Newspapers can break news again

Steve Outing highlighted on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits how useful Twitter can be during breaking news. Sending out short burst updates during a breaking news event can keep journalists in the field and close to the story while quickly filing updates that can easily be pulled via RSS into your site. He wrote:

In the not-so-distant past, I would have urged you to create a breaking-news blog for your news site if any big story like those hit in your backyard. …That’s so 2004! You can still do it, and probably should. But the breaking-news blog is about to be supplanted (or perhaps supplemented is a better word) by the Twitter breaking-news feed.

I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition. Twitter can be a good resource to reach your audience via SMS and even desktop alerts if you encourage your subscribers to follow breaking news ‘tweets’ via applications like Twitterific. But you can easily pull that into a blog via an RSS feed, and really, in the age of networked journalism, it’s about your site being a hub in the network to disseminate news. Journalists back at base can tap into the network for leads, pictures and first person reports.

I’ll give you an example from last week when we looked out our window here on the fifth floor of the Guardian and saw black smoke billowing from somewhere in east London. noted the pace of updates across several different sites and services, including Twitter, Flickr and the Guardian’s Newsblog:

The first tweet saw on the fire came from the Guardian’s head of blogging Kevin Anderson shortly before 12:30pm. Anderson has also posted pictures to Flickr and at 12:45pm posted an entry on the events to his Guardian blog.

I also did a quick post here on Strange Attractor. A commenter from Washington DC found the post and said:

Greetings from Washington D.C. Getting reports here that it is an industrial site. Stock futures markets moving up after intial shock. Looks ugly but, industrial chemical fires usually are. Yours was the first blog I came across that had the story. Who needs cables news? Will be watching to see how story develops. Thanks for posting


I was able to post faster and with more pictures and information than Sky and the BBC, which we were watching in the office. Flickr users noted that they were seeing more pictures on the site than on traditional news sites and TV channels. I also used Technorati to find video posted to YouTube before Sky had its helicopter on the scene. People were also posting links in the comments on the Guardian Newsblog.

Since the advent of radio and television, newspapers have been pushed out of the breaking news business. News is frozen at the time you have to go to press. Web-first has only slowly been embraced by newspapers and newspaper journalists.

I do sometimes find that newspaper journalists suddenly pushed into the 24/7 news cycle can feel that quality suffers as one daily deadline becomes a rolling deadline. But the internet does both immediacy as well as depth as Paul Bradshaw recently highlighted in the first of his 21st Century Journalism series of posts.

The strengths of the online medium are essentially twofold, and contradictory: speed, and depth.

And Paul’s ‘News Diamond’ shows how a story passes from speed to user control. It’s a great series of posts, and Paul’s thinking has brought together some brilliant ideas. Ideas that I’ll use the next time I’m blogging breaking news.

I was sitting in the office, which is a role for a networked journalist to play pulling together a news organisation’s own coverage while also aggregating the best of crowdsourced content. But I think there is also a role for field journalists to use Twitter, blogging software or other forms of flexible field filing to break news. Blogging was liberating for me as a journalist if for no other reason as a field journalist, it gave me a much easier way to file than using traditional content management systems that are made to work in the office but are unusable in the field. Until traditional CMSes provide that kind of flexibility, they will have significant drawbacks when compared to blogging platforms. But that’s another post for later.

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