Fort Hood: A First Test for Twitter Lists

How Powerful is Twitter in breaking news situations? We found out again, sadly, this week in the Ft. Hood shootings. Here are some clips from Megan Garber’s story at the Columbia Journalism Review. I urge you to read the entire story:

Journalism and curation—it’s becoming increasingly difficult to determine where the one ends and the other begins. The chicken/egg relationship between the two solidified into conventional wisdom during the aftermath of the Iranian election this summer, when journalists—mostly barred from shoe-leather reporting and other, more traditional methods of newsgathering—were forced to play the role of social-media editors. In the dizzying tumult of reporting-by-proxy, mainstream media discovered what Web-native journalism has always taken for granted: that journalism tends to become richer, more compelling, and generally better when it is the result of collaboration.

We saw this again, after an Army major named Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas, killing thirteen people and injuring thirty. Only, this time, added to the real-time coverage of the shootings was a new mechanism for breaking-news updates: Twitter lists. In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, news outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post to The Today Show created lists that aggregated the Twitter feeds of, among others, national breaking-news sources (CNN, the AP), official sources (the U.S. Army, the Red Cross, the office of Texas governor Rick Perry), local news organizations, and local individuals.

The lists—which offer a running stream of information, updates, and commentary from the aggregated feeds—represent a vast improvement over the previous means of following breaking news in real time. In place of free-for-all Twitter hashtags—which, valuable as they are in creating an unfiltered channel for communication, are often cluttered with ephemera, re-tweets, and other noise—they give us editorial order. And in place of dubious sources—users who may or may not be who they say they are, and who may or may not be worthy of our trust—the lists instead return to one of the foundational aspects of traditional newsgathering: reliable sources. Lists locate authority in a Twitter feed’s identity—in, as it were, its brand: while authority in hashtagged coverage derives, largely but not entirely, from the twin factors of volume and noise—who tweets the most, who tweets the loudest—authority in list-ed coverage derives from a tweeter’s prior record. Making lists trustworthy in a way that hashtagged coverage simply is not.

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