Reporters: Can the cold tweet be the new cold call?

By SAIRA SUMBAL

I used to have a straight shoot way of how I like to approach sources: e-mail. And depending on how close my deadline was, I would either make a call or go to the person’s office directly. The other day, I did something out of my general protocol and contacted a source through …

Facebook.

Yes, Facebook.

Now I know for some this is a norm, which is understandable if you have designated your Facebook as a platform to further your professional brand. However, if you’re use of Facebook is primarily to stay in contact with your many cousins spread across the country and close friends, then you might not want to do this.

The situation that made me question if I had bad luck: I had contacted a source. The source that is incredibly busy ended up having a major business meeting the day of the interview that came up, and could only talk for about … five minutes while walking through a very loud airport. So I cold-called another source. That source fell through. Then the decision to use Facebook … the source had the credentials to talk about the subject matter. Might I add, the person is very private and, thus, there wasn’t a way to get their contact information … even via LinkedIn.

So I did. And the interview went really well. Aside from making me reconsider changing my Facebook as a means for professional use rather than personal, it got me thinking about how social media is changing how reporters today are contacting sources.

Instead of the “cold call,” could there be the “cold tweet,” or the “cold Facebook poke?” Okay the latter was a joke, a pretty nerdy one – but the former was meant to be serious.

A professor who I consider a mentor recently shared with me the difference between the reporting that he notices student journalists often do and original reporting. He said that students will often find a contact they know and rarely make a cold call in line with original reporting.

And it’s true.

I’ll admit I used to shy away from cold calling a source when I first started out. Though many would argue that utilizing social media to contact sources is wrong, I think the game has changed.

Urbanization and industrialization changed how and how much we as a country interacted with each other…to the point where increased social capital allows us to reach out to a complete stranger in the line at Starbucks when realizing from their chatter with another that they hold X position at X organization…and you happen to be doing a story on that organization. Not that I did that, just saying.

The question to reporters who practiced journalism prior and after this digital “fun” began: Has your means to contact a source changed?

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