Home Did Twitter Really ‘Outshine’ the Mainstream Press?

Did Twitter Really ‘Outshine’ the Mainstream Press?

We love Twitter just as much as any tech bloggers — that should be clear to anyone who has read this blog over the past six months. But stories like this one from the AFP are a bit rankling. Writing about how Twitter had news of this week’s deadly China earthquake as it happened, the AFP implies that this is a case of “micro-blogging outshining mainstream news.” Outshine, as in “to surpass in splendor, ability, achievement, excellence” (Dictionary.com), is not something that I think Twitter did to the mainstream press. And the bigger issue: they’re not in competition.

The only thing Twitter does better than the traditional news is speed. It doesn’t do depth, it doesn’t do fact-checking, it doesn’t do real reporting. It does breaking news, and it does that very well — in many cases these days better than the mainstream press (in terms of how fast it breaks news).

Twitter did indeed have news of the China earthquake before the press — and that’s not the first time it has beaten the press to a major story. It did the same for the UK earthquake earlier this year, or the other China earthquake in March, and the Mexico quake last year. But Twitter doesn’t beat the press or the USGS to specific information about the size, the scale, the death toll, the clean up efforts. It can’t do in depth reporting that adds a human face to news events.

Twitter reporting looks like this: “I felt an earthquake” — “WOW: was that an earthquake??” — “earthquake!!!!!!” — “earthquake in Beijing so crazy!” etc.

Those tweets came in moments after the earthquake happened — or perhaps in some cases while it was still happening. But beyond confirming that there was something going on in China, they didn’t tell us much.

The real problem with saying things like “Twitter outshined the mainstream new” is that it implies that the two are in competition. They’re not. Twitter is a tool. We’ve talked about it as a platform for information dissemination and we’ve talked about ways that journalists can use it. And that’s really the rub: journalists can use Twitter, they shouldn’t feel threatened by it, as it would seem the AFP reporter does.

Twitter is great because it is distributed — it puts eyes and ears on the ground everywhere. Everyone is a potential witness to breaking news and Twitter gives people a platform to discuss what they see. The mainstream press should embrace Twitter and use it to source and enhance their news coverage; they should not worry about being outshined by it. Twitter will never outshine the mainstream press as long as reporters continue to do what they do best — get on the ground, talk to the right people, find out what’s really going on, and deliver what they find with as much depth as possible. Twitter will never be able to do that, but it can certainly play a major role in helping reporters get it done.

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