Twitter and journalism: their roles in the media ecosystem

Twitter and journalism: their roles in the media ecosystem

Chris Tucker, our CIPR diploma course leader, let out a silent ‘hurrah’ when she read a piece by Helen Dunne, editor of CorpComms, a while ago questioning whether or not Twitter was replacing journalism. Chris explains why:

pic of Chris tucker

"It is not so much that I want to defend ‘dead tree media’ as traditional journalism has been called but I think it is helpful to get some perspective around the social media vs traditional media debate.

In her piece Helen comments that when people believe they are getting their news from Twitter what they often mean is that their Twitter feed curates tweets of the people they are following which in turn provides links to news or research often on mainstream news outlets such as the BBC.  Many Twitter fans assert that Osama bin Laden’s death was broken on Twitter but as Helen observes the original tweet was from an IT consultant who tweeted about a helicopter hovering above Abbottabad and how unusual an event that was.

The rest is history. It would appear that recent academic research has also backed up Helen’s view.  Academics from the University of Edinburgh and University of Glasgow have searched through 51 million tweets and examined in depth 27 high-profile news events in 2011.  The researchers discovered that the traditional newswires broke the news first 15 times, with Twitter leading eight times and a further four events covered almost simultaneously.

For some events, such as the capture of Tripoli by Libyan rebels and the arrest of Serbian war criminal Goran Hadzic, the first mentions on Twitter occurred more than 15 minutes after newswires broke the news.

The study concluded that “while Twitter can break news before newswires in limited cases, for major events there is little evidence that it can replace newswire providers".  Of course we could also observe that from a standing start even this study demonstrates that Twitter is becoming an important source of a certain type of news.  The study found that Twitter was better for breaking natural disasters or very local news and that included reporting first the start of the London riots.

Twitter is also becoming an invaluable research tool for many journalists giving an up-to-the minute check on public opinion and providing case studies in an instant.  But as a source of important breaking news some journalists are beginning to think Twitter is too big and recent hoax Tweets and hacked accounts have undermined its credibility.

It is perhaps more useful to think that Twitter is playing a role in what some are now calling the new ‘media ecosystem’ where a variety of news outlets in effect feed off each other.  As Daniel Finkelstein said in this week’s Times about Twitter and the Arab Spring “Twitter isn’t an ideology, it’s an instant messaging system.”  It’s not a PR strategy either."

Inspiring words from Chris Tucker as always!

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