In the aftermath of yet another breaking news frenzy on Twitter (Asiana plane crash at SFO), Matthew Ingram again argues that we better get used to chaos — or get off Twitter. His mantra: This is just the way news works now.
I personally have a love/hate relationship with Twitter and breaking news. As a former police reporter, I grimace when I see all the blemishes of real-time reporting displayed for the world. Yet, as a news junkie, I just can’t look away.
But I agree with Ingram. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. And he makes some good points about the amount of good information and informed debate on Twitter as the news broke (even the National Transportation Board got into the act by tweeting photos of the crash site).
In effect, anyone following the event in real time has had as much or more information than they could have gotten from any traditional news source.
And in arguing that the news ecosystem has permanently shifted, he also points out that the change might not be as dramatic — or ominous — as we might think.
The reality is that a breaking news event like a plane crash or a bombing is an inherently chaotic situation, and no one really has a firm command of the facts, including the first responders and emergency workers who are on the scene and talking about the event on the police scanner. That maelstrom of conflicting information used to be hidden behind the walls of the command station or the walls of the newspaper and TV newsrooms reporting on the event — but now, thanks to Twitter, it is everywhere.
So what does the “new normal” mean for news organizations? I don’t think it means they simply throw up their hands and carry on as they have been. Acting like the adults in the room would help. In the heat of the moment, I believe restraint and thoughtful consideration definitely have a place in social media, and more news organizations would be wise to foster that expectation in the newsroom.
But to be more proactive — and ultimately relevant and helpful in the chaos — I think media organizations need to step up their game and do a better job of curating, fact-checking and explaining the fast-moving information.
As a consumer, I’d like to see more “here’s what we know now” stories as news breaks. Providing background and perspective is what news organizations do well. Perhaps, “context is king” should be the rallying cry going forward with regard to breaking news.
One of the most difficult skills for journalism instructors to teach is the ability to develop creative and engaging story ideas. (I have several theories about why students are lacking in this area, but that’s for another post.)
To help them develop better ideas, I suggest they explore how technology can make the task easier. One of my first lessons focuses on how they can strategically set up an RSS feeder to “feed” them ideas. I use Google Reader for the in-class demonstration, but I encourage them to experiment with other feeders until they find one they like.
Because the online news class I teach “covers” the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the city of Lincoln, Neb., I suggest they fill their readers with feeds from local news outlets, local blogs and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, including its calendars. I also suggest Al Tompkin’s column on Poytner —“Al’s Morning Meeting” — because it’s awesome and is an excellent example of how to study current events and apply them to local coverage. And, despite their disdain, I suggest they include local Twitter feeds — #LNK and #UNL.
I’ve found many of my students roll their eyes when Twitter is mentioned, but I’m adamant about helping them see the potential of Twitter in news gathering and crowd sourcing. So the RSS exercise also opens their eyes to Twitter’s possibilities.
In our online news classes, we also require students to write story pitches to help them focus their ideas. After a particularly feeble pitch session in a class last year, I decided to monitor the news feed and pull ideas as an example. In less than 45 minutes, I found five viable and interesting story ideas — and all of them came from the Twitter feeds. Here are the five examples (in some cases, I included the actual tweet, which is italicized):
- A local group has started a food bank for pets because of the recession. For those in need who are in #LNK – A pet food bank – more info on our blog.
- How local moms are using the iPhone: TechCrunch Study Reveals More Details About The iPhone Mom http://bit.ly/47QLqL by @leenarao
- UNL’s Love Library is tweeting a lot these days — and some of its tweets are very clever and quite interesting. Do library officials think they reaching people? Why use Twitter? Who is doing the tweeting? Any other city agencies or campus agencies using Twitter? http://twitter.com/UNL_Lib or (City Library also is using.)
- Lincoln entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas in a competition. This is happening tonight — Oct. 1. Is it on your calendar, Lincoln? Pitch Session this Thursday at Turbine Flats (http://bit.ly/3NalCz), details here: http://bit.ly/Kysqb #LNK
- Sheldon Museum of Art offers a college night for students. The first is next Monday. Do any attend? Why should they attend? Are students as cultured as they should be?
I shared those ideas in a “story idea cache” I created on Blackboard — and I think the students were impressed by what I found in a short time. During the semester, I continued to periodically troll the feed and post new ideas in the class story cache, thereby modeling to them how to find a nugget of information and mold it into a valid and interesting story idea.