A journalist’s guide to navigating the social media sea

I’m working on the first comprehensive guide for journalists on how to use social media for newsgathering. Journalists and news organizations are well versed in using social media for promotion of their stories, but far less confident using social media in the reporting process itself.

How will your approach answer the journalism challenge you are trying to solve?

I’ve conducted dozens of in-depth interviews with journalists on how they currently use social media in their work. What comes through very strongly for many is a desire to learn more — combined with lack of self-confidence in this area. One spoke of social media as being like a “secret handshake.” I want to help demystify social media by providing clear “how to” examples, covering geolocation, story identification, reporting a specific beat, breaking news, ethics, investigative work and more.

How is your approach different from what already exists?

There is an excellent guide for journalists called The Verification Handbook. Verification absolutely has to underpin everything a journalist does when working with social media, but I’d like to expand on this by giving positive examples of how social media can help journalists in their day-to-day work.

Poynter’s News University has a number of helpful courses on social media, and there are some great blogs — in particular NPR’s social media desk and one run by Sarah Marshall of The Wall Street Journal.

But there is no go-to place for journalists who want to learn these skills from scratch, build up their knowledge step-by-step, or turn to as a quick reference guide.

What elements of your proposal have you researched, tested or created?

1. What is currently possible for a journalist, and to this end I have:

Tested a range of social media tools that are helpful for journalists, spoken to the people behind them, as well as to a number of the social media companies themselves;

Interviewed social media “super users” in journalism and “regular” journalists to get a sense of their current knowledge/skill levels and a clear idea of what would be most useful.

2. What would be helpful for journalists, but is not possible with existing tools.

I’ve been drawing up a wish list and have begun to explore the APIs of the main social media platforms to see what data is available and how that might be more usefully parsed and presented for journalists.

What are your immediate next steps?

  • Write an outline of content that should be in the guide.
  • Decide how best to open the process up to crowdsourcing and contributions from journalists around the world.
  • Work out the best format. It needs to be easy-to-use, and quick for a journalist to apply in practice. Social media is changing constantly, so it also needs to be a “living guide” that’s easy to update.
  • I plan to have a first version completed by the end of the fellowship.

What resources or advice do you need to complete those steps?

I’m looking for advice on both the format and presentation — and on the most effective way to include crowdsourced contributions.

What specific aspects of your project would you most like to receive feedback about?

I’d love to hear from journalists interested in contributing to the guide; I’m especially interested in hearing from journalists who’ve used social media in investigative work.

I’m always interested to know when new tools come out. If you’ve tried something you’d recommend, I’d love to hear about it. The next stage of the project may be to develop a social media tool specifically aimed at journalists. If you’re interested in collaborating on this, I’d love to talk.

This is the refinement phase of Hebblethwaite’s effort to address a challenge in journalism. Learn more about her initial exploration  phase of the process. Have questions or suggestions about this challenge? Email cordheb@stanford.edu or find her on Twitter @CordeliaHeb