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Is Twitter the New Wire Service?

Much of the news we get from local papers originates from wire services. This is the end result of multiple studies conducted over the past couple of years, a few of which are summarized in this excellent post by Nikki Usher on OJR: The Online Journalism Review. Newspapers often get the credit for being the originators of news in local markets, but upon further investigation, a majority of that content comes from wire services. Journalists at local papers serve as filters of wire content and determine which stories to run.

In contrast, we’ve all seen the alternative to this traditional approach to local news across social media. Services like Twitter provide a never-before-seen view into local news, often first-person from eyewitnesses or “citizen journalists”. Because of its open architecture and lack of filters, all the news is “fit to print” online – though only the most-interesting content rises above the noise. While local newspapers seem best positioned to meet our demand for hyper-local content, we shouldn’t discount the potential of services like Twitter to serve as a new wire service for the digital age.

Newspapers that integrate social media will quickly find they can provide broader, more comprehensive coverage of local news and events than ever before, with less effort. Rather than subscribing to feeds of national or international content, and repurposing the content for local consumption, newspapers can filter local feeds from its readers to identify true local content of interest to their demographic.

So back to the question and title of this post, is Twitter the new wire service? I think it is. You can find information on international, national and hyper-local news and events faster using social media. When news breaks today, it breaks on Twitter. The question of accuracy will always be at the forefront of this conversation, but does the wisdom of crowds prevail in social media? I haven’t seen a concrete example of any event that was “reported” innacurately on Twitter without quickly being self-corrected. On the flipside, there are plenty of examples of where traditional media outlets get it wrong.

This isn’t to say that one is better than the other, but rather we need to consider social media more seriously in the conversation about the future of reliable information sources – particularly when it comes to local news and information.

What do you think? Is Twitter the new wire service or are we treading on dangerous ground here? Will traditional wire services be able to keep pace with social media?

(Image Credit: Telegraph pole by Elsie esq.)

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • Paul Meier

    Twitter is one of many new news sources, and wire services and RSS feeds are still around. The real problem is filtering the news text to suit the publisher’s purpose. This being done increasingly by text classifier technology, rather than human copy tasters and sub editors (UK jargon I am afraid). Most of the search engines display news based on text classification technology. It is also finding its way into the latest newsroom systems.

    To generalise, social networks such as Twitter have real use in distributing news. It is up to publishers to be able to both filter the resulting content, and to providing social networking features of their own.

  • http://Simple.PR edwkim

    Hi Jeremy, I think this is a great post. Before I start, I should disclose that I just launched a ‘localized twitter newswire’ so my opinion is in the interest of supporting that model.

    “Journalists at local papers serve as filters of wire content and determine which stories to run.”

    While this is true, traditional wires also act as a filter not only through the effort and cost of writing a press release, but through their ability to categorize and distribute relevant to the desired distribution network. Twitter will continue to evolve into a credible newswire as there are increasing tools built around this purpose. This has largely begun through hashtags, trending topics, lists and geo-locating but still has a long way to go.

    To say that “only the most interesting content rises above the noise”, I think this only happens at a macro level. There are as yet no hyper-local trending topics. Our model is focused on local small businesses/organizations and enables local media to filter by location and category. There is an additional human filter because the twitter user has to add a #pr to the end of their tweet before it is pulled into our site.

    Would be great to continue this discussion. Please reach out if you’re interested.

  • Tom Fowler

    The big caveat, of course, is that someone tweeting generally has no obligation to be accurate or objective and it’s often difficult to discern the bias that source comes with. At least with a press release via a wire you know the source, Company X, has a vested interest in getting out a certain message. And a story via the wires generally is coming from news organizations that at least says fairness and accuracy is part of its M.O.

    There’s no denying the potential for Twitter to give an immediate and unique view of a news event. And I use it to get leads on potential stories or blog posts, but don’t use them as the sole source. Our paper has used it for covering events like the evacuation of the city before a hurricane and Black Friday shopping. But in those cases it was made clear the information was coming through that medium, (just as some stories say “company X said in a prepared statement” or “executive B said in an interview”) and from specific individuals.

    If these aggregating technologies the other comments refer to remove the context, i.e. that the information was sourced from a tweet from a particular individual, it seems that’s a bit risky and could be irresponsible.

    • Paul Meier

      The aggregating technologies to which I refer do not need to remove context or source. Source is particularly important because it gives you an idea of the likely biases the source brings to the story, and whether you feel comfortable trusting it. Source, context, and geography are key criteria on which you would want your text classifier to filter.

  • http://www.jacklail.com/ Jack Lail

    I think it is the new canary in the mine. It’s often the earliest sign of breaking news, but I disagree that …

    Because of its open architecture and lack of filters, all the news is “fit to print” online – though only the most-interesting content rises above the noise.

    Users filter Twitter by who or what they chose to follow. They are developing “trusted sources” of information on Twitter. So, it’s a personalized news stream or news wire, if you will.

    Newspapers and traditional media sources are part of that stream for many, serving both as consumers (getting news tips and information) as well as news creators on Twitter.

  • http://www.cisjustaletter.com Ann Stone

    Jeremy, social scientists have long proven that the voices in the crowd, if heard, will either confirm the observations of the “fastest” or “loudest” or will give voice to the dissenters, eventually correcting the perception of the crowd.
    What is exciting about Twitter – not the service but the thinking – is that it gives voice to so many that it is quickly “self-healing” from correctional standpoint. In the past, other social media tools require a computer, and some time – certainly the case even with “easy” tools like wordpress.com or facebook/myspace.
    Twitter can be used successfully by the most basic of cell-phones, and uses the same texting behavior that is used by many.
    That is what makes it powerful, eventually “true” (as much as any event has one truth), and extremely useful.

    And writing as a woman, whose voice throughout history has been muted due to vocal chord strength or social or political constraints, I think a tool which is equal to all with thumbs and a cell phone is mighty fine.

  • http://reichcomm.typepad.com David Reich

    I agree with Tom above… My biggest concern with Twitter as a news source — or most other forms of “citizen journalism” — is the question of accuracy and bias. Since Twitter is so fast and get’s retweeted all over the place, erroneous information can quickly sneak into the mainstream of news. There are no editors to oversee and moderate for accuracy.

    Frankly, it makes me very nervous.

    • Jeremy Porter

      This is one of the more popular concerns I see – and I can’t say I disagree – but I also think mistakes get corrected much, much faster with social media than they ever have with other forms of media. The obvious example is print, where a correction might appear in a single column inch a day later, after the “damage” is done. There was a lot more scrutiny of content before it was published, which I think was a good thing. Today, I think, people are quicker to retweet to pass the word along – but for the most part, they’re quick to retweet the correct information later. The flow of information is real-time, versus a moment in time.

      Great point though, thanks.

  • http://journalistnate.blogspot.com Nathaniel Miller

    Twitter is my primary news stream now, replacing my RSS feeds as original sources. The microblogging site definitely has the potential for aggregated steams of news. It takes hard work and diligence to build useful Twitter lists that can operate as “wires,” which can then be curated for a fuller picture of the news. I’ve collected a list of Twitter accounts for California student media organizations which, for all intents and purposes, is a California student wire. There are many more options available. It just takes to time to find, verify and build.

  • Michael classic

    Please i want to know the relevance of wire service in news reporting