Facebook can be a vital news media tool

Daniel Triplow

Today I have been sent four drinks, a bunch of flowers and a pair of otters. I've discovered that my friend Nick is bored at work, Jenny is counting down the days to her birthday in seven months time and Alice is ill, but happy none the less. These trivial pursuits seem like a complete waste of time or are they?

Amazingly US-based Facebook claims to have more than 42 million members - eight million of them in the UK. It is currently the seventh most visited website in the world and Britons alone are spending 233 million hours scouring the site every month. And it's not just for the kids anymore. More importantly, the growth of Facebook points to a cultural shift. Today, people of all ages are getting increasingly comfortable with the idea of interacting with each other online; a trend we haven't really seen before.

But despite the growth and the hype, we have to ask ourselves: What's in it for journalists? And what's in it for journalism as an industry?

Facebook has ultimately become a society within a society and within this internet society are hundreds of stories that we may not hear about in the  "real world". Now it's true that social networks have been key to journalists forever. I mean what journalist does not have a network of sources? However, what Facebook enables us to do is make it easy to expand this network and to send and receive messages to and from the entire network very quickly.

This social networking can also be an invaluable tool when looking for information for a story. With the site being used by so many, there is a good chance that someone caught up in the news for whatever right or wrong reason, could well have a Facebook page - a place on which they house their personal online identity.

But is there a danger in using this medium? As journalists, do we sometimes put the story before feelings of insensitivity in approaching potential sources? A number of publications used Facebook to their advantage during the Virginia Tech shootings in America. In the aftermath support groups were started by local students and they were contacted to get local input on how the shootings affected them and how online communities help them get their voices out. In a backlash, a number of groups were started by students who were disgusted with this  'new form of journalism'.

However with a network spanning the globe, if used in the right ways, this tool could turn out to be invaluable. Any major news topic will have people wanting to voice their opinion. When working on articles, browsing for related Facebook groups may well provide good sources of information; sources that would never have been available without using the website.

Facebook can also be credited for the way in which it has brought journalists together. The NUJ (National Union of Journalists) group on Facebook has 912 members while  'Journalism.co.uk' has 1,202. Additionally, a group titled  'Journalists and Facebook' that discusses this so called  'Facebook Journalism' has proved immensely popular with those exchanging their experiences. What's more it can also prove to be very useful tool for writers and editors alike, looking to connect with fellow workers they do not yet know. A quick search on Facebook opens up a world of journalists and editors. A quick look at their friends list opens up an awful lot more.

What Facebook has at the moment is potential; potential to open up a whole new world of online journalism. For most of us it connects us to people we know, re-unites us with people we forgot about and to information we care about. But perhaps the site really is nothing more than this? Surely it doesn't have to always be journalism and surely it's okay to be selective with the technology and digital tools we use as journalists.

But if we are to report on the world we live in, then we have to fully live in it. And anything we can do to open the doors to our newsrooms, and give people a glimpse inside, is an asset to readers. And with the incredible popularity of Facebook it has become part of our world, thus it becomes impossible to ignore it. At the moment it helps you find sources. Hopefully one day it will also help better sources find you.


1 Response to "Facebook can be a vital news media tool"

chris's picture


Thu, 02/07/2008 - 14:24
<p><strong><u>Chris Gaynor</u></strong></p> FACEBOOK is a great tool if you are a wannabe hack! I recently did a story in the blog section on this site of some guy who is running the London Marathon in aid of a charity for disabled kids - who is aiming to raise a huge sum to buy kids wheelchairs so they can participate in sport. This is the type of story the main stream media miss out on! If we can get enough people here - then we can rival any mainstream news portal!