Could Twitter save real journalism?

One of the most shocking sports stories from the last week included the shrouded news of Steve McNair, former quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans as well as a breakthrough college star at Alcorn State. On Saturday July 4th, news started coming from a variety of sources that McNair had been found dead in his home; a true loss for the sport overall because of the level of play, commitment, and toughness that McNair showed.

The manner in which the story broke on the holiday led to several more examples of the Statusphere vs. Mainstream Media. There were some that were brutally scathing of MSM’s coverage, such as Aaron Brazell’s piece over at Technosailor:

WKRN, in Nashville, was the first with the news and it quickly disappeared off their page – a result of too much traffic or erroring on the side of caution, who is to really know.

NBC Affiliate WTVF, Channel 5, was the second to report it filling the gap where WKRN dropped off.

It was a long time (30 minutes or so) before national media picked it up. ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Sports by their own slogan, didn’t have it. No one did. We were left gasping for more. Is the rumor true? Can anyone confirm? Can police confirm?

Was any of us on Twitter making calls? Maybe. A few possibly. Not many.

There were a few other comments in and throughout Brazell’s post, as well as follow-up from the readers questioning his rush to blame, but I think that he may have taken it too far to the end of the spectrum. When it comes to a story surrounded by so many circumstances, it is obviously in the best interest of the journalistic community to get the story right. 30 minutes to check the story is better than getting it wrong, correcting it, and making the error the story, not the event.

On the complete other end of the spectrum is an old media guy accusing Twitter of being too involved in the conversation about the former-MVPs passing. Tim Keown, a long-time writer at ESPN put together this piece in response to the reaction of another NFL QB’s wife that was captured in the midst of the coverage. The same negativity Brazell had toward ESPN for failing to report the story, Keown has toward Twitter for pressuring MSM to respond:

The problem is, there is a widespread attempt in the media to bring validity to the enterprise. There’s pressure to get stuff out there, to be connected to the story. CNN wants us to follow it on Twitter, when following it on CNN should be about all it demands of us. Viewers are invited to respond, and there’s nothing quite like the awfulness of a guy reading a truncated, abbreviated, code-language message from someone with no expertise beyond opposable thumbs.

(And I’ll say it before you do: There are exceptions, and the election protests in Iran are a big one. Without Twitter, the amount of useful information leaving that country would be minimal at best. This leaves aside the validity of the information being Twittered — or whatever the heck you want to call it — but that’s secondary to the importance of the technology in spreading useful information.)

The bold in the above section is mine. Also, I wanted to include Keown’s waiver to not completely throw him under the bus, but that shouldn’t be a complete hand washing for the piece.

Twitter has broken stories, we know that. Folks in DC will recall when Twitter was in its mainstream infancy and news about Tim Russert spread, in addition to the reference Keown makes and the many other breaking outlets. Remember: that’s not what Twitter’s purpose is, to be a journalistic mainstay. It’s for information sharing, not confirmation; we need to recognize the bridge between the two.

Sure, as a reporter, you have to move a little quicker now, but let that be an advantage, not a hurdle. Keown opined that this stuff will sink the media ship, but he places to high of a premium on what it means for journalism to be accompanied by “You heard it here first.” That’s ignorant, to me.

For journalists, the service should be used like a hiker uses a compass: it doesn’t show you the trail, just points you in the right direction. We are telling you where to go, just don’t get lost along the way and everyone stays happy.


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