Is Using Twitter For Quotes Lazy or Innovative?

twitter at SPJ Conversation About the Chronicle - 027Imagine your’re an old media journalist.

You’re under deadline, you’re trying to fill out an extra column inch for the front page, or you’re in the edit suite and you’re 15 seconds short of the time the producer needs you to fill.

What’s an old media journalist in a new media world going to do?

Fire up Twitter and Facebook and copy a few tweets or wall posts about the topic, or do a screenshot of a memorial page and throw the quotes up in a graphic with a voice over.

Done. Deadline met.

Yes, journalists are flocking to Twitter and Facebook in droves, and while some of them are exploiting social networks as great resources for research, the lazy ones are just doing the ol’ Ctrl-C / Ctrl-V[contd]

Last week, when the meltdown at the Britney Spears concert struck, I found myself glued to Twitter. I was at a poker table, but I had my phone out scanning the tweets as they flew by. I retweeted a few, and it became a great distraction – like I was there. I even tossed in a few lines of commentary myself, like this one:

So when britney restarted, did they just press play on the iPod and pick up in mid song?

The next morning, I got an email from a colleague. My tweet had made the paper.

“Meanwhile, Britney’s distaste for B.C. bud quickly made her the brunt of jokes on Twitter.

“So when britney restarted, did they just press play on the iPod and pick up in mid-song? #brit #Vancouver #gong show,” wrote @buzzbishop, an employee at Vancouver’s Virgin radio.

“Hmmm . . . Britney must be scared she’s not going to pass that next drug test. That is hilarious,” wrote @CassieMitchell.”

So, I took to Twitter with my thoughts, in 3 parts.

So my tweets about britney were quoted in the province this am. They didn’t follow up, just did a cut and paste. Lazy? I think so.[1]

I get that twitter is a source for journos, but it should be used for research and leads NOT copy and paste content.[2]

Unless, of course, the journo is the one “twitterviewing” the masses by asking directly for comments on a topic.[3]

The first tweet was forwarded along by Matthew Ingram of The Globe and Mail. That lead to an interesting back and forth discussion about how journalists should use Twitter in this new era.

@sarahintampa “I can’t speak to this instance exactly, but a tweet is a statement made in public – fine to snag, post, & discuss IMO.”

@pattersonbrands: couple months ago @gillianshaw wanted to use one of my tweets & she contacted me for OK and clarification. She gets it.

@CoffeeGeek: are you honestly surprised, Buzz? I’ve had past experience with the Province (and Sun) and find fact checking, research lacking.

@malicious88: Yeah, it’s lazy. Especially since you’re not exactly hard to track down for a quick quote if needed.

@matthewi: that’s a tough one — tweet is public statement to some extent, but if more than one is used I would want to follow up

Gillian Shaw writes a Digital Life column for The Vancouver Sun, a sister paper of The Province. I asked her about the cut and paste of tweets, and she offered sage advice.

My advice is never tweet anything you wouldn’t mind reading on the front page, but I like to check with people.

The fact that what you write on Twitter is immediately considered public comment should serve as warning that what you post on Twitter, or Facebook, can be used against you.

To offer a contrast to the approach of Katie Mercer at The Province, you just need to look at how Global TV‘s Sophie Lui tackled the same story.

Sophie approached me with a personal note via Facebook. We traded emails and connected on the phone. Sophie knew I would be valuable to her story, but instead of just cutting and pasting, she did some old media legwork using new media research tools.

Does it *really* bother me that I was quoted randomly in the paper? No.

Was it terribly lazy? No.

Could she have followed up with me easily? Yes. I’m entirely reachable via Twitter or email.

It was, however, just the latest instance of a trend I’ve seen creeping into print, television and radio newsrooms across the continent. The simplicity of quoting Twitter and Facebook is an easy way out and it’s being taken far too often.

The comments tossed by users on Facebook and Twitter can be instantly valuable to a story. Hell, if I was a news director or producer, I would be irate with my staff if they weren’t monitoring Twitter search for keywords relating to breaking news to find sources and commentary. However, these tweets and comments shouldn’t be the content of the story.



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  1. April 10, 2009

    As I’m quoted in this article, I should clarify my statement about the Province and Sun; in the past, I’ve done interviews with both newspapers, and at other times, my website’s been referenced (including words I’ve written) by both papers. With the exception of Mia Stainsby who really does great research in her foodie articles for the Sun, I’ve seen

    – incorrect ‘facts’ printed
    – out of context quotes
    – interview quotes that didn’t happen (ie, putting words into one’s mouth – changing the meaning of actual interview words)
    – non-verified quotes (second hand reporting)

    In various articles about coffee. There were times where the facts printed were 100% wrong (ie, one example listing Sammy Piccolo as a World Barista Champion winner), where I took the time to contact the paper about their error, to get no reply, nor any correction notice in the papers.

    I realise that my experience with journalists (vs. hacks) is spoiled somewhat – I’ve been contacted and interviewed by some of the world’s best newspapers, and seen firsthand how a paper like the NY Times or for that matter the Globe and Mail fact check, verify, and most importantly, quote accurately. So in the past when I used to speak to CanWest reporters more often, it was disappointing to see how shoddy some of their reporting skills really were.

    I do want to make an exception again to the Sun/Province slagging – I do feel that some of their reporters are qualified journalists – Mia Stainsby really stands out for me. She delves into a subject she may not initially have much knowledge of, really does her research, and really seems to get it – and does the proper journalist thing, which is “not automatically believe they are an expert, but does what a journalist does – senses the important parts of the story, fact checks and verifies, and makes damned sure they get their quotes right”.

    I can’t say the same thing about some of her colleagues, at least in the life (style, food, drink, etc) section.

  2. April 10, 2009

    thanks for adding perspective, mark.

  3. April 10, 2009

    Katie did reach out to me via Twitter after I posted this article.

    I appreciate she was under deadline, and while her posting of the reaction tweets is not be the best example to support my thesis, I will stand by the notion that many in old media are using the ease of new media to fill their stories without doing the old-fashioned legwork.

  4. Paul Chapman
    April 11, 2009

    Interesting subject. I do know Katie was on deadline, had two other stories and had 30 minutes to pull something together. No time to get to GM Place and comment on the story was needed. As long as it’s sourced, and it’s in the public domain it’s fair game.
    I’d also like to point out every radio station in town, even the big “news” stations read stuff from the papers every day without verifying it themselves.

  5. April 12, 2009

    Thanks for commenting Paul, gotta admit, I absolutely LOVE your style on the radio – would love to see you with your own show. You’re articulate, well versed and you nail hard arguments without the sensational b-s so many others try to float. Love it.

    However, perhaps it’s your association with the sports radio commentators who routinely look to print for story ideas that’s giving you the impression that radio people use newspapers as a source without their own research.

    I can tell you that, in my format and style of broadcast, if I relied on what I read on the paper as content for my show, I’d be 36 hours behind the headlines.

    Again, this specific instance is not the perfect example of twitter as a lazy source, and I do acknowledge tweets and FB wall posts are public domain, I’m just seeing more and more stories (tv, print) gleaning quick quotes or reaction from social media instead of using them as a research tool and digging deeper.

    Here are some other blogs who have written on the same topic:

    Twitter is NOT a Lazy Journalist’s Replacement for Vox Pop

    Is Twitter lazy and narcissistic or a new editorial product?

    Are twitter and blogging lazy journalism?

  6. April 12, 2009

    I wouldn’t call it lazy journalism — no journalist is going to rely solely on copying and pasting tweets when there are important truths to be uncovered. But if all they’re trying to do is capture the water-cooler talk, as I believe Katie was doing in this particular instance, tweets are a pretty useful tool. The facts are there in the top half of her story; the tweets just add some supplementary colour.

    Newspapers used to go out and do ‘streeters’ for this — tracking down four or five people on the street, taking their photos and asking them their opinion on the news story of the day. Believe it or not, this is an incredibly time-consuming process for the limited value it brings to readers. If we can make a reader smile simply by copying and pasting a few choice tweets, why not save the extra time and use it to pursue new stories?

  7. […] I’ve noticed a lot of reporters starting to become dependent on social media to cite their stories, but I hadn’t heard much about it. A quick Google search told me that I clearly hadn’t been paying attention, because this is a widely discussed topic. […]

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