Twitter: The World’s Roving Reporter

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The use of tweets in news articles has become a common sight for readers in this day and age, but what could this mean for the future of reporting?

Upon reading an article on the BBC News website concerning the recent incident at Clapham South tube station, I was struck by the way in which eye-witness accounts were reported, with the article absolutely littered by tweets of people who were there. Examples include variations of the possible cause of how the woman came to fall from the platform, with some suggesting that the overcrowding of the station led to her being pushed by a member of the group, and also explicit details of the evacuation process which resulted. This use of tweets led me to question: does this kind of social media usage have a place in the reporting of news?

The promotion of Twitter on its website is thus: ‘Connect with your friends-and other fascinating peopltwitter-bige. Get in-the-moment updates on the things that interest you. And watch events unfold, in real time, from every angle.’ In this way, not only does the company advocate using its creation for purely social purposes, but it also implies a more serious aspect, in that one can remain up-to-date with current events reported ‘from every angle’. Therefore, the multiplicity of views achieved by this form of reporting events is presented as giving a reader a wholly formed picture, with details provided by witnesses.

The usMicrophone_by_gregVente of Twitter in news articles could henceforth be thought of as a sensible way to collect data from onlookers of an incident, as opposed to conducting interviews in the flesh, which would naturally consume far more time and energy for reporters. Additionally, it could be argued that the BBC has adopted this use of tweets in their articles in order to interact with the new age of social media users, and better communicate information to them in utilising a medium familiar to them.

However, is this a reliable practice for news reporters? Researchers cannot guarantee that the peoplbbce tweeting about events were actually present in the same way that they could by using a formal interview process, thus introducing an element of potential inaccuracy to reporting in this manner. Moreover, does the use of a medium designed for social purposes somehow degrade news events? The broadcasting of information to one’s followers, and their ability to respond, could create an almost gossipy culture toward the news, which is evidently not the kind of stance intended by the BBC.

So, should news reporters continue to use this form of citing the responses of onlookers, or should they return to conducting face-to-face interviews with witnesses? Does it breach the gap between the BBC and the world of social media, or does it bring news events down to the importance of tweeting about one’s breakfast or gym routine?

The use of tweets introduces a new form of reporting, one which is able to access a broad range of opinions through Twitter, and also one which is targeted at social media users. Nevertheless, face-to-face interviews are undoubtedly the more reliable and professional method, but can lack in nuance and breadth. Both the traditional and the modern have a place in the world of news, and can work in harmony if reporters embrace this new wave of technology. Readers could be provided with a range of views from Twitter, but also the initial reactions of those in the flesh which are so familiar to us.

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