Laura Lorek is a senior writer for the San Antonio Express-News. She covers business and technology and authors the Tech Clicks blog. She is also a power user of Twitter and uses it in her reporting.
I think that the ability to effectively use social media and networking are critical for today’s journalist. Laura shares some insightful thoughts about how the gathering and reporting of news is changing. She also outlines how she uses different social networking tools for different tasks. She also talks about some of the ways she looks for stories online.
- Which social networks do you use professionally? Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Youtube, MySpace (very little), Friend Feed (seldom) and Second Life
- Do you also use social networks personally, and do you keep these accounts separate or combined? Both – personal and business. Trained journalists act as observers of the news and remain neutral and unbiased and they do not to participate in it. But social networks and the Internet have changed the way news gets disseminated through bloggers and citizen journalists. It's also changing the way newsrooms and traditional journalists operate. We need to be more accessible to the people we cover and social networks make that possible.
- Which social network do you find most useful and why? Twitter because it’s in real-time and allows for a lot of interactivity. Twitter adds value to my reporting because it enables me to reach more readers and potential sources and I'm exposed to new ideas constantly. I often ask questions on Twitter to find sources for stories I’m working on with immediate deadlines. Twitter is also a place to generate fresh ideas. It's like a massive college coffeehouse filled with some geniuses along side stoners, jocks, losers, lurkers, comedians, entertainers, musicians, artists, business executives, employees, entrepreneurs, students and innovators. It's the best place to hang out. It takes me back to my college days when people actually discussed important issues along with mundane everyday stuff. Twitter is a powerful, empowering place.
I also like Facebook because it keeps me in touch with colleagues around the country. LinkedIn is great for networking , career building and job searching. I also like the question and answer section and I like to read the updates from people in my network. Tools like RSS feeds, Technorati, Facebook and Twitter help us find specialized topics in the avalanche of information produced daily.
- What are some of the ways that you use social networks in your reporting? When a reporter needed to find people buying the new iPhone, I sent out a Tweet and immediately found a guy standing in line at the Northstar Mall Apple store waiting in line. He had his old phone with him and he sent me his phone number and we interviewed him for the story. Another time I needed to find people shopping online for Cyber Monday, I sent out a tweet and found a guy whose wife planned to do all their Christmas shopping online. They were skiing on Black Friday – one of the busiest shopping days of the year – in New Mexico, far from the crowded shopping malls. They actually called me on their cell phone from the ski slopes. Another time, the health reporter who sits next to me wanted to find someone who had lost more than 100 pounds for a New Year’s feature on weight loss. I sent out a Tweet and found a guy in San Antonio who lost more than 100 pounds while training for a marathon. Recently I did a story on stress affecting people who are in jobs and laid off recently and I found five of the sources quoted in the story from Twitter.
One of the main things I’ve noticed is these are people who have not been in the paper before. These are fresh sources and not the tried and true sources reporters often call after developing relationships with them over the years. Lately, when I don’t know something, I find myself turning to Twitter to ask my network of experts to help me. It’s a wonderful resource and I’m grateful for it. I’m also finding myself relying on Twitter’s built in search engine (which I’m testing) to track various topics including San Antonio, technology, journalism, social media and more. Aside from Twitter, I’ve used LinkedIn to send messages to sources and to reach people. I also keep track of local events taking place through notices on various technology groups I belong to on Facebook.
- Do your editors encourage your use of social media in your reporting? My editors encourage the use of new technology in the newsroom and we're constantly experimenting with new tools. I also blog, do video stories, dabble in Second Life and I've tried out podcasting. I used to regularly appear on TV to do a five minute business report on Sundays with KENS until our partnership expired in January and I often do radio interviews. So reporting in different mediums is not new.
- What is the most interesting story you have ever covered due to connections or pitches you received through a social network? It’s hard to pick just one. I’ve made so many contacts through social networks. Those contacts have led to dozens of stories. One of my favorite, though, is on co-working or groups of freelance workers who gather together in San Antonio to work at various locations. Another story I did was on unconferences in San Antonio including Startup Weekend San Antonio, Barcamp San Antonio, Podcamp San Antonio and more. I’m currently working on a half dozen stories on the economy and I’m communicating with sources and finding new people to interview through Twitter.
- What is the biggest faux pas that you have experienced on a social network by someone looking to get you to cover a story? A PR woman who sent me several direct messages, e-mails and called me to cover a blog post item on a new contract her company had landed. And sometimes people post things that I wish I never read about them. One guy retweeted something I posted on Twitter with a snarky and mean remark. I may have misinterpreted it and that’s one of the problems with social networks they can breed too much familiarity. Another guy I respected posted something on his personal blog that gave me a whole different view of him and I no longer enjoy chatting with him because I keep thinking about that post. It was really creepy.
- What is the ideal way to get your attention in a social network?
Be smart, interesting and funny.
Here is a recent article that Laura wrote about how she uses Twitter for her reporting.