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Facebook and Twitter Are Reshaping Journalism As We Know It

The rise of Facebook and Twitter herald changes for journalism, and pose serious challenges to about journalistic credibility and trust.

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Twitter is about the idea of an organic approach to communication. We come at it indirectly, organically … Twitter messages only go to an opt-in community, which makes it easier to engage in open conversation. Of course, when a news event happens, we want more engagement. At other times, you can turn it off, as the settings allow user control.

ROC: What are Twitter's uses for journalists?

BS: The news applications surprised us … We noticed in prototypes early on, though, that things like earthquakes led to Twitter updates. The first Twitter report of the ground shaking during recent tremors in California, for example, came nine minutes before the first Associated Press alert. So we knew early on that a shared event such as an earthquake would lead people to look at Twitter for news almost without thinking.

ROC: Are there advantages to Twitter beyond speed, beyond simply being first with breaking news?

BZ: Well, during the earthquake I'm referring to, there was a lot of depth of reporting as well -- 3,600 separate updates on Twitter, which is the equivalent of a fifty thousand word book in terms of content size. And I'm confident that had the quake been worse, the next step would be in journalists using it to find human-interest stories. (Incidentally, we might also have seen social collaboration activated via the service to help people!)

It's also interesting that Verizon's voice network broke down during the quake, but Twitter's service didn't, because our packet switching technology is more reliable than telephones. But in the end, it's not about technology -- it's about the idea of connecting in groups more quickly and efficiently.

ROC: What are some ways journalists are using Twitter?

BZ: We were also surprised at how quickly and expertly news organizations -- places like the New York Times, CNN and so on -- began to use Twitter. They just jumped in and impressed us with how they engaged, and their hybrid approach. Reuters, for example, began watching Twitter for trends, and found it worked. We gave help, support, and even our API (application programming interface) to the Reuters Lab people. Then CNN began using us to access information, and to find and create stories. Rick Sanchez at CNN, for example, is using both Facebook and Twitter and getting real time feedback … And the Los Angeles Times took the Twitter feed about the wildfires and put it on their home page.

Another good example is last spring's story of the Twitter user who blogged just one word  --  "Arrested" -- and had the story of his detention  splashed instantly to the world's attention, thus leading to his quick release.

ROC: Is Twitter also useful in search?

BS: We are involved on a macro level in documenting events. If you go to you can discover and cover trends in detail every minute. You could call it ‘search, ' but it's really not. ‘Search' on Twitter is more about filtering results before they hit the Internet -- so it's more a kind of ‘filter' than actual ‘search.'

ROC: Can social media such as Twitter help solve journalism's trust and credibility problem?

BS: We think that social media is largely comparable to traditional approach, in that credibility is key. In the future, social media tools will help the news media know such things as the location of the person reporting, we will be able to provide a social graph of our users … Can we then triangulate about their credibility via algorithm? We can certainly begin to get very sophisticated on credibility with new tools, and combine that with journalists leveraging open systems such as ours to find and vet crowd sources, story leads, etc.

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