For Political Reporters, Old Media Rules Still Apply

Patrick Gavin, Staff Writer-Politico *photo by Alex Priest

Patrick Gavin, Staff Writer-Politico *photo by Alex Priest

On Thursday, May 6 in Washington, DC Mopwater PR + Media Notes hosted the second event in the Twitch! series. PoliTwitch! Public Relations and Politics in the Age of Social Media promised to be a frank discussion with political journalists about how they were using social media to source and find stories. The panel was hard-hitting: Mark Preston, Political Editor for CNN, Patrick Gavin, Staff Writer for Politico, Peter Cherukuri, DC Bureau Manager of the Huffington Post, Jackie Kucinich a Congressional Reporter at Roll Call and Rachna Choudhry, policy manager at the National Partnership for Women and Families were all set to talk social media.  The roomful of PR pros, lobbyists  and social media enthusiasts was anxious to hear how these journalists were using our beloved tools of Facebook, Twitter and blogs to chase down political sources and cover political races on the eve of the midterm elections.

I’ll be the first to say that perhaps our expectations were a bit high.

In the inaugural Twitch, our journalists discussed how they regularly unearthed stories and sources via social media, to the point that one blogger in the audience begged the question Is Social Media Making Reporters Lazy? Not this bunch. Which maybe makes a broader statement on  political journalists.

Mark Preston, political editor for CNN said it best.

“[Social media] doesn’t affect what stories I cover. It doesn’t affect sourcing,” he said. “You do not develop sources, certainly in this town, over Twitter or over Facebook. You develop sources over a cup of coffee. Trust is built among people that you can see face to face.”

He did go on to say that he uses Twitter as his morning wire service to find out what the major news organizations deem the important stories of the day.

Jackie Kucinich, a Roll Call reporter said that among the stories that has been lit afire by way of social media has been the Tea Party movement.  “Every time I tweet something that is going at a Tea Party rally, I get like 100 more followers that day,” she said.

On one way that social media has made political reporters’ jobs easier, Patrick Gavin, staff writer at Politico said “Tweets are the new quotes.” So if Ms. Kucinich were to tweet about something going at a Tea Party rally, he’d feel free to use her tweet as a quote, saving him the hassle of getting a quote directly from her, or someone else attending the rally. And if the tweet contained false information, it would still be attributed to Kucinich and not shoddy reporting since most reporters’ Twitter streams are public.

One thing Gavin mentioned that struck the ire of many public relations professionals in the room: he doesn’t read his blog comments because they are almost always negative and he doesn’t have time to sift through them to get to the good ones and still do his job as a reporter. As a former journalist I can sympathize; whenever you write about something controversial (and let’s face it, politics will always be a controversial subject) you are bound to get an outpouring of crazy. If Gavin were blogging about make-up, maybe the comments would be more benign, but he’s a political blogger so I think we should cut him some slack.

Overall, I think the entire room learned quite a bit about the different needs each reporter may have depending on his or her beat. And given his beat, this will inform his use of social media. Listening to this panel further emphasized the need for smart, sharp public relations professionals who can gauge the nuances; because indeed there is no cookie cutter approach.

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