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Feb 9, 2009

CLIP Twitter and journalism: match made in heaven or disaster waiting to happen?

Posted by Helena Deards on February 9, 2009 at 11:01 AM
It's a constant theme at the moment, but an important one nonetheless; Twitter as a journalistic tool. The question has been raised once again by Poynter journalist Dave Poulson, who last week followed the Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm's annual state of the state speech.

Whilst watching the speech, Poulson asked his followers if there had been a 'hashtag' created for the event - there had, #MiSOTS - which allowed users to follow all the Tweets on this topic.  As the speech was ongoing, people watching it were Tweeting their responses and thoughts to the governor's points as she made them.  One journalist said that the responses were helping his journalistic perception of the event by "giving him a feel for how people were reacting to a very critical speech to a very economically depressed state."
By searching #MiSOTS you can see the posts people made about the speech.  The feed is interspersed with Tweets from Twitter stat counters publicising it as one of the hottest topics on Twitter at that moment; in fact at one point the #MiSOTS tag made it to number 6 in the most talked about tags on Twitter.  The problem is that a hashtag only appears after the topic is relatively well established - "perhaps the journalist's role in this kind of activity is to simply help establish and publicize the hashtag," muses Poulson.

The possibilities for using Twitter in journalism are endless - but it doesn't seem that an effective method has been perfected just yet.   Positive aspects include the ability to pick up on hot topics by checking the most talked about tags, the range of perspectives available, and the ability to break news instantly.  The recent Tweeting trend amongst politicians to communicate directly with the public means that their feeds have become an essential point of reference with Barack Obama at the front of the field in this respect.

At the same time, Twitter users aren't accountable to anyone, which gives a large margin for error, speculation and rumour in news terms.  The 140 character limit can be, well, limiting.   On top of which, it is by no means all encompassing in terms of news reporting - Twitter in general works better as a complementary news source, either supporting a main news provider or linking to outside articles. 

Twitter and journalism: endless possibilities combined with integral flaws.  But Twitter's huge popularity means that it surely can't be long before a method of harnessing its extraordinary journalistic capabilities and avoiding its downfalls is found.   Can it?

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