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Media, Social & New Media

Twitter and the continuing evolution of journalism

Breaking news

This week two major players in the world of news decided that Twitter would no longer be a platform upon which they would allow their journalists to break stories.

Sky was the first to institute new rules for using the platform – leading to the #savefieldproducer hashtag on Twitter. The Satellite giant was closely followed by the BBC, who also said its reporters should no longer use Twitter for breaking news.

First let me say, I think it sensible, even advisable to have in place a social media policy. The reputation of a news organisation – at least in the UK – is built on trust and impartiality. You wouldn’t want anything to undermine this. But for me this goes just a little bit too far.

I’ve written a fair bit on the use of social media and journalism. I was advocating the use of Twitter shortly after it went mainstream in 2007  (It sounds grand and I hasten to add I was not a lone voice) and I’m also a champion of the mainstream media experimenting with new tools or just trying to find a better digital model of delivering the news

But this step smacks of the need for control. If normal newsdesk policy is followed, surely it makes no difference whether a BBC reporter breaks a story on Twitter, the web, radio, TV or any other platform.

Rory Cellan Jones – a journalist I follow on Twitter asked:

… like Sky News, we are still pondering a couple of key questions. Is it right, for instance, to break news on Twitter before it reaches any broadcast outlets? In a long-running court case, a series of tweets from the reporter who is following proceedings can be an invaluable way of keeping both the newsdesk and the world informed. But when it comes to the verdict, surely the reporter should rush to the live microphone or camera first – even if that means being beaten by a rival tweeter?

The post is a really good read, and this is a flippant comment, but what makes the BBC think its potential audience is more likely to be watching the BBC News than reading Twitter?

News organisations should look at Twitter as an extension of what they already do. It’s only a competitor in the old media view of the world. Twitter provides additional value to the coverage. It’s a point made rather more eloquently in a great post by Alfred Hermida

I follow journalists who use Twitter. I don’t think I am alone when I say that I trust them any less when they report a story on the service, to when I hear them on the radio, read them in a newspaper, or see them report on the television.

They are an extension of the BBC brand and they should use the tool as such.

Most of my news consumption comes from social media, either by direct links posted by journalists, or via recommendations from others in my feed. I will turn to the BBC, or Sky or the Guardian for more detail and background, but they are no longer necessarily my first port of call.

It seems to me that the BBC and Sky newsdesks have lost sight of that. News organisations should look at Twitter as an extension of what they do. It’s another tool in which they can inform their audiences. It allows engagement in a way that traditional newsgathering simply does not.

These tools are not going to go away. I understand the point about trust and accuracy. As an ex-news editor, I know it’s important. Users of Twitter understand that too.

Journalism is evolving. I’ve said before that news delivery is not just about platforms it’s about the new tools of the trade.

The question now seems to be are you a journalism Darwinian or not?


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