Case Study 7.1: Credibility in Twitter journalism

20 Mar

By:Gabriela Gonzalez

It was the same event, except BBC’s story was twice the length of the RTE News story. What was the difference? BBC was getting input from people and “witnesses” in the city via Twitter about the grenade attack in Liege, Belgium. The entire BBC story is filled with attributions such as: “media say,” “witnesses say,” “earlier reports,” “medical staff,” and “people were told,” but it doesn’t say who said what specifically. The BBC story is filled with details that are unconfirmed, and may not be true because people can post whatever they want on Twitter. Someone may make something a lot more dramatic than it really is. Using audience input that has not been verified could put your publication’s credibility on the line.

RTE News gave the facts as did The New York Times. Their stories were concise and gave the only confirmed information which was an estimate of how many had died. RTE News used police and television footage for its account of what happened.

According to Red66, about 23 newspapers from around the world used Twitter in 2008. About 16 radio and television stations, including BBC in multiple languages, used Twitter in 2008. It is probably safe to say a lot more today use Twitter.

By having the public interact with them and contribute to news, the news organization also shares and promotes its own work. Twitter is excellent because people can update about things that happen instantly, for example, natural disasters. It calls itself in some instances a “newswire.”

ReadWriteWeb said Twitter is a quick way to get assured information. It is debatable whether the information is truly so accurate.

Despite potential lack of credibility, according to Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism studied 13 news organizations from print, TV and radio and found, “Mainstream news organizations primarily use Twitter to move information and push content to readers.”

When news outlets use Twitter it is important for the news outlet to verify and check the information before it is included in pieces of journalism. The key values of journalism are accuracy, fairness, transparency, professional responsibility and independence. Journalists and news organizations must never compromise those values. It is only through the journalist taking the time to fact check that the comments and contributions made through Twitter actually contribute something to the news organization and journalism itself.

It is better to have a one-sentence story and have it be accurate, than one that is three pages long and filled with inaccuracies.

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