Saturday, 6 February 2010

Should you cite tweets as a source?

Last week, five journalists in France locked themselves in a farmhouse for five days to test the limits of reporting using sources sent to them on Twitter and Facebook exclusively. Their goal was to test the legitimacy of social media as a news source, and to see if it can stand up on its own.

The debate whether Twitter is a legitimate source for journalists continues, but many journalists are using Twitter to gather information and pitches from PR people with great success. Some have even made accounts especially for it, to separate it from their personal tweets.

Another way a journalist can use Twitter as a source is to crowdsource ideas, making traditional research a lot easier and faster.

One journalist who really embraces crowdsourcing and Twitter is Charles Arthur from the Guardian. He frequently sends out tweets like this:

Before writing articles like this:

Top five Twitter gaffes
The past year has seen been a string of slip-ups on micro-blogging service Twitter, from cricketers to Vodafone staff

Charles has 10,339 followers listening in, and he draws from their knowledge, experience and opinions for his articles. But what do his contributors gain?

As a PR, we know our role in the news process and any form of acknowledgment would never be expected. We’re paid to provide journalists with information in the interest of our clients. But, out in blog land, credit is expected where credit is due.

In the blogosphere, a hat tip, or even a small mention, is common courtesy, and anything less might be considered rude. Even in mainstream news, a newspaper wouldn’t use information from another paper or a blog without acknowledging credit. So, where do tweets fit in?

If Twitter is increasingly becoming recognised as a legitimate news source, should citing individual tweets be standard?
Or, are tweets akin to overhearing someone in the street, and not a citable news source?

As mainstream media moves more and more online and increasingly acts like a blog, should they adopt the standard blogging practices?

I’d really appreciate hearing your opinion on it.


  1. Good post - I think this should be embraced and accepted as best practice. As you say, it is a courtesy and shows good appreciation of the 'pass it on' aspect of social media...

  2. On Twitter it standard practice to either RT or accredited as via @orignator. On blogs we tend to give link backs. I think the more people you draw into the conversation the more powerful your use of social media!

    Long term, I suspect that ways of rating Tweeters so as to generally acknowledge legitimate news sources over gossip will be likely. At the moment I'm working with Klout to help them; Twitalyser does something comparable and let's not forget that Twitter's own RT system is something akin to Digg's rating system. That would therefore mean that the gauntlet is now thrown down to both Bing and Google who've access to that data to see who can intelligently start using it for creating authority ratings of users - Page Rank for people anyone?