Breaking News: Twitter vs. News Wires

Audio: twitter vs news wires (8:12)

News agencies are having to compete and find new ways to break news in the age of Twitter and the twenty-four hour news cycle.

In 2011 during the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City an Associated Press journalist and photographer were arrested and taken into custody.  This news was tweeted by an AP journalist before it was reported on the service’s wire.

This action lead to an outcry by bloggers, journalists and media commentators.  Reuters’ Anthony de Rosa wrote that news agencies “must evolve or meet extinction” and update their social media policies and procedures in order to compete with emerging technologies like Twitter.

Traditionally, the news wires and alerts run by the major news agencies, such as Reuters and Associated Press (among many), were one of the main sources for journalists, editors and producers for tracking breaking news.  Historically, the news agencies had a monopoly on breaking news because of access to expensive technologies, such as the telegraph.

Pundits claim that the micro-blogging site, Twitter, which has more than 500 million registered users and sends about 340 tweets daily will eventually overtake the news agencies as the main source of breaking news, rendering them irrelevant.

Reporter at Fairfax Media, Judith Ireland, said in her role as breaking news reporter that she had many different ways of keeping track of breaking news, including media releases, twitter and the news wires.  “A big part of the role is about being across everything, that’s kind of half the battle, is knowing everything what has happened…and trying to stay a little bit in front of that.”

It appears the belief amongst many is that the medium fastest at breaking news will dominate and become the leading source for journalists.  A joint study released in March, 2013 looked at whether newswires or twitter broke news first.  The study completed by the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh is the first of its kind.  It found that there is little evidence to suggest one source was better at breaking news first.  Twitter tended to cover hyper-local stories that would not be covered on the wires.

The Australian Associated Press delivers 1200 stories “mostly first” to all Australian media on a daily basis.  It has adapted to the changing technologies and methods for delivering breaking news by developing a multimedia news curation platform known as ‘Newswire Live’.  Events are delivered to AAP’s clients as widgets.  This allows for breaking news to be delivered instantly to journalists in multimedia formats, making it very accessible in locations other than the newsroom.  This development is an example of how news agencies are competing in the digital age and countering the rising challenge from social media.

One of the greatests fallacies of Twitter is that anybody can tweet and not everybody is bound by the journalistic code of ethics to report fairly and accurately.  This means that information broadcast on Twitter isn’t alway accurate.

“That’s one thing you have to be really careful of on Twitter…there’s what’s known as the trolls.  But you see, the trolls love to make up information, the death of a celebrity or just really common things.  They find a lot of pleasure in finding things that may not be true.  So that’s really important as a journalist, you need to be asking the right questions, to the right people and making sure what you’re reporting is actually true,” said Matt Thomson, a local journalist and student at Swinburne University.

News agencies are now also posting breaking news directly onto Twitter and if the story has already broken before a news agency tweets about it, people usually wait for an official news tweet for confirmation.  Barb Palser, the new-media columnist at the American Journalism Review, said of singer Whitney Houston’s death in 2012, “while nearly an hour passed between the first known mention of Houston’s death and the AP’s report, Twitter’s timeline clearly shows that the story flatlined until the AP tweet. It was that properly attributed post by a credible news organization with a broad following that broke through the noise.”

Andy Carvin from NPR said “what I find Twitter most useful for is seeing my Twitter followers as my newsroom, because I don’t really have a staff of people who can help me do research and serve as producers for me or editors for me.  So I don’t really see me Twitter account as a news wire, per se, I see it as sort of an open-source newsroom, that anyone can come and participate in, or observe the process.”
Journalists can refer to twitter for tips and story ideas, but it is the guarantee of accuracy, fair reporting and other adherents to the journalistic code of ethics that will ensure newswires continue to be a major force in breaking news.

**Note: this piece was completed the day before the Boston Bombings


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