Social media used for investigative reportingPosted: February 20, 2013
The current trend toward an online-oriented world has changed the way journalists gather and present information. Two reporters for ProPublica, an online journalism blog, suggest social media can function as an important investigative tool.
At a recent social media conference hosted by the Columbia School of Journalism, Blair Hickman and Amanda Zamora presented ProPublica’s success using social media, such as facebook, to gather sources and leads for sensitive investigative pieces.
Three reporters for ProPublica used these methods to further their investigation into common health care liabilities. They began by using the questionnaire function of GoogleDocs to create a form they could then send to potential sources. To follow up, the reporters posted calls for relevant information in highly trafficked social media sites that related to their investigation. The group also created their own facebook page to field questions and comments.
ProPublica reporters found that using social media as an investigative tool made less room for anonymous sources and shady reporting while opening a larger field of potential information.
But social media reporting does not come without compromises. The reporters’ calls for information required them to present their topics under investigation to the public before the story was fuly developed, something many reporters are not comfortable doing.
The pages and posts required constant surveillance to prevent sources passing them by. Hickman noted a new form of courtesy had to follow their innovative interactions with sources. The group of reporters strove to keep their postings interactive and up-to-date by monitoring public comments and personally responding to posts.
How strongly should reporters rely on new media for sources? Is social media a credible outlet for information gathering? Should other news outlets integrate these methods into their reporting?