How journalists should use Twitter
Today the Columbia Journalism Review has posed the question, How should journalists use Twitter? The question comes out of yet another emergency of global significance where the news spread rapidly on Twitter – this time the Mumbai terror attacks
Go to CJR to read their brief introduction to what is more of a newsroom discussion being conducted in the comments. There are some good points made.
This is my initial reaction…
Online news has been in various places (including the recent MEAA Future of Journalism report) described as more “event-driven”, with a lack of analysis that has formerly balanced out the print edition. I disagree that all news has been balanced in that way.
“a reporter showed up from an outlet thatshall remain nameless asking about an incident that happened 20 minutes earlier and four blocks away. …Local MSM: either figure itout or die trying.”
The nightly broadcast TV news has always been event-driven, as has the hourly bulletin radio news. Deeper analysis has been left to long-form programs with a focus on investigation. With that in mind I say that yes, like other forms of news, Twitter is event-driven. It conveys the immediacy of what is happening in the form of live text updates but it is just that, one form, one medium of choice to convey information. It is a form that is useful in lieu of other forms that may be preferable, like live vision (via TV or web streaming), or at length descriptions of events that have unfolded so far, and explanations of the circumstances surrounding an event.
In the comments at CJR, many people are worried about the face value with which Twitter updates might influence a reporter’s understanding of an event, while others rightly say it should be treated much the same as a member of the public calling something in – it needs to be able to be verified. Just like local contacts, however, a journalist can also be building up trusted social networking contacts, whose news tips or inside word a journalist might be willing to accept at face value.
Journalists have never underestimated the value of sources, and social networking sources should be treated the same. Digital media may have created a different world to one most journalists are familiar with, but some things remain the same – journalists have contacts they regularly communicate with, with whom they build relationships. There may be casual contacts who only occasionally pass on an interesting bit of news, and then others with more clout who are an immense help to getting an inside story. With a vast array of experts and contacts available online, particularly through social networks, Twitter is just one of those essential tools.
But I digress.
Journalists should use Twitter:
- to find contacts
- to maintain and communicate with contacts and their audience
- to monitor keywords relevant to their round (their beat, for my American friends)
- to monitor updates around a specific geographic location.
A journalist might want to monitor Twitter updates by location to be aware of anything significant mentioned in their local area (like an emergency), or because a significant event will be taking place in a specific location, like the Republican National Convention.
I mention that because one of the best things I read recently about the possible use of Twitter as an “event-driven” source was its use at the RNC, and how mainstream media was left far behind.
Albert Maruggi observed: “[Twitter is] the police scanner of 21st century newsroom. This from a guy that used to rewrite AP copy for 11pm newscast.”
Currently assigned to the enviable police desk reporting round, I enjoyed this analogy. Like a scanner, Twitter is a non-stop flow of information; if your ear isn’t attuned, or you’re not listening to the right frequency, you could easily miss a big story in all the static.
“…Every local media outlet needs to do what the Pioneer Press is doing. By using their Twitter account as a place to post links to stories and place them in context, it gives me a credible local source AND they are looked upon favorably by the Twitterverse.
I will leave you with one anecdotal piece of evidence: As I was at a street corner downtown Saint Paul checking my feed to see where the next hotspot was, a reporter showed up from an outlet thatshall remain nameless asking about an incident that happened 20 minutes earlier and four blocks away. …Local MSM: either figure itout or die trying.”
In future posts I plan to expand on some of the ways I use social networking – particularly Twitter – as a journalist, and some of the tools that help in that use.
What I worry about is when an over-enthusiastic marketer, or just someone out to wreak havoc, executes a coordinated “Twitter attack” designed to play the mainstream media for a fool. How long till we see the first fake emergency or breaking news scam go worldwide in a matter of minutes through Twitter?