Social media is now a standard working tool for journalists in the UK, France and Germany, according to new research by Cision and the University of Sunderland.

The findings of the 2010 Social Journalism Study suggest that more than 80 per cent of journalists surveyed in the countries use social media to source and promote their work.

Launched last week the research is based on responses from 549 journalists, who were also asked about their feelings towards using social media as opposed to more traditional channels for newsgathering and fact-checking.

In the UK 74 per cent of participants said social media was a "somewhat important" or "important" working tool - a higher proportion than in France or Germany (about 50 per cent). Despite the broader range of social media sites in Germany and France, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook were the most used social media tools by the journalists surveyed.

But the research also suggests that social media tools are not replacing traditional skills, but being used with them. Close to 70 per cent of journalists surveyed said they still use press releases, PRs and corporate websites to fact-check and find news as often as they did three years ago.

Wires, contacts, PRs, corporate sites and search were cited as the most commonly used methods for checking stories. More than 60 per cent of respondents said they never use Twitter, review sites or photos and videos online to fact-check. By contrast, more than 60 per cent of those surveyed said they used Wikipedia "often", "very often" or "all the time" (almost 20 per cent) for this purpose.

"Journalists actively use Wikipedia to source stories, particularly in Germany where the use of the site was around twice that seen elsewhere. Wikipedia is also used for fact-checking, with over 60 per cent of respondents using the site to check stories at least once a week, compared with 22 per cent for blogs and 34 per cent for wire services," says a post on the research by Cision's Falk Rehkopf.

"It is clear from comments made by German respondents that this is not necessarily an issue of greater trust in the online encyclopedia: most respondents flagged the need to check the validity of Wikipedia entries as much as other social sources," says the report's executive summary.

The survey makes an interesting comparison with research released by Cision and the Masters Degree Programme in Strategic Public Relations at George Washington University in January, which suggested more prolific use of social media tools amongst US journalists, particularly for research, but a continued place for traditional fact-checking processes.

Cision plans to repeat the European survey on an annual basis. The 2010 research involved responses from 279 journalists in the UK, 131 in Germany and 139 in France. The majority of all respondents had been working as a journalist for more than 10 years.

Social media, journalism and PR

The study also looked at journalists' relationships with public relations officers and agencies online and via social media. In the UK, 32 per cent of respondents said they felt PRs did not understand how to use social media with 57 per cent of the journalists from the three countries stating that PRs rely on press releases and phonecalls.

"The journalists' perception is that PRs seldom communicate with them via social platforms - much less web/video conferences - in their regular work," says the report's executive summary.

"There appears to be a real opportunity for both journalists and PRs to better use social channels. There is certainly considerable appetite among journalists for social media activity. At the same time, it is clear that journalists in all three countries continue to cherish PRs’ traditional strengths: providing access to the best contacts and interviews, an in-depth understanding of organisations and their issues, professionalism with a personal touch."

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