Tweets not so sweet for generating news

by MichiganMick | January 1st, 2018

Readability

Tweets not so sweet for generating news

A 2010 report that said most jour­nal­ists used Twit­ter, Face­book or blogs as vital news sources didn’t receive much pub­lic atten­tion, but it noted what has become a huge shift in how the main­stream media operates.

The sur­vey – con­ducted by Cision, a pub­lic rela­tions firm, and Don Bates of The George Wash­ing­ton University’s Master’s Degree Pro­gram in Strate­gic Pub­lic Rela­tions – said jour­nal­ists viewed social media as an essen­tial tool for gath­er­ing news, but they were aware the infor­ma­tion they found could be unreliable.

No kid­ding. Although social media hadn’t yet degen­er­ated into the stink­ing dump­ster fire it is today, reporters and edi­tors eight years ago knew most of the tips they found online had to be inde­pen­dently ver­i­fied before they could be reported. Based on the embar­rass­ing num­ber of “fake news” sto­ries in the past year, that no longer seems the case.

I’ve always been par­tic­u­larly sus­pi­cious of Twit­ter as a news source. In days gone by, cranks and fanat­ics had to stand on a soap­box in a pub­lic park to spout their views. Thanks to the inter­net, these zealots don’t just have a mega­phone but the equiv­a­lent of a cable TV net­work to spread their warped and often insane ideas around the globe.

Yes, online com­mu­ni­ties can be mar­velous cre­ations where like-​minded folks can share con­cerns, offer each other sup­port and pass on exper­tise to those who need it. But cyber­space also pro­vides a place where lunatics and per­verts, who would be pow­er­less in the real world, can band together and become a force in push­ing their agenda.

While their over­all num­bers may be small, cra­zies can make a splash when their tweet catches the eye of a reporter who decides to turn it into a news story. That’s espe­cially likely to occur if the tweet wins sup­port from oth­ers in the form of re-​tweets and likes.

And that’s my prob­lem with reporters using Twit­ter as a news source. In a coun­try of more than 325 mil­lion peo­ple, is it truly news­wor­thy if sev­eral thou­sand fools like a tweet? And I’m being gen­er­ous – I’ve seen tweets that drew the atten­tion of only a few hun­dred peo­ple devel­oped as news stories.

One of the web­sites I’ve found help­ful in fol­low­ing Twitter’s influ­ence on the media is twitchy​.com, a con­ser­v­a­tive site founded by Michelle Malkin in 2012. Twitchy re-​posts threads that develop after a left­ist make a tweet that incites with­er­ing responses from right-​wingers. It’s usu­ally very amusing.

But Twitchy does more than that. It offers a path into Twit­ter itself that non-​tweeters like me can use. I quickly dis­cov­ered that tweets by celebri­ties and pun­dits often col­lect only a cou­ple hun­dred com­bined re-​tweets and likes. Even Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has 45.6 mil­lion fol­low­ers, some­times gets fewer than 100,000 com­bined responses and re-​tweets to his posts.

It both­ers me when some­thing that might inter­est so few peo­ple can result in news sto­ries that get national or even inter­na­tional atten­tion. It’s almost as if news cov­er­age in the pre-​internet age could be decided by what appeared in let­ters to the editor.

Indeed, Twit­ter, Face­book and other social media can gen­er­ate real news, but jour­nal­ists have to exer­cise dis­cre­tion before they sit at their key­boards and tap out their sto­ries. And while the inter­net has made the process much eas­ier, noth­ing beats old-​fashioned shoe-​leather dogged­ness when it comes to accu­rately report­ing the news.

***

Happy New Year! May you enjoy joy, pros­per­ity and good health in 2018.

A 2010 report that said most journalists used Twitter, Facebook or blogs as vital news sources didn’t receive much public attention, but it noted what has become a huge shift in how the mainstream media operates.

The survey – conducted by Cision, a public relations firm, and Don Bates of The George Washington University’s Master’s Degree Program in Strategic Public Relations – said journalists viewed social media as an essential tool for gathering news, but they were aware the information they found could be unreliable.

No kidding. Although social media hadn’t yet degenerated into the stinking dumpster fire it is today, reporters and editors eight years ago knew most of the tips they found online had to be independently verified before they could be reported. Based on the embarrassing number of “fake news” stories in the past year, that no longer seems the case.

I’ve always been particularly suspicious of Twitter as a news source. In days gone by, cranks and fanatics had to stand on a soapbox in a public park to spout their views. Thanks to the internet, these zealots don’t just have a megaphone but the equivalent of a cable TV network to spread their warped and often insane ideas around the globe.

Yes, online communities can be marvelous creations where like-minded folks can share concerns, offer each other support and pass on expertise to those who need it. But cyberspace also provides a place where lunatics and perverts, who would be powerless in the real world, can band together and become a force in pushing their agenda.

While their overall numbers may be small, crazies can make a splash when their tweet catches the eye of a reporter who decides to turn it into a news story. That’s especially likely to occur if the tweet wins support from others in the form of re-tweets and likes.

And that’s my problem with reporters using Twitter as a news source. In a country of more than 325 million people, is it truly newsworthy if several thousand fools like a tweet? And I’m being generous – I’ve seen tweets that drew the attention of only a few hundred people developed as news stories.

One of the websites I’ve found helpful in following Twitter’s influence on the media is twitchy.com, a conservative site founded by Michelle Malkin in 2012. Twitchy re-posts threads that develop after a leftist make a tweet that incites withering responses from right-wingers. It’s usually very amusing.

But Twitchy does more than that. It offers a path into Twitter itself that non-tweeters like me can use. I quickly discovered that tweets by celebrities and pundits often collect only a couple hundred combined re-tweets and likes. Even President Donald Trump, who has 45.6 million followers, sometimes gets fewer than 100,000 combined responses and re-tweets to his posts.

It bothers me when something that might interest so few people can result in news stories that get national or even international attention. It’s almost as if news coverage in the pre-internet age could be decided by what appeared in letters to the editor.

Indeed, Twitter, Facebook and other social media can generate real news, but journalists have to exercise discretion before they sit at their keyboards and tap out their stories. And while the internet has made the process much easier, nothing beats old-fashioned shoe-leather doggedness when it comes to accurately reporting the news.

***

Happy New Year! May you enjoy joy, prosperity and good health in 2018.

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