Twitter = Citizen Journalism

Chapter 8 of the textbook Share This: The Social Media Handbook For PR Professionals is entitled Twitter: The Unstoppable Rise of Microblogging, and as you can imagine is all about the website Twitter. Some of the topics talked about are: the history of the sites success, how to use Twitter as an engagement tool, using Twitter as a transformational tool, and the similarities and differences between Twitter and Facebook. However there was one other section in the text that was of particular interest to me and that was the section entitled Twitter and journalism.

Now I am not a journalism major but the reason this section peeked my interest was because I recently watched a video as part of one of my Electronic Media classes that talked about exactly this topic. It was a presentation on the idea of Citizen Journalism. The talk was given by a UK journalist Paul Lewis and was posted as part of the TEDxTalks Youtube page. The talk is about 15 minutes long, it is extremely interesting and does a great job of looking into this new era of journalism resulting from the success of Twitter. I’ll post the video here and I highly suggest you take a look!

In the video Lewis talks about some of the same ideas mentioned in the text such as, “the real-time nature of Twitter” and its “profound effects on journalism”. Our text gives the example that “Journalists no longer have to monitor newswires, but use Twitter instead.” Journalists find out information and can get real time news and reactions from people or “citizens” who were on the scene or witness an event seconds after its happened. Recent examples of this being the Boston Marathon bombing, where officials and news outlets were able to gather information and details of the scene and the bombers from pictures, videos, and tweets posted from hundreds of people who were at the site when the bombs first went off. Another example the book gave of the US Airways plane that landed in the Hudson River and how a passenger of the ferry going to pick up the victims tweeted the event before any major broadcasting network was able to. Twitter has made news quicker, easier to access, and has placed journalism and the releasing of news back into the hands of the public.

And not only has Twitter made journalism quicker but, as Paul Lewis talks about in this video, it has made it more truthful. Journalists don’t have to receive stories and information strictly from PR professionals or public spokespeople and print it has the truth simply because that’s their only source of information. No, if a journalist suspects information from one source to be shaky or questionable, they can now take to social media, especially Twitter, and possibly find tweets or people all around the world who may know more information or be able to help them better uncover the truth. Lewis explains this new way of citizen journalism as “journalists excepting that you can’t know everything, and allowing other people through technology to be your eyes and your ears.”

One example Lewis gives from his own experience, is the death of a man named Ian Tomlinson. Ian Tomlinson was a newspaper vendor, who died during the G20 protests in London. Ian was not a protestor but was walking through the demonstrations on his way home from work. While walking home he had an encounter with one of the London’s Metropolitan policemen who struck him with a baton knocking him to the grown and ultimately killing him. However after Ian Tomlinson died, the London police decided to tell a different story, informing the public through official statements that Ian Tomlinson died of natural causes and had no contact with police, and no markings of his body. News outlets all over London, including the one Ian Tomlinson worked for, took the police statements as the truth and printed the stories the way they were told. Paul Lewis on the other hand wasn’t so sure, so he and his team took to Twitter to investigate and began to find individuals with stories and evidence that told a different story, including a video of the attack. And because of all the evidence they were able to gather from people on Twitter all over the world, they were able to bring forward the truth about Ian Tomlinson’s death and get him justice he deserved.

So as you can see, social media and especially Twitter have changed the world of journalism as we know it. News is faster, news can be shared a lot more easily, and the power has shifted back into the hands of the public. And if you ask me, I’d say that’s pretty cool.

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6 thoughts on “Twitter = Citizen Journalism

  1. Chelsea,

    This is such a great topic! It’s so relevant to the current state of news in our society, because it’s absolutely true that much of it has gone to the hands of the public. I think this is so incredible, not only because it gives opportunities for news to travel faster or for stories such as Ian Tomlinson’s to come to light, but because it gives every person the opportunity to be a journalist in some form. It allows us all to be deliverers of current events and newsworthy happenings in our areas.

    Plus, people oftentimes believe their fellow man more often than those in the public eye!

    This is a great post, and I love the video too. It’s so interesting the way the world of journalism has changed, and I am interested to see how this will change the career field as a whole. I don’t think journalists will ever be unnecessary, but their role is certainly changing.

    • Mary, I’m so glad you like the post/video and that you find this subject as interesting as I do! It really is fascinating to see the effects that social media is having on so many different people and careers no-a-days. I agree with you when you say you don’t think journalists will ever be unnecessary. I think we will always need people who are passionate about writing, telling and investigating the news, but it is really cool to see how much social media can help them with that job now. Thanks again for your kind comments 🙂

  2. Very insightful post this week! I apologize for my tardy responses, life has been getting in the way of blog comments 😉

    I haven’t Tweeted much yet in my fledgling career, but I am certain it will expand and develop when I start getting paid to do this stuff. Until then I will remain a student.

    As to the forced evolvement of the news process, so totally profound! The entire journalistic landscape has been (forever?) altered thanks to the 24/7 immediacy of the social media technology that has been introduced in our lifetimes, particularly Twitter (and blogging) in terms of news media and journalism.

    The only problem I currently struggle with is just the sheer vastness of it all. I see these numbers of millions upon millions of people on this or that site, and just trying to comprehend the amount of content being generated every minute is intimidating. I suppose I just haven’t really put forth the effort to find a method of organizing it all, which leaves me with the constant feeling that I’m missing stuff. I don’t know if that makes sense….

    Anyway, good post. A worthy critique of Twitter’s effect on journalism!

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