Social Media as a Credible News Source

"As if a service with hundreds of millions of users needed to come of age, Twitter is said to have had its CNN moment Sunday night as the "place" where the news of the commando raid which killed Osama bin Laden was first shared," Wired Magazine says.

The news of bin Laden's death not only came as a shock and surprise to the public, but the way in which the information broke on real-time social media heavyweight, Twitter. Although there is speculation as to where the news first appeared, it cannot be denied that social media played a huge role in spreading the news. Before CNN or The New York Times confirmed that U.S. Navy SEALS did in fact kill Osama bin Laden, millions had already taken to their Twitter and Facebook pages to virally disperse the information.

If it wasn't enough for the news to spread almost immediately via social media, one man caught his own 15 minutes of fame as he accidentally tweeted the raid as it occurred, not far from his home in Pakistan. Without realizing it, Sohaib Athar tweeted away about the pesky helicopters he heard overhead at 1:00a.m., which turned out to be U.S. forces descending upon bin Laden's compound.

So in a world where real-time social media have become a platform for citizen journalism at its best — do we consider these networks to be a news outlet in itself?

Industry experts say that despite 4,000 tweets per second during President Obama's Sunday night speech, Twitter will not become its own credible news outlet overnight. However, it is apparent that Sunday night's events contributed to the ever evolving news ecosystem.

For those who aren't "following" Twitter or enabled their Facebook newsfeeds and subsequently didn't hear about bin Laden's death until Monday morning — is it time to get connected in real-time? Since the birth of social media, there has been continued debate within the communications industry, weighing the pros and cons of both traditional and social media. There seems to be a constantly tipping scale of importance for both resources — whether it is the real-time and viral sensation of social media or the credibility and reliable resources of traditional media.

With Sunday's news events, perhaps it is time we stop looking at traditional and social media as separate entities but rather two forces that despite their obvious differences, work together for the common goal of spreading the word. An individual on Twitter put it best when he said "Twitter breaks news. TV covers it. #NewParadigm"

With the ever-changing way we receive and disseminate news, we ask:

Is it more important to get the news out in real time, even if the facts are not yet confirmed — or is it better to wait until the sources have been confirmed prior to making an announcement? What do people really want?

Lastly, should traditional media outlets rely on citizen journalism on social media as a source?

I think that the bin Laden raid was definitely a "CNN moment" for Twitter, but it was equally important for the mainstream media. Most of us turned on the TV or started surfing for more details after the story broke, as evidenced by President Obama's ratings and the traffic to news sites. The New York Times reported an 86 percent increase in page views.

One reason was our need for instant analysis and context. What does it mean for us? That's where the "traditional" outlets can out-report the social networks and citizen journalists. So, I think the answer is that we want and need both types of reporting, and that they go together. For both social media and the mainstream press, it was "mission accomplished."
Dorothy Crenshaw, CEO/Creative Director, Crenshaw Communications
Committee Chair, New York Women in Communications Foundation Board of Directors


Clearly, the digital age has not only revolutionized the way news is disseminated (virally and immediately), but also the way in which we consume it. Thanks to the instant publishing capabilities of social sites like Twitter, we're able to both individually broadcast and communally watch as events unfold in real time across the globe. But traditional journalism still has a crucial role to play, especially when it comes to sharing the bigger picture through a trained eye, verified sources and a contextualized perspective. We must also keep in mind that Twitter — though credited with breaking the news of Osama Bin Laden's death — is also responsible for erroneously reporting the demise of countless others. At the end of the day, there's a place for both at the table. In fact, they can often work in tandem, with journalists harnessing the power of social media to acquire and break vetted news. Twitter may yet be the news ticker of our time.
Linda Kaplan Thaler, CEO & Chief Creative Officer, Kaplan Thaler Group
President, New York Women in Communications, Inc.


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