"Ryan Blitstein, a staff writer at SF Weekly and former Columbia Journalism student ... shows you why reporters should learn more about such sites (he calls them "a goldmine for sources").Social networking Web sites are the bane of my existence. Almost every day, I receive an e-mail alerting me that someone I barely knew in high school wants to connect via Friendster. As annoying as these sites are, though, they're a goldmine for sources, especially among teens and young adults.
Friendster, MySpace, and Tribe are a 21st-century version of a little black book, calendar, photo album, diary, and telephone rolled into one. Everybody's information is public and, better yet, searchable, if you know where to look. Recently, I needed to find sources that fit a specific profile: Asian Americans who graduated from a certain San Francisco high school during the last few years. I focused on MySpace, the music-centered site that has become the online equivalent of the suburban mall for teenagers and college students. (If you don't know the difference between the sites, ask the youngest person in your office.) I registered, creating a simple MySpace profile (Ryan, Journalist, San Francisco). Then, under the Search option, I chose users who went to the school, narrowing the list to recent graduates. Several dozen profiles remained, many of which listed "Asian" under ethnicity. Sites also let you search by occupation, location, even last name.Social network reporting isn't without drawbacks, logistically and ethically. Many site users, despite what their profiles say, are under 18, so use the same caution you would when reporting on high school kids. Be aware that most people don't expect their profiles to be read by anyone other than their friends, much less to be cold-e-mailed by a journalist. Some of those I contacted responded as if someone had stolen and read their private diary. It's also a good idea, if you already have a profile, to create a new one for reporting -� after all, you don't want sources discovering any of your private information.
I use LinkedIn.com, a site that is used in business contexts rather than "I want to meet new people" contexts. In my next column, I will describe how I use it for my reporting, for journalist friends looking for sources and for non-journalists looking to connect for business purposes."