Regional journalist Alison Gow makes a case for why journalists should be using Twitter and other social networks routinely for newsgathering, by comparing them to the Births, Marriages and Deaths columns that reporters routinely scour for leads:

“Twitter, Facebook and other social networks [are] the new BMDs – people take to them to announce major events in their lives, from livetweeting a birth to a Facebook status update announcing the death of a loved one – and in the same way those announcements, public notices and classifieds were seen as essential reading by everyone in a newsroom, Twitter should be as well.

“Lives are recorded on YouTube videos and sometimes they go on to become stories in their own right; when Seesmic offered video threads I used to talk to a fellow poster, who lived in America and who had cystic fibrosis. Two days after our last contact, I learned of his death via Twitter. I’ve seen the passing anniversaries of his death being marked by tweets from others as well.

“Lots of people post announcements of a very personal nature, from new jobs to lost jobs, engagements to separations, and they do it online, via blogs, forums, social networks, photo-sharing sites…

“It’s a rich vein of information and you don’t even necessarily need to be an enthusiastic user of Twitter to exploit it.

“Twitter Lists are brilliant for sources, as are the social ranking sites like Peer Index  (I’m less sure about the ranking usefulness of such sites than I am their ability to list topic or geographic interestingness). Geographic Twitter searches, sites such as Monniter and Twibesare just some tools that can help.

“If you didn’t read the BMDs and announcements it didn’t mean you were a poor journalist, just one who wasn’t exploiting your sources to the full potential. Same goes for social networks now – you are missing out, even if you don’t know it.”

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