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Get your news from Twitter and Facebook ONLY

January 24, 2010

Starting February 1st, five journalists will be hiding out at a farm house in France in an experiment to see how news-credible Twitter and Facebook are.  They will be stripped of any technology apart from a computer with a blank hard drive.  At the end of the five days, they will each return home and talk about the news stories they found.

Frankly, this seems like little more than a publicity stunt.  An experiment is useful when it provides data that can be compared and manipulated — this can’t even be quantified (or at least that’s what the article suggests).  While I am skeptical of the experiment itself, I think the reasoning behind it is solid.

Real time has become the only acceptable time frame for news and media.  No one has ever wanted to read yesterday’s newspaper, but now no one wants this morning’s tweets.  We are able to demand real time news because there are vehicles for it, namely Twitter and Facebook.  For example, I knew this morning that Brad and Angelina were breaking up just by the Twitter feed on my phone — I didn’t even need to check my Google Reader.  I found out about Haiti via Twitter as well. That is not to say that the news stories originated on Twitter, certainly not.  But, Twitter has become the easiest way to keep updated and isn’t it about convenience these days?

In addition, Twitter and Facebook offer information not possible through a traditional news outlet.  In the wake of the Haiti earthquake, Twitter was full of personal testimonials and pictures.  There is an organic feel to these responses, something that any news outlet could not reproduce.

However, the news outlets can harness it.  I follow Katie Couric (@katiecouric) on Twitter.  About half of her posts are canned and clearly written by her publicist/assistant, but the other half are clearly her own.  She is able to reach out to her followers and tell them that she is heading to Haiti, and direct them to the work from her trip on her website in a genuine way — rather than waiting for the newscast.   Her Twitter account helps give news another dimension, which is much needed to compete in today’s world of changing media.

The issue with Twitter and Facebook and news is the lack of authority.  The added dimensions of the API’s must be taken with a grain of salt.  Facebook is basically a rumor mill, and with the speed of the internet, said rumors can spread more quickly than the truth.  As such, it is hard to separate the truth from the fluff.  Even if a story is true, can you rely on the data quoted in the story?

I suppose this can be avoided by only reading trusted outlets, however lack of authority is an overall failure of crowd-sourcing news.

Basically, I think that this is a pretty silly experiment that shows the reach of real time news today.  The most interesting part will probably be the “water-cooler” effect.  In that, word of mouth still reigns as the most effective way to transmit information. These journalists will be away from their peers thereby missing out.

What do you think?

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