Is Twitter A Credible Source?

“If you’re twittering, you can go to Hell! Go to Hell! How do you end up with an ego that you’re that interested in your own life?” – Lewis Black

Lewis Black has a bucket-full of opinions when it comes to blogging and the social media phenomenon Twitter. I could go on and on about Black and his rants, and I could go on and on about my initial thoughts on the Twitter craze (which weren’t too far off from Black’s), but I’d primarily like to look at the opposite end of the spectrum: Twitter’s usefulness in finding/reporting the news.

Yes, I said it (regretfully). Twitter is useful. In the last two years, through my endeavors as Intern Joe for Company A and Intern John for Company B, I’ve noticed an increasing amount of news venues (websites specifically) using “celebrity tweets” as quoted material, or direct quotes.

Let’s look at an example. This was my first encounter with a quoted tweet. Can you guess the venue? It’s only the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” the hipsters in the sporting world: ESPN. With silly catchphrases and an upbeat pace on the air, it’s only appropriate that they use but the hippest technology for their news articles.
This specific example deals with former New York Giant Plaxico Burress’ two-year jail sentence, and the support from former teammates.

“Michael Strahan, a former Giants teammate who is now an NFL television analyst, used his Twitter account to support Burress: ‘My Thoughts and Prayers are with my man Plaxico and his family today!!!’”
Now, maybe it’s the traditional, old school guy in me, but I first considered this lazy journalism. First, it is very obvious that this tweet was directly copied and pasted into the article, verbatim. So what are the rules for this type of quoting? Do we leave it as is, or do we edit it for grammatical correctness? I think it looks very unappealing left the way it is right now.

My biggest beef with the situation is this: Yes, it is useful to use this type of quote to supplement your article; however, the journalist in me says, instead, “Call Michael Strahan, if possible, and have him elaborate on the tweet.” I know in the Digital Age we are in, time is limited, but I’d rather get the job done right than appear lazy.
Twitter isn’t always misused, though. Most recently, I saw it used to break some pretty big celebrity news, and I thought to myself, “Wow… Now that’s how you use Twitter as a source!”

I’m a frequent reader of the articles that appear on Yahoo.com’s main page. Many of the articles interest me for a number of reasons that I will not list here. So, when I saw the shocking news that Amanda Bynes, an actress that I grew up watching and admiring, is retiring from acting at the young age of 24, I instantly read on.

“’Being an actress isn’t as fun as it may seem,’ she tweeted from her verified account. ‘If I don’t love something anymore I stop doing it. I don’t love acting anymore so I’ve stopped doing it.’”

Now, contrary to the ESPN article, this quotation has been edited for grammatical correctness. As a matter of fact, the two “quotes” actually appeared as three different tweets with limited punctuation.

However, the most compelling thing about this tweet is that it created news, it didn’t supplement it. Instead of holding a press conference, Bynes decided to use her Twitter account to let the world know her surprising decision. Therefore, this is the only venue that reporters can use to get this type of news. This makes Twitter a useful tool for us journalists!

It’s a changing world out there, my friends. In an age of social media, which started with a little network called America Online, and progressed to the likes of Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Photobucket and Twitter, we must continue to evolve, no matter how reluctant we are to do so.

Editor’s Note: Kevin Haslam is a participant in Journalistics’ first guest blogging summer internship program. He was one of several students to capitalize on the opportunity first announced in “Do You Need an Internship to Get a Job.”

About Kevin Haslam

Kevin Haslam is a Penn State alumnus with a degree in sports broadcasting. Haslam has written for Blue White Illustrated, UofCombat.com and freelances with Livestrong.com and eHow.com. He also has been featured on Froggy 101 FM and ESPN Radio 1450 in State College. You can reach Kevin by emailing him here.

2 Comments

  1. Very good post, Kevin. I love Lewis Black and like him, I think it’s good to be an irreverent skeptic. Twitter and other forms of social media are only as good as the content. These platforms are merely a new vehicle for message delivery. And, as the old saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” We all need to be selective and “consider the source” of the content.

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