Patrick Swayze and the limits of Twitter as journalism

Inews-graphics-2008-_658425a‘m a big fan of Twitter as a tool for journalists. There’s a large and active network of staff journalists at indie magazines and major news outlets, freelancers , bloggers,  “citizen journalists” (do people still use that term?) that communicate and distribute news via Twitter, and I think Twitter- and microblogging in general – presents new ways for journalists to distribute  the news and interact with the public  in ways not previously imagined.

From the eyewitness postings from the terror attacks in Mumbai last year to this week’s earthquake in Los Angeles, there are even examples of Twitter as journalism with those close to the scene reporting in real time.

But I’ll be the first to admit there are  huge  limits to Twitter as a source for journalistic content, as evidenced this morning the the Patrick Swayze debacle. After a radio station in Florida erroneously reported the death of Patrick Swayze, the news spread quickly and became  a trending topic on Twitter, with individuals posting condolences without any verifcation of the source.

And that’s a big problem, one that’s happened a few times. Even the previously mentioned Twitter reports on the Mumbai attacks were littered with misinformation. 

Tom’s Tech blog wrote back in November :

If you watch Twitter you’ll see people reporting an attack at the Marriot Hotel in Mumbai.  The problem is there was NO ATTACK on the Marriot.  The Ramada hotel next door was attacked by several gun men but nothing’s happened at the Marriot.

Now imagine, if you’re someone who has family or friends at the Marriot right now.  You’d be scared out of your mind over information that’s completely false. 

I’m sorry but it really makes me angry.  What you have here are people who simply don’t care if they get the news right.  They’re turning the most dire of situations into entertainment by using Twitter to “be involved in the story.”  They throw their little tweets out not caring who they scare half to death and then brag about how great Twitter is for “beating the mainstream media at reporting the news.”

I’m of the opinion that there’s opportunity here for professional journalists to take the lead in establishing a process of vetting/gatekeeping when it comes to news content on microblogs. iJournalists have been some of the earliest adopters of Twitter andhave exploited it in innovative ways.

As with a lot of issues surrounding social media, cynics can choose view the Swayze debacle as an example of the failings of social media in journalism, but the big thinkers in media are already eyeing this and other examples as an opportunities  for journalism to reinvent itself  within the new media landscape.

Comments (1)

The biggest problem with pointing to this or the Mumbai situation as a failing of Twitter as journalism is that Twitter – as you rightly state – is a tool. It isn’t journalism anymore than a typewriter or computer is journalism. And just as I don’t expect everyone who uses a typewriter or computer to turn out journalism, I don’t expect that every Tweet will be journalistic.

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