A report recently published from a study in the US revealed that a large proportion of journalists use social media and blogs et al. for research. Hands up if you're surprised? If so, there's some Lego and juice at the back, so go and play quietly while the grown-ups talk.
Of course we're not surprised, any hack with half a brain will happily turn to public resources and blogs etc. to see what the masses are rambling on about, so as to not have to actually talk to real people. I joke. You can read the findings of the report here: http://www.journalism.co.uk/2/articles/537316.php and here: http://us.cision.com/news_room/press_releases/2010/2010-1-20_gwu_survey.asp but only after I've finished, okay?
Now. I am in two minds about the staggering 61 per cent of reporters using Wikipedia (WIKIPEDIA IS NOT AN ACADEMIC RESOURCE...wow...University flashbacks) and so on to do research - and I am definitely not sure how I feel about using Twitter and Facebook for genuine research purposes.
Wikipedia should be treated like a dictionary or encyclopaedia that an idiot child has been turned loose on - I wouldn't trust it, but under the crayon scribbles and bits of crisps, there are often some useful pointers to other sites and books and real-life resources. Generally these lie at the bottom of the page, and the more cunning among us will make a note of these and trot down to the library post haste, but nine times out of ten you will find yourself suddenly and completely intrigued by the etymology of swear words or whales or and how the hell it is that babies can breathe underwater. Honestly.
Facebook and Twitter, while public platforms, are not actually intended to be public platforms - stay with me - but as interpersonal public platforms. It's a podium to stick your views and opinions and favourite music on, but not for strangers to throw rotting vegetables at, but for your friends (be they real or Internet Friends) to admire, agree, sycophantically mention in real life (sorry, IRL) - and sometimes give their real opinions on as well. However, if you did this in public - you would be branded as socially awkward. Or just, you know, a twat. There is a dreadful sketch about this by a comedy group who I will not name (for fear of acid reflux burning the words as I speak) but it is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrlSkU0TFLs As much as I hate them for even existing, they raise a good point. Would you think about using Facebook as a resource now?
Twitter, while it hurts me to be such a fucking hipster about this, is actually more useful in this instance than Facebook or public news blogs. Brevity is king, and an accurately-worded statement or opinion is infinitely more useful and relevant to current affairs - and, conversely, it's significantly easier to ignore the rubbish. These will generally consist of people being a waste of bandwidth and supplying the inane: "@littlefluffybunny is doing the washing up lol" or it'll be a mad sprawling mass of inaccurately placed apostrophes and capital letters, or everyone's friend - Britney Spears pr0n.
All these issues taken into account, Twitter and microblogging - or useful RSS-style feeds like Reddit can be pretty damn helpful for finding out what people are genuinely talking about.
On one hand, social media can be used quite efficiently as a shortcut to public opinions on current affairs, and has been used by yours truly on occasion when deadlines have been looming and I need a quick events NIB. Also if you ignore the virals about bra colours and something to do with money and sex (yes, I feel uncomfortable about that, too) then social media can be used when appropriate, but I don't think 65 per cent is a healthy amount of journalists to be using it regularly. I don't think these sites should actually be used to see what 'people in the street' are talking about. That's what actual people in the actual street are for, savvy?