Aussie journo and former ABC reporter Julie Posetti has published the results of research on the usefulness of Twitter to journalists. Part one was based on interviews with 25 mostly Australian twittering journalists and informed by her own experience of the platform. A three-part series of articles written by her on the findings here, here and here made interesting reading.
She says: “It may not be revolutionary — many journalists view the micro-blogging platform as just another tool in their kitbag — but it is changing journalistic practice and raising important questions about ethics and professionalism.”
How so? It’s an apposite means to glean news leads, to publish breaking news and make handy new contacts for sure. But changing journalistic practice? This conclusion piqued by curiosity, it’s an area I am interested in (see my poll) so here is some of the the evidence in nutshells, according to her research:
- Changing journalistic practice: Twitter is ideal for publishing breaking news, but what of RSS feeds? Perhaps an individual or a newspaper will have more ‘followers’ than subscribers to its RSS feeds? It certainly saves time phoning round getting first hand accounts of events – disastrous or not – when participants/victims/witnesses with Twitter accounts are pretty much guaranteed to tweet their experiences as they happen or shortly after.
- Raising questions about ethics: One of Posetti’s questions is ‘Is everything said in this public space reportable and on the record?’ If it’s published and it’s in the public domain, what’s not ‘on the record’ about it? Any journalist worth his or her salt will check facts scrupulously wherever he/she finds them. Edward Wasserman has written a good piece covering this topic for the Miami Herald here.
- Raising questions about professionalism: Twitter may merge the private and public lives of journalists. This depends on how people choose to use it. You decide from the start whether you are going to include the “just smoked a fag and now I’m scratching my arse” type posts or whether you keep tweets strictly above-board and professional. You blur the line as much as you want to, you’re in control. Journalistic impartiality is at risk of compromise if you share opinions and political standpoints but you can always have two or more differently-named Twitter accounts.
Posetti’s descriptions of the usefulness of Twitter in disasters – the most obvious example must be the Mumbai attack in 2008 – and for crowdsourcing is interesting and I like her description of the medium as “news headlines on speed.” That is the best description for the medium I am yet to find.