Slugger O'Toole

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Blessed are the newsbreakers; but which ones can you trust in the age of Twitter?

Mon 12 November 2012, 3:13pm

There’s a number of great pieces online about where new authority is emerging to challenge the older models, particularly in the wake of the US election and superstorm Sandy. Forbes had this to say in response to a mainstream anchor thanking people for ‘helping out’:

News flash for my local news anchors: the “amateurs” aren’t “helping out” the “professionals.” They are mostly ignoring them. They are mostly sending their pictures to their friends, not to you.

And we’ve seen the (quite reasonable) claims that it was big data rather than individual experts who got the election results right. The commentariat relegated to the status of ill-prepared, would be Astrologists.

Closer to home, Phil O’Kane picked up on a miscue from BBCNI on the illness of Henry McCullough, which was reported and then retweeted by the BBCNI. To declare my own culpability in this, I also re-tweeted it thinking I was quoting a reliable source.

It isn’t the first time, but when will it be the last time? Death hoaxes are becoming a norm through social media, and while it can be irritating, let’s get back to journalism doing the job it set out to do: reporting facts. Can we please stop trying to report the news first.

This is becoming a big problem with so many media outlets, and so many inept, amateur, writers. The BBC appear to be propagating this idea in an effort to keep up, but rather, we need to ensure that news can be relied upon, and the BBC is doing its very best in recent weeks, months and years to ensure that it loses the trust we once had in it.[emphasis added]

Phil’s question’ a good one. And one that asks questions of the way we use Twitter.

Often these days, I’m use it merely to re-tweet what’s new rather than comment. That’s often putting your judgement in the hands of others that I ordinarily trust without necessarily testing it as I would if I were committing to a blog.

Twitter does get it right, in the end. But only after a lot of mistakes and/or partial reporting. The arc of a story that once was only seen inside news rooms is now out on the Tweetdeck for all to see, examine and criticise.

That means living with and owning your mistakes. And as Phil notes, maybe backing off the strongly felt need that all news oriented creatures have to be first with everything.

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Comments (9)

  1. jthree (profile) says:

    Ralph McLean rang it in to the BBC newsroom who foolishly believed him

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  2. Nevin (profile) says:

    “Blessed are the newsbreakers”

    Twitter isn’t the only achilles’ heel; there’s also the reliance on out-sourcing without cross-checking. Back in 2009, I blogged a story about how an inaccurate advertisement had morphed, via a wire feed, into an unchecked widespread news item.

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  3. andnowwhat (profile) black spot says:

    At the moment, there is a lot of activity going on in Gaza, with the Israelis of course, but the news is only reporting the Syrian issue. Thanks to Twitter, I am aware of the former. The IDF twitter feed is pushing hard at the moment, and I take their accuracy the same as all other tweets.

    The media has been fooled long before the electronic media came on the scene, as has the print format, most typically epitomised by the Hitler Diaries

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  4. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    But there’s a sense in which the fooling is not documented though…

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  5. chewnicked (profile) says:

    Can I test this by announcing that Sinn Fein’s chair of Down Council will be announcing his resignation from the party at tonight’s council meeting?

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  6. Neil (profile) says:

    Phillip Schofield’s list springs to mind for using Twitter to get his hands on a list of names of legally innocent people to potentially besmirch. But you know the way the internet is that the piss takers will win out in the end, they always do.

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  7. Kevsterino (profile) says:

    I used to feel sympathy for the mediacrity who added links to the chains of rumors. Just to beat the daily news cycle they would skip the ‘multisourcing’ step and pass whatever unfiltered info they had back to New York (in our American case).

    In my youth, the News cycle was daily during the Vietnam conflict. It is now, since people grab for the news at the instant they wish to view it, a thing of the past. Communication is instantaneous. Journos don’t have a deadline anymore. Therefor, they should do the responsible thing and make sure they’ve got the goods before selling them.

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  8. ThomasMourne (profile) says:

    I find it amusing that we continually have ‘breaking news’. Isn’t ‘news’ just that – something new happening? Many TV news programmes now get ahead of themselves by ignoring ‘past’ news and reporting ‘future’ news – telling us what is going to happen tomorrow or next week. Apart from ITV, which uses 2 presenters to front a non-news programme.

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  9. John Ó Néill (profile) says:

    There also seem to be journos in a grey area here that aren’t in print or broadcast and do mostly digital (eg TheJournal or TheDetail). They regularly vent over stories they break being run by print/broadcast without acknowledging their source. I doubt anyone on Twitter hasn’t been guilty of reTweeting a factoid or false story. At the same time, you can collect your news and moods by crowd-sourcing commentary on events that are and aren’t being reported by the mainstream (the endless shelling of Gaza seeming to be an obvious story that isn’t being reported if Twitter is anything to go by)

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