Tweet first Think later

There is of course a reason behind all this noise surrounding the role of the social media in mainstream journalism, the role of Twitter in particular.

So why is this happening?  Well as a part of the social media and a portal for UGC, Twitter is a micro blogging website which allows you in 140 characters to speak briefly and concisely, as well as connect using @reply and the #hash tags opening a gateway to all the other people who are speaking about the same things as you are.

As Hermida (2010) states in the journal TWITTERING THE NEWS (based on Java et al., 2007, p. 2) people use Twitter for four reasons: daily chatter, conversation, sharing information and reporting news.  Both sharing information and reporting the news is distinctively relevant to journalism.  And if as according to tech crunch 170Million users are active (out of 500 million) the information reaches a vast amount of people, clarifying why traditional media has merged into the online social media.

According to Farhi, 2009; Posetti, 2009 in Hermida 2010, UK national newspapers had 121 official Twitter accounts by July 2009, with more than one million followers (Coles, 2009).

Highlighting a time of change:

Traditional journalism defines fact as information and quotes from official sources, which in turn has been identified as forming the vast majority of news and information content. This news model is in a period of transition, however, as social media technologies like Twitter facilitate the immediate dissemination of digital fragments of news and information from official and unofficial sources over a variety of systems and devices.

According to Newman 2009 study, The rise of social media and its impact on mainstream journalism, one of the main reasons why mainstream media organisations are interacting seriously with the social media is because they get the opportunity to cover more material:  “With audiences spending more and more time with social networks, these have become the obvious place to look for the ‘hard to reach’ or reconnect with former loyalists.”  Of course official sources are not always available, so Twitter gives more opportunities for news to flow.

However the social media is a mixed environment of professionals and non-professionals which is the cause of certain problems especially when it comes to breaking news.  The issue is that citizens are not acting as journalists, they are not prepared to carry out the full responsibilities and duties that a normal journalist would do when reporting a story.  Citizens, lacking training and expertise  would end up making a personal account of what they saw which automatically puts them into the witness category rather than of the news reporters.

In Newman 2009, Matthew Weaver of the Guardian points out one core issue:  “First the tweets come, then the pictures, then the video and then the wires”, he said. “What people are saying at one point in the day is then confirmed by more conventional sources four or five hours later.”

This is the origin of inaccuracies, Growing points out in Newman (2009) that, “new digital landscape can make or break reputations at breathtaking speed, the responsibilities of traditional media organisations will be more acute than ever. And that will require new skills and training in social media techniques as well as great judgment about when and how to reflect the information and conversation that is swirling around a story. Go too fast, and you risk undermining the credibility and trust of the brand, too slow, and you risk being left behind.”

The BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph, CNN and New York Times are some big players of mainstream media involved with Twitter and have all faced challenges with information gathering and distributing.  Do you publish and then verify or should you stay behind? Will it really cost your reputation if you merely Tweet?  According to this article tweets travel faster than corrections.

Since Twitter allows citizens to act as ‘journalists’ or contributing witnesses, they can provide “first accounts, images or video of a news event” (Ingram, 2008).  But can raise challenging questions. Are they really contributing to journalism, and if they are is this always efficient or do they end up causing more harm than good?

Hermida (2010) states that:

“Concerns by journalists that many of the messages on Twitter amount to unsubstantiated rumours and wild inaccuracies are raised when there is a major breaking news event, from the Mumbai bombings to the Iranian protests to Michael Jackson’s death (Arrington, 2008; Sutter, 2009). The unverified nature of the information on Twitter has led journalists to comment that ‘‘it’s like searching for medical advice in an online world of quacks and cures’’ (Goodman, 2009) and ‘‘Twitter? I won’t touch it. It’s all garbage’’ (Stelter, 2009).”

Preston said that this is like stating the obvious: “Don’t say anything on your Twitter or Facebook page that you wouldn’t say on TV or radio.” (Newman, 2009)

In Newman (2009) Sambrook, Head of Global News demonstrates why journalists should be cautious when using social media:

Social media sites are the new towns, or cities or neighbourhood bars, the places where the public gather and discuss things. Just as you wouldn’t take a conversation from the neighbourhood bar and broadcast it as the truth, you need to do your own checking and verification and all those things still need to happen in your use of social media too.

Iran elections, G20 protests in London and the London bombings are three cases that highlight in particular how the use of twitter helps in covering the news rather than replacing the traditional way of coverage.

Twitter is a great real-time tool for distributing opinion, but it is no replacement for curated media coverage of the crisis. (Keen in Newman 2009):

Indeed, it remains the case that most people still saw the protests through the lens of the mainstream media, either via the websites of major news organisations or particularly via TV bulletins. Nevertheless, it is significant that, as the PEJ has demonstrated, the social media elements were so prominent and so vital for effective storytelling. (Newman 2009)

As it turns out that the mainstream heavily relies on Twitter and UGC emerging especially at times of crisis and this has shown to cost some their reputation.

As Newman (2009) states the BBC was criticised during the Mumbai attacks in 2008 for republishing unverified information sourced from Twitter.

Herman, BBC editor in Newman (2009):

Audience feedback to my blog post showed three general reactions: a) Don’t use Twitter and other informal sources – you are the BBC – we want solid gold facts and nothing else. b) Use social networks. It’s intelligent to see what others know. c) Use both, but LABEL clearly, signpost, even keep them separate.

The new media though proved useful and even vital at times has the power to undermine the very concept of news reporting if fully relied on.

Why? Well in my view because..

Twitter does not give reporters the right to sit behind their desks in the newsroom and merely fill up gaps with words they are being fed.  Journalism is an active profession, a profession that says stand up and go find answers to the peoples questions – then go back and present your answers in the most precise and concise way.  Make sense of the obscure.

2 Responses to “Tweet first Think later”
  1. “The issue is that citizens are not acting as journalists, they are not prepared to carry out the full responsibilities and duties…”. I think this is an interesting and valid statement to make but does that matter today? Does it really stop people reading tweets from citizens journalists?

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