Friday 28 May 2010, 09:30
Claire Wardle identifies an important stage in the evolution of Twitter in her brief post 'Four quick examples of Twitter as news'.
She could have quoted 40 or even 400 examples of news being broken or made on Twitter. She could just as easily have included Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's Twitter account, or @leicesterliz (aka Leicester MP Liz Kendall) for her Twitpic of the House of Lords after the Queen's Speech.
News 'happens' constantly on Twitter, which now almost routinely 'beats' most conventional mainstream media platforms - TV, radio or online - to the story.
But the real editorial value of Twitter lies in more than just providing another channel for hacks to sell their wares.
In the space of 12 months it has evolved from being a diverting sideshow that had questionable newsgathering value to become one of the most important sources of reliable, credible and rapid information on breaking stories almost anywhere in the world.
Sure, there is plenty of less serious stuff that finds its way to the top of trending topics - stuff like #didyoureallythink ... (finish the sentence in 140 characters of your choice). But the beauty of Twitter is that you can screen that out if your interest lies elsewhere.
Only 18 months ago Twitter played a controversial role in the reporting of the Mumbai terror attacks. The BBC News website's editor, Steve Herrmann, blogged about the experience when, infamously, Twitter circulated the false rumour that the Indian government had asked people to stop Tweeting about the military operation for fear of helping the gunmen.
The BBC's social newsgathering team, the UGC (User-Generated Content) Hub, found plenty of other speculation and repetition of what the BBC and other mainstream media were reporting, but almost nothing of any real value.
In total contrast, barely a year later, while there was still plenty of rumour and gossip, Twitter provided an absolutely essential gateway to reporting the Haiti earthquake.
Tweeters and the information they Tweeted proved reliable and, as the Web was the only means of communication that survived the disaster, crucial in sustaining coverage of the story until conventional journalism was able to mobilise 24 hours or more later.
Within a few hours of the earthquake, the UGC Hub sourced key - and unique - testimony from Tweeters in Haiti, like @carelpedre and @troylivesay. These two in particular used Twitter to report rapidly and accurately about the situation on the ground in the earthquake zone and became significant voices throughout the course of the story.
Ushahidi used Twitter to help build a crowdsourced map to direct the aid effort. Others were using Twitter to point journalists to sources of further information.
Why has this evolution, this maturity come about? Perhaps it is because mainstream media is engaging with it and taking both Twitter and Tweeters seriously. Perhaps it is because Tweeters have seen how influential they can be and are therefore recognising the power it gives them if they act appropriately.
Whatever the reason, it marks a significant step in the evolution of news and the developing relationship between news organisations and their audience.
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