The Hoot surveyed journalists to ascertain exactly how, and to what extent, they use social media in their daily professional lives.

The nature of newsgathering has undergone a sea change in India, as it has elsewhere, owing to social media. The lead for a story can often originate on Facebook or Twitter. One of the most striking findings from this study is that a majority of journalists use Facebook and Twitter as news sources. The aim of this survey was to see how journalists use these social media forums in their daily professional lives. Has social media changed the way journalists consume and produce news? How useful are Facebook and Twitter to journalists as a news source or for disseminating their own work?  How does English-language journalists’ use of social media vary from that of their Indian-language counterparts?

To understand these questions, we posted an online survey which 275 media professionals took. The number includes journalists across different languages and mediums — print, digital, electronic — and their approach to using social media for professional purposes.


This survey was conducted between November 4 and December 3, by posting the link to the survey on The Hoot’s Facebook and Twitter pages as well as by word of mouth. Of the 275 people who took the survey, the majority — 239 — were journalists and the remaining 36 were from related professions: PR and brand consultants, communication managers, content writers, journalism students, ex-journalists.

Are you a journalist?

The overwhelming majority of journalists — 88 percent — who took the survey used the English language. But journalists who used Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Kannada, Odiya, Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Assamese and others also participated in it. It also had a few bilingual, and even a few trilingual, journalists who worked in English and one or more Indian languages.

Which language do you work in?

The highest number of journalists who participated in the survey, almost 71 percent, work for, or are associated with, the print media. The percentage figures for the digital and electronic media are 49 and 29 respectively. Some journalists, especially freelancers, were associated with more than one medium.

The type of medium you work for or are associated with:

Journalists from a total of 32 newspapers and magazines across different languages took the survey; among the others were journalists from 10 TV channels, 17 websites, and three radio channels. The names of the organizations are listed below:

Newspapers & Magazines TV Channels Websites Radio
India: Asian Age, Business Standard,  DNA, Deccan Chronicle, Divya Marathi, Daily Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran, Governance Now, Hardnews, The Caravan, The Economic Times,  The Hindustan Times, The New Indian Express, The Hindu, The Hindu Business Line, The Telegraph, The Times of India, The Thumb Print,  The Sunday Guardian, The Indian Express, The Statesman, The Northeast Today, Mid-Day, Madhyamam, Mathrubhumi, Prabhat Khabar, Sanmarg, Metro India, Hindustan Samachar, WCRC Leaders Asia Magazine
Abroad: The Times of Oman
CNN-IBN, Doordarshan, ETV News Kannada, News7 Tamil, Naxatra, OTV (Odisha Television), Rajya Sabha Television, Tarang, Times Now, Zee News, Cox and Kings, Citizen Matters,  DailyO, Firstpost, India Legal,,,, Newslaundry, Sun Post,, Yahoo!,, The Hoot,, Quartz
Abroad:DW, Radio France, Radio Australia

In addition to the above, email interviews were carried out with the following editors of Hindi media outlets: Ravish Kumar, NDTV, Pratap Somvanshi, Hindustan, and Dilip C. Mandal, former editor of India Today’s Hindi edition. Their comments have been incorporated into the qualitative feedback.


Some of the major findings from the survey are:

a) Among the journalists who use social media professionally, the highest percentage of them – 69 (or 190 out of 275) for Twitter and 61 (169 out of 275) for Facebook – use the two forums as a news source, including finding leads for their stories.

b) The percentage of journalists who use social media to disseminate their work is also high: 48 per cent for both Twitter and Facebook.

c) The percentage of journalists who use social media to share other links is 55 for Facebook and 49 for Twitter.

d) More journalists use Twitter to follow other people (newsmakers or celebrities) than they do Facebook; in fact following others is the second most common activity that journalists use Twitter for: the percentage figures are 62 and 43 for Twitter and Facebook respectively.

Are you active on Facebook or Twitter?

A large number of people, 158 out of 275 (57 percent) are active on both Facebook and Twitter. 28 percent are active only on Facebook, while 11 percent are active only on Twitter. Only 10 people — four percent — said they are not active on either of the two forums.

Which one do you use more frequently for professional purposes?

When it comes to using social media professionally, journalists use Twitter more frequently (38 percent) as compared to Facebook (31 percent). Almost one-fourth journalists said they use both the forums professionally; 8 percent said they use neither of the two forums.

Which language do you post/tweet in?

Almost 94 percent of the people who took the survey said they tweeted/posted in English: this included English, as well as Indian-language journalists. Most bilingual journalists (or the ones working in more than two languages) said they tweeted/posted in English and an Indian language. Only four journalists said they tweeted/posted exclusively in an Indian language.

What professional purposes do you use Facebook for?

As mentioned before, among the journalists who use social media professionally, most use it as a news source.  The chart below explains how Facebook is used: 169 (61 percent) use it as a news source; almost half also use Facebook to disseminate their own work as well as to share other links that they like or think important. About 43 percent of journalists use Facebook to follow newsmakers and celebrities.

What professional purposes do you use Twitter for?

Twitter, on the other hand, is the most popular social media forum to source news: 69 percent of journalists use it for that purpose; at 62 percent, the second most frequent category on Twitter is to follow others; on Twitter too, like Facebook, almost half of the surveyed people said they used the forum to disseminate their own work as well as to share other links that they liked or thought important.

Some people who took the survey also made interesting comments about the various professional uses of social media. Here is what they had to say. (Some journalists gave their names and the name of their organisation, others did not):

Use of social media as a news source: 

Sowmya Aji, the Economic Times: Twitter’s use is “basically to look for trends, news leads. Don’t use it otherwise.”

Amoga Laxmi S, Metro India: Facebook is a “platform for knowing current happenings that entice a journalist or reporter go in depth to [find] facts.”

A Hindi journalist: Facebook and Twitter make for good “content providers”.

A print journalist: “Facebook is just a lead…I use the information only after rechecking its authenticity.”

A print journalist: Facebook “could be more effective than Linkedin at times but not always when it comes to reaching out because [if you send] a mail [it] goes to ‘Others’ folder. Also, real identity makes it difficult to pursue professional leads.”

G N Mohan, ETV News Kannada: Facebook gives “an analytical outlook through its pages and links. It is in many ways helpful for me to get story ideas too. I depend mainly on Facebook to get a broad understanding of the current affairs.”

Ravish Kumar, NDTV (Hindi): “For media houses, social media is less of a news source, it is more just another platform to make their presence felt.  Many a times you get news through it, but you have to verify it through your sources.”

Pratap Somvanshi, executive editor, Hindustan: “We use it [social media] for three purposes: we get story leads and use that information to create a big story. We use pictures from social media for our print publication. If we are doing a story on cyber fraud then we need some expert to cover all aspects about that. LinkedIn help us find the cyber expert. These facilities were not available for print media before the social media revolution. We get so many new story ideas from these virtual platforms.”

Use of social media to disseminate/publicize personal work:

A journalist from the New Indian Express: social media is both “a platform for newsy information, and for sharing my own stories. Also to get a pulse of the society on topical issues.”

Chaitraly Deshmukh, correspondent, Mid-Day: On Twitter “I share my own stories, [and other] information and also gain information about the new trends and issues discussed on Twitter in 140 characters.”

A print journalist: On Facebook, “sharing own story links is a strict no-no”.

Inderjit Badhwar, India Legal and Views On News: Twitter is a “great outlet for news and views the establishment is afraid to publish. Also [it has] maximum impact with exposes and scoops.”

Ravish Kumar, NDTV (Hindi): “I don’t advertise my show on Twitter; have done that on some occasions but I don’t like it; I find advertising one’s show on Twitter bizarre. I find things like ‘I asked this, the prime minister responded this’ quite vulgar. It’s sad to see journalists and anchors doing this the entire day. I get terribly bored with the incessant ‘Watch my show! This is exclusive, that is exclusive’ thing.”

Pratap Somvanshi, executive editor, Hindustan: “I share my stories’ links and TV show timings” on social media.

The use of social media for sharing other links:

Bishakha De Sarkar, the Telegraph: Facebook is a tool “to spread awareness about issues among young members of my team.  Because it’s a medium that they are familiar with, they are quick to respond to the links that I post especially for them.”

Ravish Kumar, NDTV (Hindi): “On many occasions I have used Twitter to share the news, and felt good about it. I also like to interact with people who I think are like-minded. I like responding to people who write on my timeline. The fact that you don’t know someone, but are still trying to figure out their views, is challenging and pleasurable. Sometimes these conversations make you look at things differently.”

Other uses of social media:

Atul Pandey, journalism student: I use Facebook for “finding agenda of the youth”.

A journalist: Facebook “tells u what your peers r talking about & helps crystallise yr own views.”

Murali Krishnan, freelance journalist (DW, Radio France and Radio Australia): Facebook is useful “to see what people have posted on contentious issues.”

Prashant Kumar, Facebook is useful for “having a page, and encouraging the audience to engage by various creative and promotional means.”

Ravish Kumar, NDTV (Hindi): “I follow people who write well or people who tweet news in a particular way. Sometimes I follow people for their taste in news. I don’t follow a celebrity: if at all I ever have, the reason must have been something other than their stardom.”

Personal uses of social media:

A writer and editor: “Twitter is helpful in connecting with writers, authors and publishing houses; keeping a tab on industry trends (what kind of books do well or are widely read).”

Teresa Rehman, editor, The Thumb Print magazine: “I am a media entrepreneur and social media has almost been a business partner for me.”

Ramakrishna Upadhya, a journalist working in English and Kannada: “It helps primarily in keeping in touch with other people; sometimes, it also gives ideas to work on or know what the others are doing.”

A journalist: Facebook is more of a “personal social media tool rather than a professional one.”

Sanjay, journalist: Facebook can help “people become better informed on national and global issues.”

A journalist from the Times of India: On Facebook “the groups are really helpful. Bet it Media Movements or PR Professionals or Media List.”

Dilip C. Mandal, former managing editor, India Today (Hindi): “There are so many things – personal opinions on different subjects, for example – that journalists can’t put in the print but can on social media.”

When it comes to the usefulness of social media for journalists, though, Twitter is much more popular than Facebook: of the 275 surveyed 118 (or 43 percent) said Twitter is more useful, against 42 (or 15 percent) for Facebook. For 35 percent, both Twitter and Facebook are equally useful. But there were also 10 journalists who said neither of the two forums is useful.

Is Facebook or Twitter more useful to you as a journalist?

Comments on the usefulness of Facebook and Twitter:

A technology writer: Twitter is the “best real-time search engine.”

A print journalist: “Use of Facebook has diminished sharply after taking up Twitter.”

A Times of India journalist: “Tracking twitter is a bit catchy. You need to follow the right people and avoid unnecessary clutter. And you need to keep checking twitter as info may slip any time.”

A journalist who freelances for India Today and Mid-Day: Twitter is a “great source for news and opinion from around the world and of a wider variety than Facebook.”

A digital media journalist: “Twitter is better suited as an information provider – though whatever you read there should be believed only based upon the credibility of the source.”

A print journalist: Twitter is “more useful than Facebook to find news and also to find out points of views. However, [it’s] still very unwieldy.”

Dilip C. Mandal, former managing editor, India Today (Hindi): “Facebook has strived to keep itself more democratic, unlike Twitter, which is personality-centric. Facebook allows you to be ‘friends’ with people (though of course there is a limit to that, after which it allows people to follow you) and there’s more scope for interaction. On Twitter, on the other hand, it’s always a Following-Followers relationship. In that sense Facebook is janta ka medium, people’s medium, while Twitter is elites’ medium.”

Comments on whether Twitter is less user-friendly for Indian-language journalists:

Ravish Kumar, NDTV (Hindi): “For me there is no difference between the two [i.e. Facebook and Twitter]. I type in Devanagari in both. I find it convenient to type in Hindi from my cell-phone. Sometimes the followers complain their phones can’t read a Hindi font, but I can’t help it: my English is bad. I can type in Hindi at the same speed at which someone would type in English. Now gradually most phones have started giving the facility of reading in Hindi fonts, so it would be less of an issue.”

Pratap Somvanshi, executive editor, Hindustan: “The limitation of 140 words is a big barrier for Hindi journalists because spellings in Hindi cover more characters than in English. That’s why Hindi people prefer Facebook rather than Twitter.”

Comments on social media-based responsibilities in media organisations:

Debraj Deb, the Northeast Today: “I am in the admin panel of the official page of my organization which requires me to update news feeds, pictures, opinions and other stuff on Facebook.”

Manu Moudgil, GoI Monitor: Facebook “gives good insights about how a post has worked on the page and what can be done to improve the [number of] views.” For Twitter “the mobile app is easier to use on the go as I need to keep tweeting policy news during the day. Facebook is comparatively cumbersome and needs a good connection for its app to work.”

Comment on social media-related HR policies:

Jaideep Sen, freelance journalist: “I strongly believe existing HR policies about monitoring Facebook/Twitter and other social networking activity of employees must be re-addressed and modified, appropriate to new age usage patterns, as opposed to blindly imposing restrictions that directly curb social networking interaction among employees.”

When and how did social media gain ground among the Indian journalists?

The potential of social media as a journalistic tool in India was first noticed during the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, when the mainstream print and broadcast media, including international outlets like BBC and CNN, used the information from Twitter and Facebook in their reports. While the BBC was criticized for sourcing news from unsubstantiated citizen reports on Twitter, many other global events in the coming years such as the Arab Spring, saw more journalists and news outlets everywhere using social media as a news source.

In India, the Anna Hazare movement of 2011 and the Delhi gang-rape protests towards the end of 2012 saw a large number of journalists using social media, Twitter especially, for obtaining real-time news as well as for enabling wider conversations with audiences across the world.

The changing nature of news gathering

The Weber Shandwick News Media Survey 2014 captured this changing nature of news gathering in India. Conduced across three metropolitan cities, Weber Shandwick surveyed 130 journalists and found that “51 percent of Indian journalists trust social media, corporate websites and third-party blogs as a credible information source.” In fact, “30 percent of the journalists surveyed said they go online first to research a story.” It’s not very surprising, then, to hear that “the survey shows 60 percent of Indian journalists are active users of Facebook & Twitter.”

In a 2013 paper published in an international journal Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism titled “Newswork and social media in the Delhi gang-rape case,” researchers Valerie Belair-Gagnon (Information Society Project, Yale Law School), Smeeta Mishra (Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia) and Colin Agur (Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism) noticed that journalists “kept track of the multiple ways in which the protests against the Delhi gang rape were shaping up in both online and offline spaces. With events unfolding in physical spaces and updates and analysis arriving online in real time, journalists gained a new and more complex understanding of what constituted a beat in their reporting. One of the journalists, Rohan V. of Mail Today, said: “These days I see more journalists and editors go to social media in response to a major event. You have to use social media because the conversation online is way ahead of what’s in the paper.”

Social media’s relationship with mainstream media

“Social Media is not competing with Mainstream Media (MSM),” Saikat Datta, the national security editor of the Hindustan Times, wrote in an article in September this year. “Instead, it is complementing it and helping it [MSM] find new ways to reach out to its audience. Sure, a story or two may break on Facebook, Quora or Twitter. But who breaks those stories consistently? Social Media whets the appetite for people to seek out new information. In the end, even those who started on social media, seek validation in MSM. This is because MSM invests in gathering and generating content. That is their business model.”

Journalism will survive, irrespective of the medium

In a panel discussion conducted at the Hindustan Times summit in November 2014 on the topic “Is social media killing traditional media?”, Katie Jacob Stanton, head of international strategy, Twitter, said: “It [Twitter] is a great opportunity to sort of democratize access to people of influence, to be able to ask the head of state or a public figure a question directly and to hear directly from the person. At the same time, we would always need journalists to make sense of the issues and to curate opinions and to curate different perspectives and offer opinions from the either side.”

HR policies on social media

Surthijith KK of Quartz reported in August about the Times of India coming up with a bizarre social media policy for their journalists: “Under a contract unveiled to employees last week, Bennett, Coleman and Company Ltd, India’s largest media conglomerate and publisher of the Times of India, Economic Times etc., ……told staffers they are not to post any news links on their personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. This runs counter to many social-media policies in newsrooms across the world, which often encourage journalists to share content widely.”

Here is what Saikat Datta said in his piece about media houses enforcing social media guidelines on their journalists: “When you are in the social network, you bring uniqueness to your social media profile, which is your greatest asset. In my view, as a journalist you bring a certain expertise to the constant flow of information out there. By virtue of your access to the powers-that-be, or your years on the beat, you develop insights that help your followers understand and consume the news. You are the curator in the museum of news. By making an attempt to homogenize the curator-journalists with such restrictive practices, you only end up denying your audience the variety they seek from the journalists they follow. In the long run, it will not work. If all bots could have their way, then algorithms could have ruled the world. But people like to interact with people, not automated or a closed group generating of mindless petabytes of information.”

Have Indian journalists arrived at a meaningful role for social media in their work?

According to a 2013 article in Neiman Lab, in the West, the traditional print media owes its decline to the rise of social media. In India, on the other hand, “the success of print removes much of the incentive for papers to prioritize their digital presence”. This explains why while “American and European news organizations are making Twitter and Facebook an essential part of their journalists’ work, Indian journalism is still searching for a meaningful role for social media.”

According to Karthik Subramanian of The Hindu, Indian newspapers are aware of the long-term potential, but have not implemented social media in a major way: ‘The cause of social media has been taken up strongly over the past three years, ever since [The Hindu] launched a redesigned website in August 2009. Our former editor-in-chief N. Ram and one of our directors, Malini Parthasarathy, are very active on Twitter. But not all journalists are. In fact, some of our best writers are inactive in the social media space. Siddharth Varadarajan, who took over as editor less than a year back, has been asking all young journalists to actively take to Twitter. But it is a mindset change, to ask digital immigrants –  traditional journalists who are just taking to Twitter – to be very open about the information they possess. It is a professional reflex to be a bit closed.

“The journalists we spoke to emphasized their desire to forge a stronger dialogue with readers, but several challenges stand in the way. With The Hindu, old battles have found a new stage on Twitter. Opponents of the paper’s editorial position on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue have criticized articles, columnists, and editors. As one reporter told us: “Since dissent is the biggest motivator on social media, it has been difficult for us to engage in a dialogue online.” The reporter said that the paper is genuine in its desire to discuss the Tamil issue and other controversial editorial positions. But some of its opponents see social media simply as a way to distract and discredit the paper’s editors.

“This is not the only political deterrent to social media use by journalists. In recent years, the Indian government has limited social media use in troubled regions, as it did during the recent protests in Assam. It has also blocked individual Twitter accounts. As one reporter said, “I followed Anonymous India on Twitter to know about the sites the hacker group was bringing down, but this handle has been blocked by the Indian government because they were using the Twitter account to launch DDOS [Distributed Denial of Service] attacks.”

Which categories of sources are most easily available through social media:

Freelance journalist Rohini Mohan, who was interviewed for the Sage journal paper “Newswork and social media in the Delhi gang-rape case” said that although social media gives access to sources, it overall plays a small part in her reporting: “I watch the Twitter accounts of some politicians and others in power. Many of their accounts, except those of Sushma Swaraj [Member of Parliament and Leader of the Opposition], Subramaniam Swamy [President, Janata Party] and Omar Abdullah [Chief Minister, Jammu & Kashmir] are updated by interns, so they’re useless. However, unless desperate, I don’t think I will ever use social media as a networking or contact-making tool. It has worked only rarely, and it has the danger of making me seem frivolous or lazy.

“It is only in the last 5–6 years that politicians even respond to email, and yes, some of the younger politicians and PAs do respond to personal Twitter/Facebook messages sometimes, but this is only with those I have already met first in person. The actual contacts are still made in the old way – calling incessantly, or grabbing their elbow at a press conference, or waiting weeks/months for a 10-minute interview.”

Mohan further added: “While social media in India helps reporters access people in diverse corners of the country and be aware of their concerns and moods while sitting at their desks, journalists need to apply the caution and professionalism they do offline.”

Some journalists on Twitter use the forum to contact all kinds of sources. Examples: in October Aman Sethi, who doesn’t tweet very frequently, asked Shashi Tharoor for his contact details: “@ShashiTharoor I’m a journalist with Business Standard, needed to get in touch with you – could you DM me your contact details?” (Of course we wouldn’t know whether Tharoor messaged Sethi the required details.)

Kashmiri journalist Mehboob Jeelani, who is currently a reporter with Fortune magazine in New York, uses Twitter frequently to get in touch with fellow journalists as well aspoliticians (“@ToniPreckwinkle Hi, I’m a reporter at Fortune. What’s the best way to contact you? I’m at— Look fwd. Thanks!)” and real estate agents (“@SepiNewYork Hi Sepi, Can you send me your email please?”).

Social media as the voice of the people

Some of the foreign correspondents also had something similar to say. Julien Bouissou from Le Monde, who was also interviewed for the Sage journal paper “Newswork and social media in the Delhi gang-rape case,” said Twitter gives priority to the voices of the urban middle class, intellectuals and political elites: “It’s more interesting to go to a chai shop in the streets. Twitter has a skewed vision of reality: it’s rich people, English-speaking and those who have access to a computer. I am wary of this skewed vision of India. … The danger with Twitter is that we lose touch with reality. I could have covered the demonstrations on Twitter, but while we are not in the field we don’t see people.”

Is social media less user-friendly for Indian-language journalists?

A 2012 study on the use of Twitter in Odisha by Samata Kumar Joshi showed that the trend of using Twitter as a journalistic tool had not yet caught up in the eastern state: while 78 percent of the surveyed journalists had a Twitter account, only 50 percent believed it to be useful in a professional sense. The author concluded that most of them are “not yet aware of how to use Twitter effectively for journalism,” even though they are curious about its potential benefits in gathering news. Given that Twitter is more suited for a mobile-internet format, he also added that “the lack of a 3G mobile-phone or a smartphone is also a factor for the scarce usage of Twitter by journalists” in Odisha.

Internet research shows that many of the popular Hindi journalists prefer Facebook over Twitter. Jansatta editor Om Thanvi, for example, has 2,000 followers on Twitter and 20,300 followers on Facebook where he is much more active and puts updates (and even replies to them) multiple times every day. Most of the English-language journalists, on the other hand, use Facebook privately: the former editor of The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan, for example, has an active Twitter account with 87,500 followers but uses his Facebook account only to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances. The same is also true for Hindi media houses: Aaj Tak has a very active Facebook page with 8.2 million followers, but a less popular Twitter account with 1.41 million followers.

(Abhishek Choudhary is with The Hoot. He tweets at @cyabhishek.)