journalism, news, socialmedia

Twitter’s evolution and the latest no news

Following the riots across England this week, Peterborough, like many towns and cities I’ll bet was awash via social media with rumour, suggestion and misinformation about potential disturbances in the city. Here’s how we handled that through our Twitter coverage:

Andy Dickinson makes lots of good points (here is my discussion with Andy on his article) on Twitter’s evolution for news organisations, suggesting via a tweet:

Reporting that nothing is happening in your area/city? ask yourself is that really news.

But I feel there’s a balance to be had here and saying no news is not a valid reason for Tweeting is not always fair. If as an official local news source on Twitter you’re seeing multiple tweets asking/predicting/suggesting there’s rioting or other event not actually taking place, at some point there is a duty to respond (it would be ideal to include all those Tweeters but with a 140 character limit, that’s not always realistic).

At the @PeterboroughET we took the policy of limiting our updates and retweeting local police (who were pretty on the ball with their updates) where possible to add weight to our information. Verification has always been key with Twitter, along with sifting and filtering sources and tip-offs, all part of regular news process, they are just magnified on social networks.

It would have been easy to respond to all those concerned locals individually (plenty of them genuine) and getting directly involved with those seemingly deliberately misinforming regarding potential or imagined riots in our area, that would best be served by a linked rolling story enabling longer coverage, but we took the view initially that publishing anything on our website would be fueling a non-existent fire.

This partly relates to the issue of resource, whether we spent much time on such a non-story, a vital issue especially for stretched local news teams, but mobile/web apps enable social media monitoring and interaction without being necessarily on duty or in the office, enabling news teams to react more quickly to events such as this.

It’s all part of the learning curve of Twitter for news orgs, which becomes more difficult as your following audience grows, but the benefits of being able to quickly inform, collaborate and communicate still outweigh its negatives.


One thought on “Twitter’s evolution and the latest no news

  1. I wasn’t really saying that no news was not a reason for tweeting. I accept that for those in and around trouble spots, those tweets where useful. In that sense they were news (proximity, relevance etc.etc.). By that measure many were ‘no news’ and by the measures of any newsroom wouldn’t have warranted attention.

    In some ways your comment underlines my point. What you did at the PeterboroughET seemed like a very appropriate and journalistic response. Your tweets contained useful information from appropriate sources. Many of the tweets I saw did not.

    Perhaps news was the wrong term (part of the broad tweet issue). But I picked it specifically as a journalistic term at the time for a reason. By any measure a lot of tweets had no news value and so, in my view, no value to the network. Yours and many others did.

    In terms of duty – the duty to inform and clarify – again, it sounds like your tweets did that. Many others didn’t.

    But that issue of duty is a thorny one. If an org has a duty/responsibility to inform and correct missinformation, if they have a duty to allay the real concerns of those (in this case) on twitter then how do you resource that?

    Surely duty would dictate that you DO have someone on twitter for the duration of any situation like this and that the DO engage with everyone of the people who is concerned or does push out missinformation.

    I think that the reality is that resources won’t allow that unless proximity is a real issue. A newsroom in Manchester or Brum may put people on all night to cover actual events. Would an editor put someone on all night in Anytown, where nothing is happening, simply to control the rumour mill.

    That’s not a criticism. It’s just reality and part of the decision making process of any news machine. Which makes your last point totally right – its part of the learning curve and all useful grist to the mill.

    It’s just a shame that riots are the catalyst!

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