Three ways to use Facebook as a news gathering tool


News reporting is increasingly becoming about getting stories  1) that other media organisations don’t have and 2) faster than everyone else. To this end, many journalists are using Twitter as a tool to gather news stories via the updates of people who may witness a road accident or celebrity spotting.

However, Twitter is becoming commonplace as a news gathering tool and the high frequency with which journalists use the micro-blogging site means that finding a genuine story or at least finding it before anyone else is rare.

Facebook, however, is less known for its potential to gather news. Very few journalists would use it to find leads or sources in the same way that they do with Twitter. The wealth of information that Facebook holds about its users means it can provide an immensely valuable resource for investigating a topic, event or demographic.

But, how do you actually go about using Facebook to find stories?

Here are three ways of digging into the realms of information on Facebook:

1) Groups – Set up for more local issues and interaction around a cause; groups are a good first move for any story. Say you were writing a story about opposition to Tesco opening another shop in Scarborough – a quick search for ‘Tesco’ would yield an interesting group entitled WHITBY NEED A TESCO – BACK THE PLANS, which surprisingly sees a group of people down the road in North Yorkshire support proposals to build a Tesco. Citing such incidences help bring the issue onto a wider scale and give a sense of context to the article. Plus, groups list the administrators, meaning you instantly have a point of contact. Groups under 5,000 people allow the sending out of inbox messages which, if you join, means you get information which may yield to an article before your competitors.

2) Pages – Although they overlap a great deal with groups, pages are a great way of finding out what’s happening around a certain brand, place, sports team, band, movie or person. By simply typing in Hackney, for example, you will bring up a page called I heart Hackney, which has an extensive discussion board and tells you that there will be a new dance workshop starting this week, a valuable piece of information if you’re working for the Hackney Post.

Similarly, if you’re writing a piece for a national about disgruntled fans having problems getting tickets for next year’s Glastonbury, their official page would be a good place to start (with the 1,919 comments from fans in response to an official page update particularly helpful if you wanted to speak to a few for a a vox pop). So, rather than trying to find people who like World of Warcraft in Turkey through traditional means for a story on, say, fatalities from the game in Istanbul, pages allow you to tap into existing communities of people without you having to waste time searching the web.

Facebook - Pets for the Environment

3) Posts by everyone – This is a really good way of tapping into the conversation (especially as Facebook has so many more users than Twitter and thus covers a much wider demographic). So if you typed in ‘child benefit’ and hit ‘posts by everyone’, you would get all the posts, notes and links that included this phrase (it is possible to sort by these post types if you want to filter any of these out). What you will find is interesting links about how to save your child benefit by putting more into your pension, which could form the basis of a story, and the fact that one young woman hasn’t had child benefits paid into her account for five weeks, when she had previously been paid weekly (a potential lead?). Admittedly, trawling through people’s statuses is a lengthy task but it may be worth it for that lead.

So, these are just three simple ways that Facebook should be used as a journalistic source and can help to find news leads and sources.

If there are any other ways to use Facebook as a news gathering tool that we haven’t mentioned, please comment below, email us or tweet us (@wannabehacks)


About benwhitelaw
Ben is Communities Editor at The Times

5 Responses to Three ways to use Facebook as a news gathering tool

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  4. Peter Demain says:

    Very few journalists would use it to find leads or sources in the same way that they do with Twitter.

    Demonstratably false considering all the local interest/crime stories on the local news/radio in my habitancy with allusions to and sometimes short clips of Facebook campaign groups. Everything from smear campaigns, to jailed inmates intimidating with the site, to cultural stuff like theatre or music group plugs. Furthermore, Facebook was largely responsible for the Coventy cat binning tale which was fairly big.

    Forget not Youtube; there’s a young girl who has been on northwest televised news two or three times for gaining fame for dancing to Japanese music in videos. In a couple of years I’d expect Youtube and Facebook combined to be well-trawled sources of officebound hack stories/pseudo-stories – the much-loved and cherished PA wire and PR firms will likely get in on the act for market share purposes, have they not commenced to already.

    Pete, editor Dirty Garnet.

  5. Pingback: So you want to be a journalist: In response to Martin King « Wannabe Hacks

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