I often say that today, Social Media, is like the “Wild West.” Out here on the frontier of communications, there aren’t many rules so it takes strength and smarts to make your way over unpaved terrain into unexplored territory. There’s no better example happening right now than what I call “Twitter Journalism.”
We’re seeing it first, on the national level, in sports reporting. This summer, in multiple instances, sports journalists have reported news on their Twitter accounts before vetting it through an editorial process. They get the “scoop” instantly, beating the competition. The most recent example happened last Friday at 3:59 p.m. when Sports Illustrated and si.com’s pro football columnist, Peter King, broke the news that the New England Patriots won’t sign ex-con quarterback Michael Vick, with an afternoon “tweet” – to a “following” on Twitter of nearly 36,000 – before even reporting the story on his outlet’s Web site.
Just yesterday, sports media powerhouse ESPN issued a widely blogged-upon new policy for its staffers and social media, some of whom broke news of NBA free agent signings this summer without ever working through an editor. This type of reporting is instant – even faster than the Web reporting which has changed journalism in recent years.
So will it spread to other forms of journalism, like hard news reporting? I decided to talk to a few journalists who regularly use Twitter to find out.
One reporter for a national print/Web outlet told me that if she was to report news, even if confirmed, via Twitter without first working through her editorial chain, she would expect to be fired. At that publication, I’m told, the process for breaking news is to write for the Web site first, then the outlet would send a link to that Web story via Twitter.
A veteran radio reporter with local and national assignments told me that his first responsibility with breaking news is to his “day job” – so his stories go first on the air. That’s not surprising considering that radio – like new media – can have a great sense of immediacy and can provide near-instant reporting. He does use Twitter, he says, to call attention to stories he reports on the air or on the Web. He also says he shares concern that some journalists have about using Twitter to “cross the line” to commentary.
I also received an interesting perspective from Tina Reed, a reporter for AnnArbor.com – a new local news Web site in Michigan. She has been “tweeting” for about a year and has actually broken news on Twitter – with links to just-posted Web coverage. That’s a hybrid approach, it seems. She considers all information online, regardless of platform, “… representative of my work” and says anything on Twitter should be consistent with what she would send to an editor. Reed sees some potential danger in “retweeting” (forwarding) news items via Twitter, which many journalists do. She says, “when retweeting, I also make an effort to use tweets from tweeters that I know or are more established.”
So where is this leading? One of two ways, which could vary among news organizations. Either this will be a continued way to break news and meet demand for instant information. Or it could be a reason for news organizations to “crack down” on their processes. We’ll keep an eye on it for you.