Thursday, October 14, 2010

Journalism and Twitter: Watch what you say

     Twitter is slowly changing professional journalism, but that change comes at a price: It is threat to a journalist’s credibility. Some television pundits, such as Rick Sanchez of CNN, have even made tweets an essential part of their programming, but not every journalist has had as much success.

Dissemination of False Information

     The process in which twitter operates lends way to gross misinformation, which can be, and is, read by other members of the twitter community.
     Twitter features a “trending topics” section of its website, which shows the top 10 topics that users are tweeting about around the world. If an important story breaks, it is common to appear as a trend on the homepage. Users can then read any tweet mentioning the event, regardless if the facts or correct or not.
     “I read trending tweets almost all day,” said senior English major Katie Bolger, 22. “I never really think of checking what is right and what is wrong. I just read [the tweet] and move on.”
     Take, for instance, reporter Mike Wise, who according to the New York Times, stated false information about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension from the NFL. Roethlisberger was suspended for six games, instead of what Wise reported to be as five. The tweet, he said, was to test how fast false information would be distributed on the internet. Wise was suspended for one month from his job at the Washington Times.
     This quick dissemination of false information is a growing threat to a journalist’s credibility. When false information has the ability to spread so quickly through the Internet, few will spend time checking those facts are indeed true. If a journalist is caught, even for typo, it may be too late to refute what was written.

Keeping Credibility

     Twitter was originally designed for personal and social use, not professional use. The framework for the site was built on simplicity, allowing users to upload tweets rapidly. This allows little time to reflect on what the post, or tweet, is really expressing.
     This was the case for Octavia Nasr of CNN who posted what some viewed as pro-terrorist thoughts, according to an article in the New York Times. Nasr was born in Lebanon and expressed her connections with the nation and explained the post, but it seemed to be in vein. Although she was chief editor the middle-east news, she was promptly let go from her position.
     Junior natural science major Sean Gilmore, 20, said, “I see a lot of news guys on twitter now, and I can’t believe what they post. It’s like they forgot how to spell or something.”
     Senior heating, ventilation and air conditioning student Tyler Pohl quit following journalists after he read one tweet by Rick Sanchez. “It had slang, like ‘ain’t’ and ‘go get ‘em,’” he said. “I don’t want to read anything like that, ever.”

No Journalist is Safe

     Australian freelance technology journalist Adam Turner posted a tweet about his personal beliefs concerning a candidate for an election, according the newspaper “The Australian.” Many reprimanded him for bias, even though politics was in no way related to his field of interest.
     Turner was embarrassed, saying the explicative tweet was an “embarrassing mistake,” even though he is not a well known journalist.
     Journalists will need to keep track of their twitter activity to make sure the credibility they built up in their career stays with them. One tweet and they can find themselves without a career.

Here is a quick rundown of Nasr's and Wise's stories

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