News Journalism and the Social Media: Reporting Events in 140 Characters

The internet has undeniably changed the way we write. Blogs, online Newspapers and Magazine websites have formed a new tool of communication in which one piece of writing can reach thousands, if not millions, of people all around the world. Facebook and Twitter emerged in the 2000s and since then information is shared by the hour, minute and second between friends and strangers. Social media has even shaped our writing. Twitter is limited to 140 characters per tweet and the new language forms have become accustomed to, we integrate in everyday life  – It’s very common for people to write or say “OMG” (Oh my god) and “LOL” (Laugh out Loud). However, with social media playing such a big role in online journalism, one must question if the competition for first-seen news is overpowering. Overpowering to the extent of misinformation being reported – tweeted by one, read by thousands. What does social media implicate for traditional journalism?

Founded by Jack Dorsey in 2006, Twitter has transformed communication around the world. Described by Leslie D’Monte as “the SMS of the internet”, Twitter has been a source of entertainment, information and controversy for years.

Originally I thought that Twitter was a place of pointless conversation, sharing music and photography and shameless voyeurism. Most of the tweets I see are from people stuck on the train, running late for work and then arriving at work. Not Booker Prize winning accounts really. However, since 2009, more and more online newspapers and magazines have made themselves available on twitter. It’s difficult to log on and not see a wave of tweets from news journalists, reporting second-by-second news happening all around the world. It is not just journalists reporting the news anymore. Now that twitter users have peaked in activity and the twitter app is available on many smart phones, ordinary people can now share what they see.

As Gabrielle Levy discusses in her 2010 paper ‘Social Media and Journalism’, the famously named ‘Miracle on the Hudson‘ incident in 2009 was a major piece of inspiration and patriotism reported by the news channels. However, according to Levy, the first report of the troubled plane landing on the river was not from an avid news reporter, but from the twitter user Janis Krum. Attached with a picture from his iPhone, he uploaded his tweet onto his account, long before any of the news channels knew of the incident.

Whilst reading Gabrielle Levy’s  paper, it is clear that she believes that social media has been an improvement to the traditional workflow of journalism. It creates more positions in the field, more ways to get your news seen by other followers and brings knowledge to people. However, I want to discuss what happens when the competition becomes too much and mistakes such as misinformation and idle gossip are spread around the internet like an oil fire.

During August 2011, England became a topic of international discussion when a peaceful protest sparked London riots. As building were set alight, police were attacked and shops were looted, rumours started spreading around Twitter during all these incidents. The Guardian published an analysis of 2.6 million tweets and how the rumours started. Misinformation such as “#LondonRiots hearing reports that london zoo was broken into and a large amount of animals have escaped. Too far! Thats not cool 😦” and “Daily Mail reporting ppl cooking their own McDonald’s during the #tottenhamriot. Can’t your wack reporters find more meaningful details?” started spreading around the internet within minutes. Both of these rumours turned out to be false but the flow of tweets in relation to the two rumours were staggering. Is it dangerous to have a website that lets anyone share anything without verification?

Scott Rosenberg has defended claims that Twitter is used as a vehicle for misinformation and misconduct. He believes that it is the individual mistakes by journalists which is comprising the traditional internet journalism. He believes that some reporters “fail to verify claims in the ways that they might have done offline” and that the internet has become integrated into the newsroom culture.

It is true that it depends on the integrity of the journalist to check reports and facts when reporting news. With 200 million tweets a day worldwide, it is seemingly impossible to verify all tweets and many still seem oblivious to how content can travel over twitter in a matter of hours. It is also important to remember that for one false tweet, there may be hundreds or thousands of correct tweets.

More importantly, even if incorrect news is spread over the internet, it can be quicker to counter-claim tweets over the social media website. Today, Anthony Haylock and Piers Morgan have addressed rumours forming on twitter about the circumstances surrounding ex-Footballer Gary Speed‘s death. Since Speed reportedly committed suicide in November 2010, rumours over the internet have begun spreading. Many users suggested that Speed was gay, or having an illicit affair or was about to be exposed in the tabloids for some kind of personal scandal. Anthony Haylock took to twitter to discount these suggestions, using the hashtag #Rumourfail.

It is sometimes hard to accept that social media will play a crucial role in journalism and online reporting but it is important to remember that rumours may eventually make it through. This can be expected within any news organisation, especially when initially reporting a story and an official statement or information has not been made public yet but throughout all the criticism of social media, it is important to remember that it also has the power to form reporters out of the public. As technology seemingly moves faster and faster, events will be reported more and more frequently and for the number of tweets with misinformation, there are a substantiated number which are reporting verified accounts. Rather criticising social media, it may be more beneficial to adopt its style. It can be hard to believe that a micro-blog consisting of less than 140 characters can make a substantial difference to the journalism field but it can and it may be easier to embrace it than to resist it.

2 Comments to “News Journalism and the Social Media: Reporting Events in 140 Characters”

  1. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post

  2. A round of applause for your article.Really thank you! Will read on…

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