Ask most journalists about social media and they will immediately think of Facebook and Twitter, but social media is so much more than the major social networks. Humans are social creatures and whenever there is a new forum of communications there is almost always a social element. Online discussion forums began in the late 1970s long before the internet was available outside of the research and defence communities. Usenet and dialup bulletin board systems allowed people to discuss topics of personal and professional interest and, despite being overshadowed by modern social networks, many discussion forums remain vibrant hubs of conversation.
When I train journalists to use social media for newsgathering, I always make a point of mentioning online discussion forums because they can be extremely valuable if you want to reach professionals talking about something in the news related to their industry. My standard example is pilots discussing a plane crash like the Asiana flight 214 Boeing 777 crash over the weekend. If you want to see an example of how useful this can be, check out this summary by James Fallows of The Atlantic of pilots discussing the crash as well as an email from a reader. Fallows summarised the posts from PPRuNe, the Professional Pilots Rumour Network. The discussion is amazing detailed (and long, at 41 pages) with a series of rapid updates immediately after the crash. Of course, Fallows is an “instrument-rated pilot” so he brings quite a bit of knowledge to the post, and he helpfully translates some of the impenetrable alphabet soup used in professional aviation. Fallows says, “The opaqueness of the terminology is unfortunately typical of the Telex-era legacy coding of aviation announcements.”
It used to be a lot easier for journalists to find relevant conversations, as Google used to have a Discussions search that was focused on forums, but that now seems to have been rolled into Google Groups. It will still search Usenet groups and some mailing lists, but the search is not as comprehensive as Google Discussions once was. To search discussion forums, Boardreader seems to have very similar features to Google’s old Discussions search, so is probably the best place to search.
I always recommend that journalists know the online sources related to their beat, and this is a great reminder of looking beyond the usual suspects.
Note: If you want to see for yourself the breadth of discussion online about the crash, I’d recommend that you search for “Asiana Flight 214”. When I used the search term “Asiana 214”, for some reason Google thought I was looking for Asian porn.