Why some journalists are doubting Tweeters…Headland’s Mike Sergeant shares his views

05 Feb 2015 by Mike Sergeant.

It’s astonishing how quickly social media came to dominate journalism. Five years ago, most hacks might have sneaked a quick look at Facebook or Twitter in between making important calls.

Then, a couple of years ago, I remember going into the BBC Newsroom at Millbank and seeing that every single Political Correspondent had Twitter up permanently on their terminal. A big screen had even been installed above the news desk, providing a live stream of MPs tweets. The age of social media journalism had arrived.

Every significant story seemed either to originate on Twitter or was amplified by it. The social media sceptics (of which I was one) were sent for re-education at the BBC College of Journalism.

CISION’s Social Journalism Study 2015, though, raises interesting questions about the future.

Yes, over half of UK journalists say they cannot carry out their work without social media – an increase on last year. The number on Twitter for up to two hours a day has also substantially increased.

But really heavy Twitter use has declined. The percentage glued to their Tweets for more than four hours a day has fallen significantly.

Less than a third say they use social media to make new contacts. Just 10% say they use information directly from social media in their published articles.

The study also suggests a growing polarisation among reporters and correspondents in social media attitudes.

An increasing number think Twitter undermines the “traditional values” of journalism. Concerns about privacy and data protection are also growing.

A worry I always had was revealing too much to the opposition about what I was doing and thinking.

On one occasion, I was racing to the scene of a murder story, and was desperately hunting for the right location. My rival at Sky News helpfully tweeted the exact address of the police search. If he hadn’t, Sky would have maintained a significant advantage on a major breaking story.

Twitter remains the dominant news platform. As a journalist you can’t ignore it. It’s vital to monitor the background noise it provides, and as a tool for gauging audience reaction, it’s unrivalled.

But the best reporters are still picking up the phone, grinding through the documents and sitting down face-to-face with contacts - finding something truly original to share.

To read CISION’s Social Journalism Study in full, click here.

Mike Sergeant, Director at Headland

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