News from the Twitter Farm

Five journalists using only Twitter and Facebook as news sources to provide their reporting, that’s the basic setup of an experiment going on for five days. The headline, by the way, of this post is just a translation of “Nachrichten aus der Twitterfarm“, the title of a blog post announcing a news-gathering experiment by five international journalists from different backgrounds (including France Info, Swiss RTS and Radio Canada). (Here’s a random English version of the announcement.)

Now, I do find it interesting to see professional journalists experiment with alternative ways of gathering their news.

On the other hand, this experiment is so fundamentally flawed that it makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Why?

For one, the basic premise that news reporting as it is today is what we should try to replicate is wrong. News not taking into account different sources is just one problem there, but it’s also that news today are based on the production mechanisms of the middle of last century. They hardly allow for localized news or customization, nor for real-time updates or discussion.

But more importantly, relying only on social media for news gathering is exactly what you should not be doing. It’s all about the mix! It’s about taking into account other sources and then going out and verify them. It’s about enhancing your fact gathering portfolio, not restricting it. (Imagine, when the first vox pops came up, reporters only using those for reporting. Sounds like a dumb idea? Go figure.)

My guess is that the not-so-surprising result will be something along those lines: yeah, a few interesting nuggets of news will have been found; and that oh no, haha, a major story or two slipped by almost unnoticed by the five reporters. High five, everybody, we proved that social media is overrated for reporting. Only that’s not the case.

This experiment is, in theory, great. There should be more like it. But please think it through. It’ll be interesting to see if those five brave social media souls (and I’m sure they have to take a lot of criticism during their regular work) will come up with new conclusions. But please don’t take it for anything like real journalism unless the news organisations get the basics right.