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All Twittered Out

In the rush to use 'new media,' don't lose journalistic principles

Our friend and colleague Al Peterson dropped me a note.

“You might remember a recent news item where a plane’s GPS dumped out and it began infringing on D.C. airspace,” Al says. “They emptied part of the Capitol building and a couple of other offices here while they sorted everything out.”

Some broadcasters began giving a blow-by-blow of what was going on, depending heavily on Twitter to get the “first-hand account.” For instance: “Twitter is saying the plane is a Cessna,” “Twitter is saying the State Department has been told to evacuate,” etc. Much of it, Al says, was wrong.

“As ubiquitous as it is, I think depending on a social network like Twitter as a news source for any little bit of non-information that rolls off it is dangerous and goes against proper practice.”

First, he continues, “Twitter” by and of itself is not a news organization, so attribution to it is incorrect.

“Second, anyone can say anything on it and some dummy with a mic somewhere will report on the very first thing they read, in his quest to be ‘first with the story.’ Misinformation leads to bad decisions, and other organizations may consider a Tweet as a third-party corroboration, confirming legitimacy of a bad story.”

This is not the first instance, Al says. “Remember in the pre-Tweet days when they stopped all business at the Capitol to incorrectly report on the death of Bob Hope based on a Web item? I still get spam every week saying Tom Hanks was killed on a movie set from some prop that went wrong.”

Al says the industry is using the new technology for all it’s worth, but often against good broadcast practice. “The Age of New Media”? Sure, but the rules are still in place TFN.

Comment below. You can contact Al directly at [email protected].