Wick Communications

Tweet goes the source

In Online media on 10 Sep 2010 at 9:25 am

I found a good example of a newspaper using Twitter as a breaking news source this week and thought I would share. The newspaper in question is one of my hometown papers, and a good one – the Palo Alto Weekly.

Last week, in the wee hours of a weekday morning, there was a home invasion. Apparently two guys busted into a home and when police showed up a foot chase and search ensued in the middle of the night in a residential section of town. Believe me: This is big news in Palo Alto, Calif.

Well, the next morning the publisher found out about all this when he opened his Twitter account. He subscribes to a feed from a guy he knows only as “qq.” Mr. q is known for monitoring police scanners and tweeting what he hears. The tweets — 15 of them in 40 minutes — were urgent:

“PAPD responding 100 block Waverley on a possible prowler. Units setting up a perimeter.”

“PAPD is requesting that all occupants of the house sequester themselves into a room.”

“PAPD has the suspect on the run. Lighting up the area with spotlights.” …

Wow. The publisher alerted Weekly Managing Editor Jocelyn Dong and she and a reporter went to work. They had to get something for the Web in time for a 10 a.m. hard deadline for their daily e-newsletter.

The pair was thwarted by police. The regular PIO wasn’t available and official information wasn’t coming by their deadline. So they did what they thought was in the best interests of readers.

“The guy, ‘qq,’ also participates in our online discussion forum, Town Square, and we have found him to be a reliable source,” Dong wrote in an e-mail to me. In other words, when he is just repeating the police scanner, she found him fairly credible.

I wish I could find the story. Looks like when they got more info, including the press release you see above, they updated it with official sources and qq’s work was replaced.

I completely understand the Weekly’s decision and I might have done the same. I waffle, to be honest. I was talking to the top editor at the paper this morning and he said he thought he owed it to readers to present the best information they had, which, in this instance, was from “qq.” Since we at the Half Moon Bay Review don’t put out a daily newsletter at a set time but rather issue breaking news alerts as we gather information, I would be tempted to wait a couple hours till we get more definitive word on what happened. Of course, the same situation could occur as you are up on a print deadline.

It does point to one undeniable fact: Twitter and Facebook and the like are more valuable as sources of information – at least as initial alerts that there is something to check out – than they are as vehicles from which to launch your journalism. That’s my feeling any way. What do you think?



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