Traditional vs. Social Media: What News Corner Are You In?
By Steve Read
There’s been a lot of debate in recent weeks about the best place to follow rolling news. It’s a debate in which there are two sides: in the blue corner we have social media, fronted by Facebook and its higher-profile rival Twitter; in the red corner is traditional media, with rolling TV news and online live feeds.
It’s an important debate to us at Marketwired because as a newswire we’ve been a trusted information provider to news organisations (the red corner) across the globe for over 30 years. We also supply social media intelligence to the world’s largest brands (the blue corner).
Social media’s early potential as a source of breaking news was dramatically illustrated by this tweet by Janis Krums in 2009:
Janis’ tweet was important in showing the potential of Twitter as a source of breaking news as it included an image of the incident captured at the scene.
Fast forward to 2011 and there was another Twitter user at the heart of an international breaking news story. Sohaib Athar was close enough to the raid on the final hiding place of Osama Bin Laden to tweet the following:
An important aspect of Sohaib’s tweet was that a quick look at his timeline demonstrated the most vital attribute for any source of breaking news: authenticity. Here was a man who clearly lived in the area and was a regular tweeter. As he was providing unprompted information independently, he proved a valuable asset to news organisations across the globe.
Another interesting aspect of those two tweets is the differences in the number of retweets each received. In 2009 Twitter had around 11.5 million registered accounts, and by the start of 2011 this number had grown to almost 200 million. So a tweet with massive impact in 2009 was retweeted just 98 times, compared with close to 2,000 for a story two years later.
Clearly, by 2011 Twitter was starting to be used as an information source by a far larger and more mainstream audience. So let’s step forward another couple of years to more recent events:
Andrew Kitzenberg’s tweet ticks all the boxes a journalist looks for from a source during a breaking news story. His timeline checks out, he’s ‘on the scene’ and there’s a dramatic accompanying picture in there too.
With Twitter now hosting more than 500 million registered users, the number of retweets has grown enormously compared with Sohaib’s 2011 tweet. The significant jump in the number of retweets is evidence of a greater willingness than ever to embrace social media as a news source.
So you probably think that I’m just waving the flag for the blue corner, right? I can certainly see the value in social media for breaking news, and I’m not alone. But I’ll let you into a secret: those first two tweets were pretty easy to find with a few minutes on Google. The most recent one I knew was out there somewhere, but I used our MAP platform to identify a few hashtags and then looked for the most retweeted messages; it took me around 3 minutes. If I’d just used Twitter, I would have needed to manually trawl through more than 88,000 tweets.
All the ingredients were out there, but in order to tell my story I needed more than just the raw data; I needed a filter. I had the luxury of cutting-edge social media analytics software to use as my funnel. But if you don’t have that advantage, that’s where the red corner comes in. Traditional media is there to check those sources, to read through timelines and verify how authentic those voices are. Journalists check timestamps to sort those first on the scene from those looking for their 15 minutes of fame.
The golden nuggets of a breaking news story can almost certainly be found within social media. The challenge for users is finding them. Today it’s still the case that few people can turn around fact checking and information funnelling at the speed of a traditional media outlet. So as far as red versus blue is concerned? Well, today you still need both to get full clarity on a breaking news story, but you can bet both sides will continue to fight their corner.