Twitter Journalism: Why You Should Take it Seriously

While social media is gaining speed and recognition within the journalism world, the buzz has centered on international events, specifically in the Middle East. NPR editor Andy Carvin showed Twitter’s potential when he became what the Guardian called a “one-man broadcast channel-cum-newswire.”

But what about domestic issues? For the most part, Twitter has not been an effective or powerful tool for journalists in America, reporting on American issues…until now.

New York Times reporter Brian Stelter recently demonstrated Twitter’s rightful place in the journalism industry through his coverage of the tornado outbreak in Joplin, Missouri in May, 2011.

We’ve heard about the resulting devastation and loss of human life, but unless your family was literally in a tornado’s path, it’s difficult to fully grasp the mental and emotional severity of the situation, even in this age of “Breaking News” and text alerts.

Enter Brian Stelter. In the span of 24 hours, Stelter used Twitter and Instagram to report on the Joplin tornados in a completely new way. He opened the window to his experience in real-time by sharing not just facts about the disaster, but also his own struggle to comprehend it.

Stelter’s wrap-up Tumblr post (note the first line) and archived tweet page are fascinating (and beautiful) examples of why Twitter is becoming essential to journalism.

Stelter’s tweets, his emotion-laced observations from Joplin, are downright inspiring. Newscasts typically, and sometimes literally, ask: “how does this affect you?” Stelter’s reports don’t need to ask, because they’re coming straight from someone who was affected. Facts come second to the personal connection, but they arise naturally out of the story.

We’ve seen reluctance from news outlets to adopt Twitter and other social media as a reporting tool. They don’t own the platforms, and there’s an understandable concern about trustworthy sources… but maybe they’re just unsure of the benefits. Or maybe they’re scared.

Why We Need to Pay Attention

Social media and Twitter in particular have the potential to elevate journalism and news consumption to unprecedented interactive and personal levels.

Here’s what happens when it’s put into action:

1. Preexisting relationships between the public and the journalist are strengthened. If you already feel some kind of connection, the way you experience the news is intensified. See what happened with Nicholas Kristof in Egypt.

2. “Breaking News” actually becomes Breaking News – you can follow the reporter in real-time and you’re getting more of the story sooner than any other delivery method.

Stelter writes, “Looking back, I think my best reporting was on Twitter.“ He follows that with, “People later told me that they thought I was processing what I was seeing in real-time on Twitter. I was.”

3. It’s inspiring. The honesty and humanity of this type of reporting is amazing.

When people are inspired, they act. Creating positive change through a national or global community is crucial in times of struggle. And that creates unity.

It’s Bigger Than Journalism

Social media and Twitter are doing something once unachievable – they’re building a global community of information and relationships. It can become a community where news and the human perspective are one and the same. I would much rather receive information from individuals I know and trust than organizations with a bottom line, wouldn’t you?

Yes, there are risks involved. But when is failure not a possibility? Mistakes will always be made, and without them it’s impossible to learn and grow. And come on – the reason social media exists is because someone was willing to try and fail. Now if only the bureaucracy-ridden organizations would grow a pair.

Image credit: Richmond Magazine

Do you think Twitter will be adopted into mainstream journalism? What concerns do you have about using social media in reporting?

Eleanor Dowling I’m a cool-hunter to the core who loves technology and gets high off the electrifying collision of social engagement + mainstream media. Right now technology is moving way faster than business models or consumers, and I'm fascinated with the on-going integration of social media into our everyday lives. I love video production, Bill Lawrence, and wine. Twitter: @eleanordowling

View all posts by Eleanor Dowling

7 Responses to “Twitter Journalism: Why You Should Take it Seriously”

  1. Eleanor

    Thanks Ryan! It feels awesome to get positive feedback like that. (And for the record, I’m still reading your blog every week, you’ve been a source of inspiration!)

  2. Meg

    I love this. You’ve done a good job capturing the tension in major media outlets between using Twitter as an extension of their current work and using it in new and creative ways to achieve a different goal – creating that community and fostering those relationships. News happens to real people and social media is reminding us of that.

  3. Eleanor

    Thanks for your comment, Meg. I love your sentence “news happens to real people and social media is reminding us of that.” I think the “real people” part is totally key. When we see stuff on the news or read about it in the paper there is a huge disconnect between the information we’re consuming and the humanity of the event. I think social media can bridge that gap. One of my favorite Tweets from Brian (actually above) was the one about meeting the couple who jokes that nothing happens in Joplin. That is pure HUMAN and that brief encounter would probably not make it into an article…yet we can witness it via social media. Totally baller.


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