What does the Twitter explosion mean for journalists?

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Back in 2009 when the US Airways flight crashed in New York’s Hudson river, it took a mere four minutes before a member of the public broke the story to the world via Twitter. Jim Hanrahan, wrote: “I just watched a plane crash into the hudson rive [sic] in manhattan”.

Twitter

It wasn’t long before the story was spreading like wildfire in Twitterverse. Interestingly, it took news outlets longer and it was approximately 15 minutes later that they began reporting the incident.

Love it, or hate it, with the rise of social media channels like Twitter and Flickr, news stories can reach all corners of the world with an immediacy we’ve never seen before. We only need to look at more recent examples of the microblogging’s speedy ability to spread the word, including the death of Steve Jobs and Muammar Gaddafi. So what does this mean for qualified, modern-day journalists and how are they embracing Twitter?

We’re constantly reminded that we’re in the midst of a social media revolution. Twitter is a social networking phenomenon and Australians aren’t holding back! In fact, Australia accounts for 1.8% of Twitter’s traffic and the social networking site attracts 1.1 million unique Australian visitors per month.

So, what is Twitter? Twitter, in essence is a very simple tool. ‘Tweeters’ are limited to posting short, 140 character messages (the same length as a traditional SMS message) to their followers. So a Tweet can’t provide a lot of detailed information, but it can make a concise point, link to an image or webpage and most importantly publish content immediately.

Since it’s creation in 2006 however, Twitter has evolved. ‘Tweeters’ are now able to search the entire network in real-time for specific topics or breaking news, organise their streams with ‘hash tags’ – the # symbol, used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet, and even add photos or videos to their posts.

These developments of the social media channel have translated to journalist engagement. Twitter has become a way for the media to keep up to date and engage with their audiences, locate sources and to report on news in real-time. The sheer speed of Twitter’s ability to spread breaking news has completely changed the way that journalists report and audiences receive news.

Many key Australian health journalists are opting to not only ‘follow’ the news on Twitter but also publish and promote their own stories. Take ABC medical health reporter Sophie Scott. Sophie’s an active Tweeter and uses the channel to broadcast her stories to the world.

Sophie Scott

Twitter itself, is also catching on to the growing trend of journalists engaging the networking site. This is reinforced by Twitter publishing a set of guidelines called Twitter for Newsrooms, which is designed to help journalists use the platform effectively. A Twitter spokesperson explains:

“We want to make our tools easier to use so you can focus on your job: finding sources, verifying facts, publishing stories, promoting your work and yourself and doing all of it faster and faster all the time.”

Twitter for Newsrooms was launched earlier this year and demonstrates to journalists how to “report”, “engage” and “publish” to their followers.

There are a plethora of other helpful tools that are assisting journalists with their mission to conquer the news digitally – be it, Tweetgrid, Twitscoop.com, Twhirl, Tweetdeck or Twellow, and the list goes on.

During a talk in Melbourne on the ‘Twitterisation of Journalism,’ University of Canberra Journalism lecturer and social media researcher/consultant Julie Posetti stated, “It’s fascinating as a citizen, as an academic and as a journalist to watch Twitter progress. Despite all the risks and pitfalls that have well and truly been identified along the way, I think Twitter is an important breakthrough in terms of making journalism more social and accessible to a broader public.”

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