The English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote that the pen is mightier than the sword. For journalism in the digital age, it’s Twitter that has become mighty.
Once known for its unique way to connect with celebrities and friends through bite-size 140-character posts, Twitter has become a tool central to the idea of speech and expression, and one of journalism’s essential social media tools. Major news events like the Arab Spring, a presidential election and award ceremonies unfold through Twitter’s lens, allowing stories to be told in ways previously not thought possible.
In 2016, Twitter will celebrate a milestone: its 10th birthday. But while CEO Jack Dorsey and colleagues try to figure out the solution to the issue of long-term user growth problems, journalists and news outlets will continue to use it to engage, stimulate and inform users of the day’s events.
Indeed, with news of items like Project Lightning and a potential new product to expand on the 140-character limit, 2016 will likely bring new ways to tell stories on the platform.
Yet, as we pause to reflect on the concluding year and look ahead to the year anew, one simple word should stay with you: verify.
On a platform containing posts that could have the right facts (as well as the wrong ones), it’s something we as journalists owe our audience. The platforms may be changing, but there is always a need for accurate, reliable information.
Here are five things to remember when verifying information online:
• Be honest and transparent: Tell the public what you know, whether you’re covering a sporting event or a major political story. If there are questions about facts surrounding the story, or if reports conflict, mention that, and then try to confirm which report is right. An honest reporter is a credible reporter, and your audience will come back to you because you are credible.
• Cite with caution: If you’re following a breaking story and you come across something from another source that might be useful in that story, cite that report or share it with your audience. While citing is helpful, emphasize caution as the facts come together. NPR’s editors ask this question when it comes to their stories: “Am I about to spread a thinly sourced rumor or am I passing on valuable and credible (even if unverified) information in a transparent manner with appropriate caveats?”
• Make the call: Call the organization/source in question, if you can. Figure out what is true and what isn’t. Establish the facts from reports that have been circulating. Remember the old maxim: I’d rather be last and right than first and wrong.
• If it’s sent to you, verify it. If a user sends you a photo or video of an event, reach out to the source and confirm the incident. Get as much information as you can before you tell the story. In addition, if you plan to use the photo or video in your story, get permission from the user first.
• Be honest and transparent. It’s so nice it’s worth saying twice! Be honest with the user. If you don’t know something, say so. You know what you know, and that’s all that you know. Your audience will thank you for it.
2016 is set to be a monumental news year, most notably with the forthcoming presidential election. But just as with any news story, you need to know what the facts are. Not only is it essential for you to become a better journalist, it’s essential for the people who matter most: your audience.
Alex Veeneman, a Chicago-based SPJ member, is SPJ’s community coordinator and founder of the SPJ Digital Community. He blogs for SPJ on social media journalism and British media issues. He also is co-student life editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication based in the U.K. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman
Tagged under: Digital Media