I think this post by Robert Scoble today deserves a reading by all journalists: “Steve Jobs’ bad news heralds the real-time web age.” The A-list blogger was watching his Twitter and Friendfeed streams for news from people about the Steve Jobs announcement of the Apple CEO taking a medical leave, and he was amazed at the amount of instant chatter and information being shared about the announcement.
Posted to Twitter & Twitpic
For any reporter and editor when an important event occurs — especially a local one — watching Twitter and/or Friendfeed is a great information-gathering tool. Yes, as Scoble notes, there’s a lot of noise and you don’t necessarily know who to trust. But the more you use Twitter and/or Friendfeed, the more you’ll come to know the people who you follow — so over time you can pick up a sense of what sources of instant Twitter/Friendfeed news you might trust.
Anyone can do this, of course. When the US Airways plane crashed into the Hudson River earlier today, lots of people posted to Twitter, or added eyewitness photos to Flickr, or other social networks. For an editor sitting in a newsroom overseeing coverage of this event, monitoring the social media stream of eyewitness reports could be a useful addition to the staff reporting arsenal already assigned to the crash and calling in details.
Scoble is a fan of Friendfeed, and it is indeed a useful service for something like this plane crash, since it scans a number of social media outlets. For example, check out this Friendfeed search for “Hudson crash”, which includes all sorts of stuff — from short reports by people who witnessed the crash, to an eyewitness on a ferry who took a close-up of the plane being evacuated and posted it to Twitpic via a Twitter post. (The photo became so popular that it overwhelmed the tiny Twitpic service.)
I think Scoble is correct in saying that the now wide popularity and use of services like Twitter and Friendfeed are the front lines of news. Most of the time for unexpected events, like plane crashes, eyewitnesses are going to be there before professional journalists.
A new role for journalists is to tap into this instant stream of eyewitness accounts. Editors can perform a public service by filtering out the best and most accurate of these early “citizen” reports, saving online users the trouble of combing through all the junk to find the nuggets.