for organising social movements, and an instrument for civic groups to promote their messages. Which of these functions are affecting the journalism industry, then?

Ansgard focusses here on the Egyptian revolution, which was described by some commentators as a 'social media revolution'. While this may have been an overstatement, what role did social media play, especially in comparison to journalism? Activist networks use social media to promote their causes and organise protests, of course; journalists also utilise social media, especially to cover live and breaking news events.

The fact that mainstream and alternative news organisations as well as citizen journalists and everyday users are now part of the same information sphere, especially in social media spaces; this is a dynamic and chaotic, flexible, and increasingly complex environment. Journalistic outlets are only some of the information nodes within this overall network – and there is a significant clash between standard and new sourcing approaches.

Does this environment lead to new sourcing practices in journalism, then – to more multiperspectival news? In mainstream coverage of the early days of the Egyptian revolution, the answer is no – social media activists were rarely cited, and social media rarely triggered news stories; conventional news sources remained most central to the coverage.

So what is to be done? Ansgard suggests a programme of journalistic education to create a globally responsible journalism, by developing a more networked approach to journalistic practice that involves more collaborative approaches to seeking out sources, building networks, and utilising social media tools to create more multiperspectival coverage.