Twitter and the news cycle

Just over 18-months ago, I spoke at the Digital Sports Summit in Melbourne regarding Social media and sports. Also speaking at that conference were Jeremie McPeak from NBA’s Phoenix Suns and Collingwood’s Harry O’Brien. Attending were numerous journalists -especially those who worked online.
Not surprisingly, a lot has changed since then. We now employ a Social Media manager at the Perth Wildcats as do most major sporting clubs. Portals like Facebook and Twitter are key vehicles for engagement in our organisation.

However, it is the change on the other side of the fence -journalists and news agencies – that deserves some comment.

As media and entertainment channels are increasingly fragmenting, we seem to be getting more of our news from less traditional sources.
These days I rarely read the paper and almost never watch any television. If I do turn on the TV it is to catch a game, mostly basketball.

So where do I get my news from? Almost all of it on-line.

During the day I occasionally check news websites for articles, but for immediacy I rely on Twitter.
I suspect in the near future, this will be one of the most used features of Twitter.

I can think of quite a few breaking stories in recent weeks that I heard or read about first on Twitter – the sacking of Mark Harvey, the signing of Rodney Eade and Peter Sumich, the passing of Steve Jobs and so on.
Of course there is the question of accuracy. As sometimes a medium like Twitter lends itself to a hoax. But here it is not the single tweet, but rather the quantum of tweets that provide validity and credibility to a breaking news story.

This morning when I read the first tweet about Steve Jobs’ passing I was unsure if it was a bad joke, but when a similar message from an Australian news journalist followed by one from the Obama 2012 campaign backed it up, I knew for sure that the world had indeed lost a creative genius.
If Twitter is the future of breaking news, what then of the journalists and their Twitter accounts?

This is a conundrum that no news channel has yet to resolve successfully, perhaps because there is no easy solution.

One option that we have attempted in my organisation, the Perth Wildcats, was to move away from promoting individual Twitter and Facebook accounts and to focus on the official or for all social media releases.

Whilst this is not a long term solution for organisations such as ours, it most certainly does not suffice with news organisations or with journalists right now.

Journalists with Twitter accounts will be, if not already are, a more immediate medium for news than the organisations they work for. This is simply because it is far easier to type 140 characters at the scene or as a story breaks than it is to record audio, video or file in print the story…let alone waiting for the next news cycle.

Yet the news organisation sees no benefit from this. If anything it takes away the newsworthiness of the story when it does get broadcast or published.
What’s worse is that the journalist is almost always paid by the new organisation.

Then there is the even greater concern of ‘followers’. How can the new organisation manage or more importantly own them? For now, at least, they are ‘owned’ by the journalist.

So when Latika Bourke left Southern Cross and joined the ABC her 18,000-odd followers went with her to Aunty. So will the 29,500-odd followers of David Koch if he were ever to leave Seven for another network.

As Twitter increases in adoption in Australia, follower numbers will grow, and whilst they may never reach the likes of Larry King (1,950,471) or Katie Couric (289,531) or Al Roker (97,691) in the US they will double and triple in coming years.

A journalist’s Twitter followers will be a serious consideration in the future with regards to his or her value to an employer or news agency. For the first time he or she can say with certainty that they will bring their own audience with them.

And as we rely less and less on newspapers, television and radio, news organisations will have to find a way not only to manage a journalists’ followers and the timing of their tweets, but most importantly how to use and monetise this increasingly valuable news channel of the future.

– by Nick Marvin follow me –