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 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?