OK. Maybe it should be tweeting the news. I’m not sure. And doesn’t really matter. Unless it somehow (unlikely?) sparks a shitstorm online. I also expect that many (most?) who read this don’t care about Twitter one way or the other. For you, look at Twitter as a form of “micro-blogging” where you have 140 characters max to share your deepest thoughts with the world community, or some part of it big or small. Think of it as instant messaging on steriods.
I’ll admit that a year or so ago I was pretty skeptical about Twitter. Then Paull Young, someone whom I’ve actually met and talked to in person, sent me a link to a video and some other info. Since then I’ve joined the world of the twitterati, for good or evil. To paraphrase Descartes: “I Twitter, therefore I am.” @rsjewell
And I’ve concluded that Twitter is an enjoyable and entertaining time-suck — with the potential for some real value. It allows you to connect with an amazing amount of people — many with differing viewpoints if you care to venture out of the online echo chamber where most of us spend our days and nights. And it is a source of news — both via breaking headlines and stories and the increasing number of reporters and TV talking heads who are online.
Twitter also presents a challenge for organizations that find themselves “in the news.” When I was in corporate PR at Goodrich pre-Internet, we worked hard to contain negative stories to one news cycle. In those days, it meant generally one day. And you could pretty much monitor media coverage and get back to reporters if necessary. And stories didn’t hop from forum to forum, venue to venue. There really weren’t that many. Not sure containing a story or limiting its reach is possible these days — and this sure changes, in my opinion, the jobs of public relations professionals who work with reporters and have media relations responsibilites.
Here’s an example.
Monday morning or afternoon, I saw a story on Twitter that was credited to Time: “The Ten Most Endangered Newspapers in America.” I took a quick look at the story — and saw that the Cleveland Plain Dealer was on the list. Here’s from the story:
24/7 Wall St. has created a list of the 10 major daily papers that are most likely to fold or shutter their print operations and only publish online. The properties were chosen on the basis of the financial strength of their parent companies, the amount of direct competition they face in their markets and industry information on how much money they are losing. Based on this analysis, it’s possible that 8 of the nation’s 50 largest daily newspapers could cease publication in the next 18 months. (Read “The Race for a Better Read.”)
That seemed interesting enough — and plausable enough given what is happening now in Seattle and in newsrooms around the country. So given that Twitter is akin to intellectual bingo, I gleefully pressed the button and “retweeted” the story to my modest group of followers. And many of them — PR people in Northeast Ohio mostly — retweeted the story to their followers as well. And so on.
But was the story accurate — and fair to The Plain Dealer (and other newspapers mentioned), its employees, readers and so on? Not sure.
Later that night I saw a “tweet” from The Plain Dealer (see, told you Twitter was a source for news): “Plain Dealer publisher says online report of paper’s imminent demise is ‘baseless.'” Even with my blurry eyes trying to stay focused on Dancing With The Stars, I figured in fairness I should retweet the PD story. I did — and several of my followers did as well. Here’s from the PD version:
A report Monday — seemingly from Time Magazine — that The Plain Dealer will close or be online-only by next year is “baseless,” according to Plain Dealer Publisher Terrance Egger.
The report listing 10 newspapers facing failure attracted viewers on the Time Magazine Web site Monday, and then even more after it was featured on the home page of the Yahoo! Search engine.
The Plain Dealer was listed as No. 10, with the conclusion, “The Plain Dealer will be shut or go digital by the end of next year.”
Though this appeared on Time’s Web site and with a Time logo on Yahoo!, the report was from an online-only site, 247WallSt.com.
“People put this out there and associate Time Magazine with it,” Egger said, upon hearing that another source produced the report. He doubted readers would notice that distinction. “It’s still the Time brand it’s associated with.”
The PD tweet continued:
But Egger said The Plain Dealer and its parent corporation, Advance Publications, remain committed to producing news both in print and online.
“Every plan we have for the immediate future is to make that work,” he said.
Egger bristled that the report did not include any comment from The Plain Dealer or Advance Publications. The report’s author did not include a response from any of the 10 publications or any indication he tried to reach them and they did not respond.
The reporter, Douglas McIntyre, is not a Time employee, but an editor of 24/7 Wall Street, a three-year-old service that writes about business and stocks. McIntyre, son of former Akron Beacon Journal reporter and editor Bruce McIntyre, said on Monday that his site provides news content to several other online sites.
McIntyre said he talked to sources, whom he declined to name, at Advance Publications, as well as other industry experts for the story. He said he had no sources within management of The Plain Dealer itself.
McIntyre said he chose The Plain Dealer based on financial issues with Advance, with declining advertisements in The Plain Dealer and with the state of Cleveland’s economy.
OK, folks. The original story is pretty thin. And it doesn’t appear that the PD was contacted by the reporter for comment prior to publication. That, if true, troubles me. And reality is that anyone with a computer (or a BlackBerry) can write and publish anything these days. But is it inaccurate? Is it fair? Well, time will tell I guess in the case of The Plain Dealer. And at a minimum, I think you could make the case that Douglas McIntyre should have disclosed his link to the Akron Beacon Journal — which is a competitor of The Plain Dealer. But I’ll let the journalism ethics classes chew on that one.
But here’s the point. The original story was still making the rounds on Twitter yesterday — without any mention of the PD response. That’s a big change from the way the game of media relations was played when I was still suiting up — and it is an immense challenge for organizations and public relations professionals.
It also should create some concern for all of us — as more and more news and information is being developed and circulated online. As we move toward twittering the news, all of us are going to have to pay more attention to what is actually being said in those 140 characters. And who is doing the writing, reporting, linking and fact checking (if anyone?).