Journalists Use Facebook to Find Sources and Promote Stories

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By GordanaV

When Lisa Eckelbecker first signed up for Facebook she wasn’t sure what to make of it. But as a reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspaper, she soon started getting friend requests from readers and people she had interviewed for stories.

“I realized that I was facing a dilemma,” she says. “I could use Facebook to communicate with and listen to my immediate family and close friends, or I could use it as a business tool to share my work, build contacts and listen to lots of different people.”

After attending a seminar at Columbia University on how to use social networking tools, Eckelbecker chose the latter option.

“I have started posting my stories to my news feed, and it’s been gratifying to see people occasionally comment on them,” she says. “Recently, I asked my Massachusetts friends if they could help me find sources for a story on supermarket retailing. I struck out with that request, but I like the idea of using Facebook to find sources and will try that again.”

Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites have gotten a reputation as places where users routinely post the most mundane details of their daily lives to their closest friends. “Carried out the garbage and now I’m heating up the leftovers” might be typical.

But Eckelbecker is one of a growing number of professional, citizen and student journalists who are using Facebook and similar sites to help them find sources for stories, then spread the word to readers once those stories are published online.

Such sites are part of an expanding array of tools – including websites, blogs and Twitter – that reporters are using to promote themselves and their work on the web at a time when traditional print journalism seems fated to go the way of eight-track tapes.

A Helpful Tool for a Food Writer and a Freelancer

Dara Bunjon writes about Baltimore restaurants for And when she’s not hard at work on her blogposts, she’s posting links to them on her Facebook account.

“I regularly use Facebook to promote my column, which is set up with 210 followers,” Bunjon says. “If a story has relevancy to a Facebook group I will post links there. All this has driven my hits upward and grown the number of people who are following what I write.”

Judith Spitzer, a former newspaper reporter who’s currently freelancing, uses Facebook as a networking tool to find sources for stories.

“I use Facebook and LinkedIn to network with friends and friends of friends when I’m looking for a source, which is huge because there’s already a trust factor when they know someone,” Spitzer says.

Mandy Jenkins, social media editor for The Cincinnati Enquirer and its website,Cincinnati.Com, says Facebook is “extremely valuable to connect with professional sources and other journalists as friends. If you monitor the newsfeeds of those you cover, you can find out so much about what’s going on with them. See what pages and groups they join, who they interact with and what they say.”

Jenkins suggests that reporters join the Facebook groups and fan pages of organizations that they cover. “Some groups send out a lot of insider info on these group lists without even noticing who is on them,” she says. “Not only that, but with Facebook’s openness, you can see who else is in the group and contact them for a quote when you need it.”

And for interactive stories where a reporter might need to gather readers’ videos or photos, “Facebook’s page tools have a lot to offer in terms of social media presentation and crowdsourcing,” she adds.

As an example, Jenkins cites the Recession Survivors Project on Facebook. The site features videos posted both by the students who run the site, and by its “fans” as well.

Using Facebook to “share story links, blog entries and collected articles from around the net in one’s news feed is the best way to show off expertise and make any journalist a ‘go-to’ for information on their beat,” Jenkins adds. “The Facebook newsfeed is so versatile and allows so much importing, it takes practically no effort to share information with all of your friends very easily.”

No More Personal Stuff

As for Eckelbecker, these days she uses her Facebook account almost exclusively for work.

“You won’t find much that’s personal about me on Facebook,” she says. “I don’t do applications, I won’t tell you where I just ordered coffee and I won’t be posting pictures of high school classmates on my wall. If I wouldn’t want something printed in the Telegram & Gazette, I won’t put it on Facebook.”

In fact, she wants to expand her use of Facebook as a reporting and marketing tool.

“The next step for me, I think, is to build up my list of friends,” she says. “Also, I’d like to start posting more than stories to my news feed — maybe some hints about stories that are coming up or additional requests for sources and ideas. But I’m still trying to figure this out as I go along.”