AJR  Features
From AJR,   February/March 2012

Twitter Doesn't Break News, Twitter Users Do   

And that's a significant distinction. Thurs., March 1, 2012.

By Barb Palser
Barb Palser (bpalser@gmail.com), AJR's new-media columnist, is vice president, account management, with Internet Broadcasting.     

On Wednesday, Mathew Ingram published a response to my American Journalism Review column on the Web site GigaOM. Ingram's column, "If you think Twitter doesn't break news, you're living in a dream world," suggests that I have made the case that news isn't really news until traditional media report or confirm it.

Ingram explains that news can come from anywhere, at any time, and that readers' direct access to trusted sources―whether those sources are mainstream media or not―has changed the way news works now.

While I agree that the media don't have a monopoly on trust, I would like to clarify my main points:

I will begin by restating the fact that Twitter does not break news; Twitter users break news. That distinction is not a quibbling one, as Twitter users are a broad and diverse group―including a great many journalists who use Twitter everyday to learn, communicate―and yes, break news. The implication that Twitter is somehow separate from or in competition with the press is a false construct.

I don't think there's any doubt as to whether news is broken on Twitter (it is) or whether people use Twitter to get news (they do). If I thought otherwise, I truly would be living in a dream world as Ingram suggests. I think this discussion is about the definition of news, and who can report it.

In that regard, I wholly concur that the definition of news has much do with the credibility of its source. The examples that Ingram cites to support his point―a writer for TechCrunch, a writer for the New York Times, dissidents who published video of a public protest, an athlete announcing the end of their career―are all examples of individuals who would rate a high degree of trust, either because they are well-known with reputations built over time, or because their reports are documented and corroborated by others. (Not to mention the fact that two of them are, in fact, reporters.)

Those scenarios are completely different from an unknown individual with the handle "Big Chorizo" tweeting about another unconfirmed celebrity death, in this case Whitney Houston's. No offense to Mr. Chorizo. But think of all of those very much alive celebrities who have been killed off on Twitter.

I don't believe I ever said that only professional journalists can break news, and I certainly didn't mean to imply it. Traditional news organizations do not own the act of reporting, and Ingram is correct that there is not always a clear line of demarcation between information and news. However, there is a difference, a big difference, between saying something and reporting it.