How are social networks useful for journalist research?

Social networks have taken an increasing place in our day-to-day life. Facebook, twitter, myspace, LinkedIn, Flickr or Digg have all become major tools of communication and information sharing. We only need to have a look at the number of active users that each have to realize how massive these social groups are. For instance, Facebook has around 500 millions users as of 2011, Twitter has around 175 millions and targets 200 millions by the end of 2011 of tweeter users. The graph you’ll find below shows the increase of tweeters users within 6 months. Everyday millions of people post public and private information through plain text, photos, videos and many other custom features. This constitutes a tremendous source of information for the media. But are they really usefull for journalistic research? To answer to this question, let us first assess what we understand by using the term ‘useful’: it represents information that can be used by a journalist in his research in the scope of his work.








Hollywood superstar Ashton Kutcher is one of the most active Tweeter user by posting information about his private life everyday. In 2010 Kutcher posted intimate pictures of him and his wife Demi Moore. The day after those, the media jumped on the opportunity and flooded the web with articles about it. But is this journalistic process accurate? We can assume that it relates to the entertainment sector and a public figure’s private life; it therefore contributes to his personal career and relates more to his own communication strategy than to relevant. Indeed, Kutcher adresses his audience directly by posting this kind of information, and we can consider that the media plays the role of intruding intermediary in this case, as it will only relay the information without applying any kind of analysis on it. Darius Rochebin, an iconic Swiss TV news Anchor on the Télévision Suisse Romande (TSR), uses his Facebook profile to actively seek news or witnesses coming from the general public directly. Here, the approach is different as Rochebin seeks information to complete his research vs using it as the core of his work.

Picture of Demi Moore posted by Ashton Kutcher on Tweeter.







Picture of Demi Moore posted by Ashton Kutcher on Tweeter.

Social networks are also used by newspapers and magazines that invites them to contribute to their work directly. This is called “public journalism”. The local newspaper “20 Minutes” which is released in the French and German speaking part of Switzerland, uses this method by advertising for public journalism. Tis is called ‘I Reporter’ and encourages people to send photos or videos of what they feel could be relevant to the paper. They even developed an I Phone application which allows any I Phone user to snap and send material directly to their offices. I Reporters can receive CHF 50 to CHF 100 in retribution based on the quality of their contribution. Although we consider that the information is not of the finest kind, this strategy allows the Newspaper to cover a large amount of topics while benefiting from a ‘momentum’ advantage as the transmission of the information is almost live. The British television channel BBC also allows people to submit content. During November and December 2010, European transportation channels where paralyzed due to heavy snow and wind storms. The tv channel received as much as 35,000 photos from users of their platform. These two examples show that the public has the will and resources to participate in a journalistic process; although we would not go as far as saying that it could complete one. We can simply say that public journalism is a valuable additional journalistic resource when it Is duly filtered by the concerned media.

The British newspaper ‘The Guardian’ underlined that “already 8% of the Daily Telegraph web traffic comes from social media”. But journalism cannot be defined by information. “Journalism needs discipline, analysis, explanation and context”, notes Richard Sambrook, the director of the BBC Global News Division in a conference in Oxford about the interaction between the internet and the news industry.

Now let us ask ourselves: “Is the definition of journalist is gradually changing?”

Nadia Barth


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