In today´s world of news content and delivery, Twitter is a tool that can either inform or mislead the audience. So what do reporters have to consider when they use tweets in delivering their stories? The Arab spring at the beginning of last year (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) was one of the first occasions when Twitter gained a more prominent role in the world of news. People started to contribute from conflict zones from both sides of the barricades.
Markus Bernath, former correspondent for the Austrian newspaper Der Standard was once stationed in Georgia and the Middle East, and describes the journalistic value of tweets: “I think the information value of tweets is only restricted to one location and is very limited, provided one knows the source, trusts it and quickly in 140 characters is informed of the developments.”
He believes journalists should use Twitter as an alert and then dig deeper for the story using other sources. When it comes to the use of Twitter in Radio and TV though, Mr. Bernath doesn’t completely disagree with its relevance, but is not certain of its use with newspapers and broadcast news. Both media need more time to be produced accurately.
Mr. Wieland Schneider, a reporter working for the Austrian daily newspaper Die Presse, covered conflicts in regions such as Congo, Chad, Syria, Libya, Iraq and the Arab spring in Egypt. He says: “Twitter as a social media platform is only a part of a bigger picture and therefore the information it provides should be taken in carefully. Responsible fact checking should be a rule.”
Often times, the information sourced from Twitter can be distorted. For this reason, Mr. Schneider believes it is important for a reporter to mention whether information is sourced from Twitter- to ensure it will being taken with a grain of salt.
He also says the same rules on fact checking applies to blogging as well, since this medium can also be misleading. He offers the following scenario:
“Someone siding with the opposition mentions in his blog that the government forces conducted an air strike on a civilian zone. On the other hand however, the same blogger will not write that rebels terrorized civilians a few blocks away. Therefore the information can be, and is correct, but it represents only one side of the story.”
Alan Abbey, a veteran journalist, who worked with newspapers across Israel and ran web sites for educational institutions and media organizations believes, very often, it is the case that tweets and blogs are just filled up with heated, ideological rhetoric from both sides (as it is the case between Gaza and Israel) and the straightforward reporting is just missing, as can be the case of an on-going police investigation or minute-to-minute update on a terrorist attack.
Therefore the news consumer should have always in mind that even though social media are undeniably perceived as an effective tool delivering often powerful stories and many news organizations around the world use them frequently, at the same time they often provide biased views, and commentaries on events and therefore should also be treated with a healthy portion of skepticism, especially when it comes to reporting from conflict zones when it is difficult to verify the source.