Twitter has a pretty impressive list of news stories its users have broken and covered more accurately than mainstream news outlets.
To name a few:
- Hudson River plane crash
- Iranian election riots
- Several earthquakes in multiple countries, e.g. Southern California, Mexico City
- Wildfires every year, e.g. Fall 2007
- Terrorists attacks in Mumbai
- Virginia Tech shootings
The immediacy and speed of updating Twitter when news happens around you makes, coupled with its network effects, make it a very good tool for spreading news before news reports can be produced and broadcast.
This afternoon may be a turning point for Twitter and citizen journalism.About 30 minutes ago, I saw a FriendFeed alert saying simply “RIP Michael Jackson”. This is big news, since after all, MJ is still the King of Pop, or at least no one has stepped up to take that crown.
I immediately went to see what was trending on Twitter, and sure enough, “rip michael jackson” was the top trending item, point to a sketchy report from TMZ posted at 3:20 Pacific time.
TMZ isn’t exactly a credible source IMO, so I went to CNN for the skinny. As of about 3:30, CNN.com was reporting MJ was admitted to the hospital for cardiac arrest. Odd.
After a refresh, the story changed from admitted to coma according to “sources”.
Finally, as I began to write this post, Twitter was already questioning the validity of the report, which lead me to start writing, and now, the LA Times has reported MJ’s death, but only after their servers took a header from all the Twitter traffic.
And now, CNN has updated the status to deceased as well, a full 20 or so minutes after TMZ broke the story with help from Twitter.
My timeline isn’t super accurate, and I’m sure there will be *numerous* posts on this trail of events in the next 24 hours.
So, what’s my angle?
Well it started out to be a snarky rant about TMZ and the sheep of Twitter, but now, I’m in full 180 mode to make myself look good.
Not really. I’m happy to admit I doubted the TMZ report and the initial tweets. Besides, I’ve used Celebrity Death Beeper (disclosure, I know the creator) for over a decade to stay on top of this type of, erm, news. That’s how I learned that Farrah Fawcett had died earlier today.
This is a clear win for citizen journalism over mainstream media. I guess journalistic integrity got in the way.
I use the term win loosely. It’s only a matter of time before someone cries wolf in a tweet, accidentally or intentionally, and Twitter trends wolf cries all over the place. I don’t think that’s good.
I don’t have any answers here. Citizen journalism and Twitter as its outlet definitely have a place in modern news reporting, but definitely don’t forget to add the salt.
Ack, even as I try to finish this post, Jeff Goldblum’s death is being reported on Twitter. I guess we’ll find out in a few minutes if that’s a wolf cry or a surreal combination of events.
Assuming Twitter and the ‘tubes can handle the traffic.