Facebook one of many tools in a reporter’s pocket

Kevin Spradlin Editor/Content Manager

November 7, 2013

I have to admit, I was a bit surprised at one person’s comment on The Daily Journal’s Facebook page.

On Tuesday afternoon — Election Day and Rotary Club auction day — we learned there had been an incident at the Richmond County Ninth Grade Academy involving at least two students. Through the grapevine, we also learned that at least one teacher had been hurt.

So, in the interest of time, we hopped on newspaper’s Facebook page and asked if anyone knew anything about it. Specifically, we asked that “if you or your child was a witness to the incident” to call us at the newspaper’s office.

The response was pretty interesting. The first person, Michael McFadden, asked what happened (thank you). We responded that we were still in the process of gathering information. Then Neely Sullivan logged on (thank you).

“Really, is this how you get your information?”

There are as many opinions as there are people. While this question didn’t surprise me or bother me, I did question that it was among the first two responses to the original post. The fact that her comment generated 15 “likes” also surprised me.

Cassidy Faith (thank you) and Ray Herndon (thank you) also opined with comments that questioned that part of the information-gathering process. So did Nikki Covington, who chimed in with, “Responsible journalism? I think not.”

Brent Foster (thank you) came to the newspaper’s defense, or at least defended the process in general.

“I’m pretty sure they’re not going to publish the first thing they hear,” Foster wrote. “It can, however, lead to the basis of the story which we all may need to know, especially when it comes to anything happening in our schools and with our children.”

Foster’s comment generated four “likes,” but his explanation is a daily driver of what makes the newsroom move. Facebook isn’t how we conduct interviews but it sure can be a conversation-starter.

Social media sites — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and others — are examples of today’s phonebook and party line rolled into one. In my opinion, it would be irresponsible not to use any available source in our pursuit of timely and accurate information. By using the Journal’s Facebook page, we can have instant access to all 2,432 followers (up from 2,278 one month ago).

There are more than 7 billion people on planet Earth. In May, Facebook reported it had 1.11 billion users — or 15.7 percent the world’s population. Now let’s say that percentage holds true for Richmond County. That means approximately 7,300 in the county are on Facebook. Why on earth would we not use that tool to reach out?

And on Tuesday, no one from the Richmond County school district was talking. So we were looking for someone, or a parent of someone, who had actually seen what happened. Or perhaps someone on the newspaper’s Facebook page might be the school resource officer. Or a sheriff’s deputy who responded. Or an assistant principal.

Students fought. Two teachers were sent to the hospital. What goes on in our schools — good and bad — is important. It’s important for a good newspaper to report on and it’s important for parents, students and all stakeholders to stay up-to-date on what’s going on in our schools.

The fact is, we didn’t get any reliable information from our Facebook post. We didn’t have a story on the incident in Wednesday’s edition. It wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that anyone from the school district made themselves available for an interview, so our earliest opportunity to publish a reliable report was Thursday.

But you can’t say we didn’t try on Tuesday, starting within a couple of hours after the incident took place. And had we not logged onto a place where more than 2,400 people, that’s exactly what a critic could say.