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REVEAL | December 4, 2023

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Interview with Simone Stoffers, ARD.ZDF Medienakademie

Interview with Simone Stoffers, ARD.ZDF Medienakademie
Jochen Spangenberg

How do journalists deal with content from Social Networks? What are respective challenges and requirements? Which solutions are used in the business? To find out, we talked to Simone Stoffers, former journalist of NDR’s extra 3, current Head of Unit at ARD.ZDF Medienakademie.


Simone Stoffers works as Head of the Unit Online / Trimedia / Cross Media at the ARD.ZDF Medienakademie (Media Academy). The purpose of the training centre of German public service broadcasters ARD and ZDF is to teach journalists and media professionals in a variety of fields, many of them related to practical journalistic work. Previously, Simone worked as a journalist for NDR’s satirical political magazine extra 3. With this background, Simone is very knowledgeable about the state-of-the-art as well as pressing and challenging issues in the field of journalism, especially when it comes to dealing with Social Media.

We are delighted that Simone found the time to talk to us. Here are some extracts of an interview we conducted with Simone earlier in 2014.

Jochen Spangenberg: Which Social Networks do you use professionally?

Simone Stoffers: I use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Blogs and Google+ almost daily; Instagram, Flickr and TumblR several times a week.

Do you differentiate between private and professional use?

I have different accounts for private and professional use.

Use of Social Media

Can you tell us more about your professional usage of Social Networks?

I use Social Networks primarily for the research of particular topics, and to verify material. Furthermore, Social Networks are useful to distribute already existing content, to get in touch with eyewitnesses of events, to interact with the audience and to obtain information in the newsgathering process.

For what do you use content from Social Networks?

I post my own material and share material from others. Some relevant and useful content I integrate in my own work. And, as stated beforehand, I use Social Networks to get in touch with people who posted and shared stuff.

Can you tell us more about how you use content residing in Social Networks for information gathering?

I mostly use it topic-related. By that I mean finding out something about the immediacy of an event or occurrence, what started it and so on. Then, I also use it to “dig deeper” into a story or topic I work on. Another use is searching for specific aspects or angles of a story.

I do not use it much for searching for stories, but more for issues and aspects around a story. If events of relevance happen, I find out about them through my network and the lists I have curated, especially of people I follow on Social Networks.

Verification of Social Media content

What about verification? Do you verify content you find in Social Networks?

Yes, I always try to check the accuracy of content I find. Verification is of specific importance when the content is re-used, shared or becomes part of my research or storytelling.

How do you verify content?

There are various steps involved here. They include finding the source or origin of a particular content item. Then, I try and find other sources who report about the issue. Checking components of the content such as pictures or text is another part of the verification process. So is checking out information about the contributor, such as contact details, URLs of sites on which the contributor is active, and previous activities.

What tools and tactics do you use in the verification process?

For image verification I use Google Image Search and TinEye. For checking on people I use Namechecker and the like, Google, Xing etc. Google’s phrase search is also useful. So are statistics databases.

Google offers many useful tools. But, in this context, it is also important to point out the pitfalls and shortcomings of tools such as Google. We do that regularly in our seminars at the ARD.ZDF Medienakademie. Taking the Google example: Google, as well as YouTube by the way, always filters and personalizes results based on previous activities. Consequently, search results largely depend on the user profile, search location and previous user requests. Many journalists are not aware of this. Changing this is one of the purposes of our seminars! For example we teach seminar attendees to use so-called “non-localized searches” such as [NCR stands for “No Country Redirect”. It takes users back to the regular, English-speaking without the local results. Note that it will redirect to, so if you do not see the /ncr after you press Enter, that is normal – information in italics here added by Jochen Spangenberg]

Challenges and Requirements

If you had a wish concerning Social Media verification and dealing with related content, what would that be?

Maybe some of the things I can think of exist already. However, I have quite some list.

To start with I’d like a tool that shows me all comments of a person on Social Networks in a kind of bundled way, what he / she is doing in other Social Networks. This would, ideally, allow me to see what kind of person that is, whether s/he is posting credible information in general, what type of information that is etc. All this would serve to get the best possible picture of a person.

Then, it would also be useful to have a tool into which I could insert content items, and the tool then returns me information such as where a picture, text etc. has first appeared or where it originated. It would be good to be able to see who said something first, who used something first etc. Of course, all this needs to be provided in a user-friendly way.

Finally a tool that can compare images with individual frames from a video and check whether an image originated in a video would also be very nice to have.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles and challenges when it comes to verification of Social Media content?

That the tools I wish for and what I outlined beforehand do not yet exist, as far as I know, namely a good overview of cross-platform Social Media activities of a person and reliable indicators where content first appeared. Plus that there are no reliable tools that can check whether images have been taken from a video.

Another challenge is that it is often difficult to get in touch with the source or originator of content residing in Social Networks, especially if this has to happen quickly.

Anything else you would like to share with us in this context?

For media organisations, having a well thought out Social Media strategy is essential these days. They need to transform from being a distributor of information to an organizations that, in addition, also enters into dialogue with its users. For some journalists it is difficult to keep up with all that is required in this process of transformation.

It is thus important and advisable that dealing with Social Media is being considered as a vital part of journalistic work. All that is required in this context can not be done on top of everything else, but needs to become an integral component of tasks such as research, finding stories and topics, the subsequent evaluation of sources and such like. With adequate time to do so. All this, obviously, requires journalists being trained accordingly when it comes to dealing with Social Networks and content found therein.

It is just a matter of having the skills to find the “right” information and material, and being able to filter information sensibly.

One consequence of these trends, and undermining the fact that content residing in Social Networks can have tremendous value for journalistic reporting, is that many media organisations now have specific units dedicated to dealing with and verifying Social Media content. This is especially the case when it comes to news reporting.

Jochen Spangenberg: Simone, thank you very much for your time and sharing these insights with us!


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