Twittering the News

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?).

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10 responses to “Twittering the News

  1. It’s incredible that this is your posting today, especially since I’ve been watching this German school shooting coverage since 9:30am here and everyone’s been saying that the stations got initial reports from Twitter.

  2. Yeah. That’s happening more and more these days. I learned of the shootings first — on Twitter. The information certainly moves quickly. Yet I have some reservations, not necessarily with the story in Germany but in general, about accuracy and fairness. And given how quickly and extensively the stories move, very difficult to correct something that is inaccurate or unfair.

  3. Which is why news orgs need to be on Twitter. Local news in Dayton generally shows up first on Twitter from the Dayton Daily News. Though late to the game, newspapers still have a brand on the Internet. It sounds as if someone was able to ride the coattails of Time’s brand to spread their BS

  4. “Doug McIntyre, so of former ABJ reporter.” I like how the PD threw that in there to give readers the assumption a reporter who hasn’t worked at the ABJ for 30 years somehow had something to do with his son’s personal vengeance against them. Maybe the Cleveland Plain Dealer will gain some subscribers from the ABJ in response to their dirty competitor tactics and will not have to go digital only.

    • Don,

      You make a good point. And I guess to be fair I should have gone back to Doug McIntyre and asked about the PD comment. And I think it illustrates in a small way at least one point I was trying to make. The more these stories get passed from website, to blog, to Twitter and so on the more difficult it is for (1) an organization to correct or even comment on a story and (2) a reader to get a sense of accuracy, fairness and completeness.

  5. Don,

    It’s standard for The Plain Dealer to note a local connection, if one exists, when we mention someone in the news.

    Rob,

    I don’t know that the way this claim continues to spread is really so different from the past. What’s different is that now, with blogs and Twitter searchable, we can see what was once invisible word-of-mouth. That’s why, in addition to sending out our own Tweet, we’ve been able to follow up with some of the bigger blogs and local Twitterers to point them to our response.

    We can’t bottle up the story completely, but we’ve had cooperation from most of the folks I’ve contacted in giving our side of the story.

    • John,

      Thanks for your comment. The advice you are giving is correct and useful to people in public relations and elsewhere. You do have to monitor what is being said now online. What strikes me is how quickly this information moves. And how accepting people are of the accuracy and fairness of the content. Me included.

  6. John,

    Also, I give the PD credit for responding as quickly as you did to this story. My experience says many organizations would have responded too late, if at all. That’s another lesson to be learned here.

  7. Hi Rob –

    Funny, I learned about the 24/7 story on Facebook! A former colleague had posted it as a link.

    I didn’t believe the PD ranking when I read it. And the PD did make money in 2008, according to the publisher. I’m more concerned about the Beacon Journal, which seems to be in much worse shape.

    As we have discussed before, digital-only newspapers are inevitable in my opinion. The recession and poor advertising climate will only accelerate the transition.

  8. Pingback: A.I.G. and Obama: Duped Again « PR on the run

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