Friday, February 26, 2010

The Art of Finding Good Sources (Plural!)

Cision is a global PR institution that recently conducted a U.S. survey to figure out where reporters and editors are getting their information these days -- especially now that there are fewer journalists and an overabundance of data to sort through and verify.

It probably comes as no surprise that they are coming to depend on the immediacy and ease of using online social media sources for research.

According to a report synopsis by Jack Loechner on his Center for Media Research blog:

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 (15%) or somewhat important (40%) for reporting and producing the stories they wrote.

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.

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."
One Source Does Not a Story Make

Without denigrating the validity of Cision's presumptive conclusion -- that journalists therefore need assistance more than ever from professional PR specialists -- let's also not forget that journalists are duty-bound to garner info and quotes the old-fashioned way, by banging on doors and wearing out shoe leather, even if metaphorically.

Though the survey didn't specifically address broadcast or video journalism, we must say that we see way too many video stories that depend solely on one source. These would never pass muster as text stories, and any reputable editor would kick them back to the lazy reporter. Videojournalists should always look for opposing viewpoints, or at least alternative perspectives. One simple rule of thumb is, "Let's hear from the people above, below, and around the central character." Who affects him, and who does he affect?

So if your story is about a teacher, let's hear from students and parents, the school principal, alumni, other teachers. In addition to seeing what others have to say, let's unobtrusively watch the protagonist interacting with other sources -- in their own environment, with natural sound. Showing, and not just telling, makes stories not just more credible but also more memorable.

Think of the movies and novels you enjoy, and how boring and meaningless they would be if each one was about only one character. The same holds true for videojournalism. Multiple perspectives and meaningful interactions are key to successful nonfiction storytelling. One source is not enough.

Complete survey results: 2009 Social Media & Online Usage Study

(Tip of the cyberhat to Deborah Potter's Advancing the Story blog.)

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