Twitter: A valid news source or just a platform for 'randoms?'

This morning, as I do most mornings, I started my day by firing up my phone and browsing the news headlines in bed.

One story caught my attention - and the reaction to the story in particular. As you'll have discerned from the headline, there were comments that questioned the value of using Twitter as a source of serious news.

The subject of the story doesn't really matter, but for the sake of completeness, it was this one in the Guardian. It's about the backlash that followed a Telegraph article which suggested suicides in newspaper journalists could be attributed to stress stemming from trying to hit commercial deadlines. This is a story that's not without irony.

So first, a little history.

There had previously been a huge story alleging that a Swiss subsidiary of the HSBC bank had been helping wealthy customers avoid tax. This was big news, covered by websites and newspapers around the world -- but not by the Telegraph.

There followed allegations that Telegraph reporters had been discouraged from writing anything negative about HSBC - interestingly, this happened shortly after the owners of the newspaper secured a £250 million loan from the bank.

The Telegraph's chief political commentator dramatically resigned this week, disgusted at his former employer's "fraud on readers". In an all-out attack on the paper, Peter Oborne made calls for an investigation into the lack of coverage in the Telegraph about the HSBC tax story.

With the suggestion that reporters are being leaned on to avoid negative coverage of a bank seen as an ally, it seems slightly ironic, nay hypocritical, to then run a story saying that pressure to hit commercial targets (which would obviously be pushed by managers and editors) could lead to suicide.

And we're not just talking hypothetically. The Telegraph was talking about two real deaths.

Two reporters on other newspaper sadly took their own lives, and in addition to the interesting stance on the news, the Telegraph also decided to run the story suggesting the link without naming the reporter responsible for penning it.

Apologies for the rather roundabout introduction, but a little background is needed to understand why there might be a backlash against something that appeared in a newspaper.

It used to be that if readers were shocked, offended, outraged or otherwise upset by a story, they would put pen to paper and write to the editor. This does still happen, but electronic methods of communication have now taken over.

Rather than a letter, it's more likely that an email will be fired off. Or, even more likely, an opponent or proponent of a story will take to Twitter to share their views with the wider world. It's the start of the dialog of a story.

Like any dialog, it's a two-way process. Just as people respond to story by vetting spleen on Twitter, so reporters and bloggers use Twitter as a source of news and a fount of inspiration. And this is the reason for my lengthy intro. The Guardian story about the negative response to the Telegraph referred to Twitter and quoted pertinent tweets. This, for some reason, upset some readers.

"Seriously though, twitter is not news..." said one.

"What worries me most is the decision of the Guardian to join the trend that regards what a few dozen people say on a "social media" site (Twitter) as the basis for news," said another.

The idea that Twitter should not be used as a source of news seems strange to me. It's just a medium. Any medium through which people communicate can be a source of information, and therefore a source of news. And it's important to remember that news reporting isn’t just about reporting the cold, hard facts that get you from A to B - analysis, reaction, response, conversation and the like are just as important to the overall understanding of a story.

But people disagree: "We can look on Twitter for ourselves. A journalist who quotes Twitter simply underlines that traditional newspapers are now irrelevant."

In fact this particular comment spurred me to respond: "I'm pretty sure newspapers and Twitter can live side by side... it's not a case of having to pick one or the other."

The same person who prompted me to post a comment also said: "I always think quoting from Twitter is a sad place for a real paper to find itself in. Especislly [sic] when those quoted are just 'randoms.'"

Which led me to respond: "That's like disliking vox pops with people on the street. Every 'random' is part of the human collective, and their opinion and input is no more or less valid simply because of the medium through which it was delivered."

I'd go further and say that the two not only live happily side by side, but also feed each other. We've moved on from the idea of the hypodermic needle model. Different media serve each other, and one is not better than another.

Platforms such as Twitter mix things up a great deal as they help to give a voice to, well, just about everyone. Perhaps this is why Twitter is not always well-received. There's a lot of crap out there, but it would be foolish to tar every user with the same brush.

If you were to see Fox News for the first time and dismiss all television news out of hand because of its blatant bias and absurdity, you'd be doing no one a disservice but yourself.

In the comment on the Guardian article, there was some sense among the madness, however: "Most of Twitter is just irrelevant chatter - but that's because most of what is said anywhere is just chatter... Forget Twitter - it's not important where something is said, it's what was said and by whom. Twitter is not separate from the real world, it is part of the real world - it's just people talking. And some of the conversations are important and newsworthy."

Guardian writers also took the time to reply: "The fact that twitter was the medium they'd used to quote is pretty irrelevant. In this case twitter has just made it easier to get useful quotes: poor journalism is when you cherry pick unqualified tweets, good journalism uses twitter better than that."

I'm interested to gauge opinion. Do you use Twitter as a source of news, or to read reaction to the news? Do you value it more or less than other sources?

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