Journalists Wonder: Tweet First — or Get the Facts Straight?

twitter, tweet, facebook

I just got back from the 140 Conference in New York. I’m enjoying and appreciating the compliments and the comments from friends and colleagues about my talk at the panel there. One of the most recent comments comes from a friend who doesn’t work in the media at all but has certainly consumed her share of news over the years. She had a few good things to say about tweeting as competition between news organizations. Is it more important to tweet first or just to be correct? As a longtime journalist – I know that “correct” is the only response I want to hear. However, I must admit, I am going to try to be “first” as well.

Should you tweet first or just be correct?

“That was a good panel you were on. There were some big organizations represented like the NYT. What really stuck in my craw was when you hit on the topic of whether social sites, like Twitter, are a kind of competition for you journalists.

“Maybe I’m old fashioned but I don’t see it as competition. They are a collection of raw and interesting anecdotal stories that can add up to hard news. No scientist would look at anecdotal evidence and write a conclusive paper on it. The data/tweets/whathaveyou must be researched and verified before any conclusion can be made.

“As the moderator said, it is better to be correct than first. Because of the immediacy and quantity of info on social media sites it can seem tempting to claim some victory on reporting “first” but most people do not get their news from such streams. We watch the nightly news, go to a NYT or CNN website, or read the paper.

“Real, traditional, educated journalists must go out and do proper research in order to verify a story is true and have the ability to write it so that it can be understood by the people. And I mean real research not going to fraking wikipedia and regurgitating that bs to us. I say if you cannot use a source in an undergraduate level university paper it cannot be used as a source in a news story.

“I hate it when blogs barf up wikipedia crap and call it a story. please. Perhaps they are given impossible deadlines by bosses (reprehensible) or they are lazy.

New journalistic challenges ahead.

“Ok, the journalists of today have many challenges that their predecessors did not have. If you worked at The Times in the 80’s and, over a period of weeks, several hundred letters came in on the same topic your interest would be piqued. Then a reporter would research this anecdotal data to see if something was really going on. Then a story would come out. Today, you have hundreds and thousands of bits of raw data thrown at you 24/7 and you have to try to decide what to do with it.

“What some do is just see a trend and repackage it as a story in order to tweet first. I would feel safer knowing an someone did some actual research and found out what was really going on and then did an eloquent write-up about it. Yes, it takes longer but how else can you be the historians of the present?

“What you proper journalists write is what will be used as source material for historians. You of all people know that. Your integrity is far too important to worry about who got there 5 milliseconds before the next dude. And if the pressure to be first is coming from higher up, then there is something rotten in Denmark.

“Sorry for the rant but this is very important to me. The trust that I have for the news is being tested by unqualified and sloppy people calling themselves journalists.

“You spoke very well and I’m proud that you were called up there to discuss this latest trend in news. Now I’m going to tell some kids to get off my lawn because I realized I sound like a real fuddy duddy. But a fuddy duddy with high standards!

Being a Fuddy Duddy isn’t a Bad Thing.

She may be a fuddy duddy, but I still want to hear what she has to say. A lot of the older folks in our government are probably as clueless about Twitter as the folks who run Irnaian government. Compared to them, she’s just the kind of expert I want to listen to. Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you can’t be informed or give great perspective. I will be remembering what she has to say as I read the tweets of reporters in the region, or the accounts of real events transpiring in Iran.

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