Friday, August 5, 2011

To Tweet or Not to Tweet: A Media Perspective

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Aspen Security Forum, a terrific and insightful event full of panel discussions about the all important topics of homeland security and terrorism. Among the many notable panels was "The Media's Role in Covering Terrorism."

My question to the panel -- about 49 minutes into the video -- involved the impact of social media on the media's ability in getting the story right vs. getting the story first. I recalled the situation when former Rep. "Gabby" Giffords was shot in Tucson, Ariz., this past January. In the immediate aftermath, some news outlets mistakenly reported via twitter that she had died.

Journalists from both The New York Times and 60 Minutes shared their perspectives.  

"It's been a big issue at the Times as we push on platforms to get our product out there, but also to engage in conversation," said Eric Schmitt, a senior writer at the paper. "But it is running into an area now that if you are tweeting you may be getting ahead of where the Times' standards have been."

Schmitt went on to say that the Times has had internal discussions of how social media reports played a role when reports first emerged on May 1 that Osama bin Laden was killed. 

"There were feeds coming from parts of the paper based on tweets that reporters were retweeting," he said.  "Is that the same standard you should see on the New York Times web site?  We're wrestling with this issue in our news room right now."

60 Minutes Producer Ira Rosen is worried about the overuse of twitter by journalists.

"[Journalists] have to always be careful about revealing their state of mind in the stories they do.  You want to be objective and you want to be fair," he said.  "Then you read journalists' tweets and they give that state of mind away.  I think it's a real  worry and I would like to see [tweeting by journalists] scaled back."

A very timely and intriguing discussion. Your thoughts are welcome.

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