Some interesting new guidelines for editors working in the social media age have cautioned that Twitter shouldn’t be used to actually break news – that should only be done on a blog or website. Instead, Twitter should only be used to link back to that particular article, driving traffic and fostering a discussion.
The American Society of News Editors has issued a report entitled 10 Best Practices for Social Media, outlining how editors should approach social media. The typical “engage your audience but remain professional” and “be transparent” are some of the recommendations, but they’ve also taken a stance towards Twitter in particular – they recommend that journalists don’t use Twitter to break news.
The logic goes like this: If you have breaking news and you share it on Twitter first, your competitors are more likely to scoop it and write their own articles about the story. It also undermines the real value of social media, which is to drive traffic to blogs and websites.
I agree with this to an extent. It’s very possible that your story will be scooped if you tweet out 140 characters hinting at it and another publication gets a featured article out before you do. Once that happens, no one will care that you tweeted it first – it’s all about who wrote it first.
A lot of this argument boils down to revenues. You’ll lose money if your competitors scoop your story, and if your readers find all they need on your Twitter account without having to navigate to your website.
To be fair, the guidelines do say that some stories lend themselves to breaking on Twitter, and that publishing stories on a website first isn’t a catch-all rule.
Some live events, like press conferences, stand to benefit from live-tweeting. However, the report cautions that sports reporters, for instance, have been tweeting stories before writing them and their publications have been scooped because of this on more than one occasion.
I think this is generally good policy for the newsroom. As much as Twitter is a fantastic source of breaking news, a news outlet’s reputation still relies on their publication, not their Twitter feed. In order to maintain revenue and respectability (practicalities that have to be considered in the ever-changing world of online journalism), newsrooms must publish – not tweet – the news.
However, there is some room for a caveat here: breaking news should go through the editorial process, but it needn’t be a complete article when it’s published. News isn’t a tidy parcel: it’s messy, on-going, and raw. So it’s OK if the reporting is, too. My suggestion is to write a short piece, publish it, and then tweet about it. Newsrooms can update the article as more information becomes available, but this way the’ll still benefit from that early-bird timestamp on their article.