One of the toughest things about covering events is, on occasion, keeping a straight face when you hear people speak. It’s an essential skill for a reporter, though.

One of the biggest faux pas you can commit while working in the press areas at an event is reacting so that your personal views go on display. Go ask a reporter who found themselves cheering in the press box at a sports event what the overall reaction is. It’s not pretty, and that goes for just about anything you cover.

Most of the time I’m too busy scribbling away to react. I keep telling myself I’ll learn shorthand. I took a class in it back in high school. But somehow I never have picked up the formal technique. My notes are a mix of abbreviations, a few symbols and scratched words that are usable to me. Typing is faster, but there are some times when having a computer out just isn’t workable.

So that keeps me out of trouble most of the time. But a question asked at Friday’s diversity conference at Indian Hills pushed me to my limit. I’m sure my eyes rolled a bit, despite years of training, when a student asked who to follow on social media since that’s how people get their news these days.

I’ll give the student the benefit of the doubt in assuming the question was awkwardly phrased. I follow a number of reporters and news outlets on social media, and I’m better informed as a result. But I don’t lose sight of the fact, as this student did, that social media isn’t producing those stories.

Facebook isn’t reporting, folks. It’s not hiring reporters to go out and ask questions, then write or film stories based on what they find. In fact, the company was whining this week about a relative lack of local news in many parts of the country — crocodile tears when you consider the role Facebook has played in telling people news is free, thus harming local media.

Twitter isn’t doing that, either. Neither are any of the other social media options out there. When people say they get news through social media, they mistake the conduit for the product.

News outlets and reporters use social media to make their work more accessible, and they continue to be the sources for what social media claims as its own. The tweets and posts that people read remain the result of hard work put in by reporters and their organizations every day. Social media may be where you saw it, but don’t mistake that for where the story originated.

Every now and then someone will tell me that they don’t just read the Courier. Most, thinking I’ll be offended, are surprised at my reaction: “Good.” The world is too big, there is too much happening, for any one news outlet to give anything like a complete picture. Our focus is on Ottumwa and the surrounding area. If you want to learn about the wider world, you really do need to expand your intake.

My daily list includes stories from four or five papers, the Associated Press, and a couple of international outlets like the BBC. If I find a reporter whose work impresses me, I’ll follow them on Twitter so I can see more of it. That, to me, is one of the primary values of social media.

But saying that’s where the news comes from? Don’t make me laugh.

No, really. If I’m working, don’t make me laugh.

Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.