By Anna Kowalczyk, University of Maryland
Facebook is no longer solely for making friends and sharing bumper stickers.
As journalism evolves, journalists need to move beyond the pen and paper and begin utilizing tools available through the internet. Facebook is often a good place to start. As a writer and public relations intern for College Magazine and a staff writer at my college’s student paper, I have used Facebook to reach out to a larger group than would have been possible through simple phone calls and traditional reporting.
I started a recent story on college pregnancy for College Magazine (www.collegemagazine.com) by sending a message to all of my Facebook friends asking if they knew any college students who were pregnant or parenting while in school. Though I did not receive many helpful responses, I then began to search for pregnancy groups on Facebook. I joined the groups and made discussion board posts, explaining my story and asking for women to volunteer to tell their story. I also contacted admins of the groups as many of them were pregnant or parenting themselves. These two final steps were the most helpful. Many girls contacted me and were happy to share their stories and experiences. Because social networking is an international form of communication, I was able to reach girls from all over the country, and if needed, I could have reached girls from around the world.
On a more local level, I use social networking for my school newspaper, the University of Maryland’s The Diamondback. When writing a story on the bombing in Mumbai , I did not know any students who were closely affected by the event, and because the event occurred over Thanksgiving break, traditional reporting was impossible. To solve the problem, I found Palestinian and Indian student groups from my campus and made discussion posts and e-mailed students in the group.
I’ve also used the messaging to reach out to large groups of students about specific opinions.
When I was writing a story on new cameras placed in our rec center, I sent out mass messages to students asking for their opinion on the issue. I included a few specific questions about privacy, use, etc. to help direct responses. Surprisingly, students do often reply to these messages.
Though I would not rely upon Facebook for all of my reporting, it is a good way to get a jump-start into a story. After making contacts on Facebook, I always do a follow-up phone call to make sure I understood all that was meant by the messages and that there was no ambiguity.