Monday, 10 August 2009

A true journalist is a tweeting journalist

Despite the satellite feeds, fibre optic cables and Internet file transfers, the technology that a journalist comes into contact with on a daily basis is fairly limited and certainly not complex. However, until now a journalist has usually just been responsible for the news bit, leaving most of the techy stuff to the people who know how to do it or to the system set up for them by those who know how it works. It's definitely been the way things have worked for at least the last five years that I have been employed in broadcast news but now 2009 has seen everything change.

Gone are the old ways of news gathering. To stay ahead we are going to have to change. We are going to have to embrace the fast moving technology and we are going to have to adapt our editorial guidelines to be able to work with these changes as they occur. A journalist who in the past may have allowed others to point them in the right direction, will now have to be a journalist who is constantly monitoring their own online sources for the stories. If they don't, they will lose out and many old-school journalists are not going to like that.

The simple fact is that news gathering has changed.

News used to and still does drop on the wires. The story is then followed up by the news desk and we send people to cover it. When we don’t have anyone there we put in some calls, look up the local stringer or a freelancer and then pay them for their video (once the relevant release forms had been signed!). The footage is eventually edited and fed, or in some cases fed and then edited, and the whole process can take hours from the moment the first wire drops to the story being broadcast. People just aren’t that patient anymore and simple technology means that they don’t really have to be.

It’s now time to make way for the blogs, micro blogs, video blogs and perhaps most importantly….the Tweets.

Attention all journalists: Twitter is now one of your news wires and a tweeter is your eyewitness. Facebook is one of your men in the field and YouTube is your new stringer.

Some will say this simply isn't true. I'm afraid it is. Whilst recently looking into this subject during a heated discussion with a colleague about the merits of social networking for news, I proved how one news agency was directly quoting an Iranian tweeter and calling them a witness to the recent street protests there. It made no direct mention that the witness happened to be posting their account on twitter, and in my opinion it doesn't need to. Is quoting a tweet any less reliable than taking one over the phone? No. As long as your contact is reliable. The point is that your twitter contact can be that reliable.

Instead of the journalist's trusty contact book, we now have people that we are following on twitter. The best journalists work their twitter followers and contacts in the same way that they used to thumb through their little book or Rolodex. And just like then, when someone now asks me "where did you see that information" I am somehow reluctant to reveal the source. I wouldn't just tear the page out of my contact book and give you my personal source on a story, so why should I tell you who I followed? I'll lose my advantage. The people that I follow are my contacts in every way that they were when I wrote them down in a book - if you want them, you find them.

Until now the one thing that broadcasters and writers had over the raw online news sources was the "analysis" that they could provide on any given story and the professional treatment of the issue to give clear context and depth. 2009 is the year they should start worrying because people these days don't just want one person telling them their interpretation of events. They want to see the video or read the blog and know what those people who are there living the story are seeing, thinking and saying about it.


  1. Great post Fergus - glad to see you blogging. Check this out for a tool that could let us listen better to Twitter & multiple RSS: