Twinformation

Time for Twitter News tools.
Part of my Sunday is usually spent in front of the television. I watch almost every weekly news show. This Sunday, I’ll also be tuned in to “Reliable Sources” on CNN to see host Howard Kurtz interview the Co-founder of Twitter, Biz Stone. Since the CNN show usually focuses on how journalists work, and evaluates the press as a part of the stories they cover, one can assume that Mr. Stone’s appearance will be part of a discussion on how Twitter is playing a more important role in breaking, and then disseminating, news.

As a former public radio producer, I could go on and on about this, but others do that much better than I, and the focus of this blog is supposed to be learning how to use the Twitter API. So I’ll try to focus my thoughts on the integration of information into Twitter-related applications.

I‘ve often longed for many different ways to sort the constant stream of updates when news stories break. Sometimes I want updates from a certain ZIP Code. Other times I just want all updates from a specific person over a specified period of time. Still, in other instances, the rise and fall of a Trending Topic is useful to illustrate how the mood of a country changes as a story unfolds. If there were tools that could dial in some granular dissection as events occur—or even as we evaluate them—I think we could all benefit.

An after-the-fact assessment of an incident is often more important to the immediate coverage of the same event. A lot times, those live reports can only do so much, and we are left, especially as television viewers, enduring the speculation and conjecture of reporters who are not necessarily the most well-versed reporters on a topic; they just happen to be geographically closest to the story. There is a great deal wrong with this model in my mind, but with some additional Twitter tools, experts from around the globe would be able to share, comment, and lend some informed perspective to stories in areas of their expertise (apologies, Mr. Hodgman).

Twitter can be an excellent resource for the initial, eyewitness accounts of important events. But the conversation shouldn’t (nor rarely does) end there. As properly informed people weigh in with the nuanced interpretation that they have worked a lifetime building, Twitter followers around the globe get the opportunity to form a more colorful picture of the facts underlying any news story, and the repercussions for our future.

While rumors of a Twitter news channel were obviously overblown, one only needed to look to the experts to find out the truth. It’s amazing how little Twitter searching it takes to clarify an evolving topic. Take the Wikileaks Trending Topic dust up from this week. With the right research, any journalist worth his or her laminated press credential would have had the correct facts in seconds flat.

Twitter is not a replacement for news organizations. It is another tool for responsible journalists to use as they collect and distribute the stories they think are important to share with their audience. I love what Twitter can do, but it cannot replace real journalism. And if we build tools to make Twitter even more useful, maybe even the lazy journalists will be able to provide good news.

As I prepare to spend my Sunday as I usually do, away from this blog, watching the morning news shows, I will be hoping that what I am watching has been thoroughly vetted, checked, and evaluated. I will assume it has, and Twitter was some part of the process. But know that as I flip around listening to the talking heads, lamenting the huge void that remains after Tim Russert’s death, I’ll be thinking, “See you on the ‘morrow, on the Web.”
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Author  Stephen R. Fox