The Delicate Balance of Tweeting the News
By now, it’s old news that the word “new” in “newspaper” is no longer relevant. Even by the time news hits the 24 hour cable channels or the websites, people know about it through the use of social media. Twitter is one of the largest players in the news-breaking game, and through tweets and re-tweets, stories are often first distributed via consumers rather than traditional news organizations. While it can be a great way to generate interest, Twitter has the potential to alienate an audience when not done correctly.
But was does “correctly” mean? There’s no official stylebook for social media, so the past few years have been somewhat trial-and-error when it comes to breaking news on Twitter. Just in the past month, there has been much ado about an article in the The Guardian regarding the Twitter policies of Britain’s Sky News. The article states that Sky News updated its Twitter policy to no longer allow staff writers to tweet stories before they have been cleared by the newsroom. It also discourages staffers to re-tweet outside of their own beat and organization. This leads to a worldwide discussion of what it means to tweet breaking news.
“I don’t think it is smart for media organizations to put in place rules that don’t allow them to be competitive with other media organizations,” said Anthony De Rosa, social media editor at Reuters. “They’re going to find themselves falling further behind an increasingly competitive news marketplace, and Twitter is the town square for them to shop their services.”
The debate also ranges from the topic of how to accurately break the news, to how breaking news on Twitter can garner revenue for a news organization.
“By restricting what you can do on Twitter you’re making yourself less useful to people who are increasingly finding Twitter to be a place they’re directed to your own platforms,” De Rosa said. “Where you can up sell them, sell advertising, sell access to additional content.”
In the past, Sky News had been at the top of the pack when it came to its reporters using Twitter to break important news issues—such as the England riots—which added to some of the confusion at the new policies. The organization has since been mostly quiet as to how it has affected the newsroom. Yet the Press Gazette did recently tweet that, “Sky News’ policy on tweeting is misunderstood. It’s just a case of contacting the news desk first, then tweeting.”
De Rosa agreed that the wire service should see breaking news just as quickly as Twitter. At Reuters, tools are available to post a news item to Twitter and to the newsroom at the same time.
“I agree that you should have a wire that is as fast, if not faster than Twitter,” he said. “Sky noted they have a way to push breaking news simultaneously to their newsroom and Twitter. If this is the case they shouldn’t have a problem breaking news on Twitter.”
Sky News isn’t the only organization to come up in the debate. The BBC’s social media policies have been in the public eye recently, and before that, the Associated Press came under fire for lecturing its staffers on not tweeting breaking news items before they make it to the wire.
Bloomberg social media editor Mathew Yurow declined to comment on the social media policies of other organizations, but did offer a link to Bloomberg’s own social media guidelines, which notes journalists “should not share work in progress or use social media as a vehicle for breaking news.” In all cases, questions of how to strike the right balance take the forefront: Is Twitter becoming the new newswire? Or is there something to be said for holding off for accuracy and monetary purposes?
De Rosa holds the popular opinion that Twitter needs to be a part of the conversation when breaking news hits.
“My policy would be to have technology in place so that you can break news across all platforms simultaneously,” he said. “You can’t get what we provide on our wires on Twitter so there’s a completely different purpose there. The argument that Twitter cannibalizes the wire is simply not practical in reality. You need business grade tools to perform professional tasks, and that’s why we can break news on Twitter and still have a very valuable line of news products and charge a premium for it.”
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