9 September 2012

Nigeria: How We Use Social Media to Source Stories, By Local Journalists

Except for few who have their reservations on the social media, journalists in Nigeria are excited with the opportunities the social networks offer them. For one, it has aided them in carrying out their tasks of news monitoring and gathering. Like their counterparts in other countries they explore various sites on regular basis daily to monitor what citizen journalists and newsmakers post on their twitters, facebook, Youtube, Linkedin, blogs, etc. Today, the modern journalists will need to utilize many of these new tools in order to gather information, produce material and engage their audiences in new ways. This new trend has completely revolutionized the way journalists deliver their stories.

Social media are transforming the way journalists break news. More than ever, many journalists who spoke to Sunday Trust claimed they can reach their news sources, gather stories and make verifications on the authenticity of the stories with less difficulties through the social networks.

Joshua Bassey, who reports for BusinessDay observed that he hardly made use of the social media to source for stories, but admitted that if he has to, he uses the Facebook to chat with newsmakers if they are available online. "I use the Facebook minimally, but I will say the benefit of the social media to journalists is immense. Some of the information that would have been difficult to get I got it with less difficulties from the social networks and I can as well reach out to some people in position of information, depending on the stories I work on. This would have been difficult, especially when they were not in their offices or even in the country. With the use of social media, I was able to ask them questions and I got instant answers."

According to Malam Sumaila Umaisha, a reporter with the New Nigerian newspaper, social media has brought many opportunities to journalism. He said "for me as a journalist, I will say the social media has been of tremendous benefit to me. Unlike before, I no longer need to go to the library anytime I want to make research; all I need to do is to Google whatever I need. Really, the social media is of great advantage to journalists."

However, Malam Adamu Ismail of the Freedom Radio, however, differed on this. He said the social media is a trash. "For you to have a story that you can rely on, you need to have a source and it must be trustworthy. But not in the case of these social networks. For instance, if I get news from News Agency of Nigeria [NAN] I can just go and file it, but anybody can write anything and post it on the internet without verifying the authenticity of the story. So, for me, I don't so much believe or rely on these social networks to source for or gather my news stories," he said

But Alhaji Alkasim Abdulkadir of CCTV Africa, in his submission, believes the social media has been of tremendous benefit to him, professionally and socially. He said as a journalist, he often uses the social networks for sourcing of his stories and has always established the authenticity of the stories through crow sampling. "I use the twitter to get my stories without any difficulties. I often use crowd sourcing to establish the authenticity of the stories - many people at a particular place reporting the same thing. It's now left for you to go and get more of it and verify it."

Miss Ruth Tene Natsa, a reporter with the Leadership newspaper in Abuja, said she uses the social networks a lot, but she rarely sources news stories from them. "My beat is solid minerals and you can hardly get anything news worthy from the social network sites. I don't bother myself with sourcing for news on my beat from the social media. Personally, I visit social network sites but not for professional purposes," she said.

Comfort Osegbahe is a reporter with the Punch newspaper in Lagos, she says she deals more with the Facebook than any other sites to source for her news. I don't use twitter because most times I forget my passwords and for the You Tube, I don't go there at all. I use Facebook and blog for my news sources. You know Nigerians are now internet crazy whatever happens around them they quickly put it on the internet. When you do follow-up and as well verify them you might find the stories to be useful."

The debate on the importance of the social media to the practice of journalism had raged on for a few years now, but from early 2011 it appeared social media tools have finally achieved the status of "essential" for journalists. The web has changed everything, anyone with a blog can be a reporter, anyone with a cell phone can be a videographer, and anyone on Facebook, Twitter or a thousand other platforms can be a news editor.

More than ever, people are using Twitter, Facebook and other social media sources to learn about what is happening in the world as traditional news outlets become increasingly less relevant to the digital generation.

A Lagos-based media consultant, Mr Tony Chidozie, has argued that with social media, journalists often aren't breaking news, but rather responding to it. But that doesn't mean journalists can just sit back and wait for Twitter to feed them inspirations. Rather, they need to be thinking about how social media can affect their reporting before, during and after the story goes live.

He said "The news cycle has changed, we have moved from a passive news cycle--in which the journalist finds news, reports it and the audience consumes it--to interactive applications of news. It used to be that when the story went live, that was the end. Now, it's the beginning. The audience can comment, share, add or even change information. The era of I write, you read, you're welcome is over."

Mr Chidozie also posited that moving stories to a more open space like Twitter means interesting stories will be read more often than they would have been if they were buried deep in the middle of a newspaper.

"One of the most important revolutions in the world occurred during the Arab Spring uprisings via social networking. It is difficult to say how much social networking actually contributed to the organization of citizens, but one thing is for sure: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube drew global attention to the struggle of individuals in autocratic regimes. The opportunity to provide users with information on breaking news when it happens is an unbelievable feat for journalism. Internet users have the ability to engage the public at the moment of importance rather than waiting till the newspaper is printed, T.V. or radio broadcast, he said.

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