Twitter: The New Frontline Of Journalism


Some would argue it’s already here but for, the photograph above marked the entry of Twitter in to the mainstream media and the emergence of the Real Time Web. The photo is of course the one taken by Janis Krums who used his iPhone to snap this photos of passengers huddled on the wing of the A320 that ditched in to the Hudson River last week. He posted it on and it flashed around the world. The tipping point for me was seeing it discussed on BBC’s News At Ten.


Scoble in particular has been lauding the merits of Twitter more and more over the last few months as the fastest breaking news service in the world. Events like the Mumbai attacks showed us the highs and lows of real-time coverage but whilst we can argue about the authority of what appears on Twitter, the speed is breathtaking and that’s it’s killer feature. Citizen journalism’s touch paper has been lit by Twitter. Any mobile phone can now become a global reporting unit and an iPhone or other camera enabled mobiles have significantly moved the game of reporting on and made every major news outlet consider their approach. The smart ones already have their journos on Twitter and I imagine many newsrooms now monitor Twitter as closely they would the Associated Press and other reputable outlets. Al Jazeera is there and Wired reports that a new Twitter-Yahoo Mashup “Yields Better Breaking News Search”. If I search for Liverpool on on Tweetnews I get a list that shows Yahoo news items along recent tweets on those topics which brings Twitter a step closer to the authority that is it’s main source of criticism as a journalistic source. 

Twitter is becoming the front line of journalism.


Why does all of this matter? Well to many it doesn’t but speed of information has become a commodity in the age of the Internet. Not only because we all like to be ahead of the game but because of advertising. How many hits did the Twitpic page that hosted Janis Krum’s image get? Enough to crash that site which means many more than they had planned for or would get in a normal day. I’m guessing at least tenfold. It’s an advertisers dream – a real-time crowd to whom you can sell real-time, targeted advertising. Many have wondered what is the Twitter business model. I would wonder which one of the many will they choose.


Back in 2006 I read a book called Naked Conversations and I realised then why blogging was going to be a big thing. I was quite behind that curve but managed to catch it as Shel Israel and Robert Scoble laid out the reasons it was “the next big thing”. We now regularly see news break on blogs, see blog quoted in mainstream media and almost consider blogs passé. Once again, Shel is ahead of the curve and I predict the book he is currently writing all about Twitter (titled Twitterville) is going to be a must read bestseller. If you’re new to Twitter you could do a lot worse than check out Shel’s 7 Tips for Newbies.

I feel like a bit of a fraud talking up Twitter like this as when it first came out I panned the idea of listening in to my friends talking about the banality of their day. 6 months later I was hooked and I’d put it down to these things:


  1. Critical Mass: enough of my friends were on Twitter that it became a useful “virtual watercooler” for me
  2. Search: Summize allowed me to find out who was talking about what on Twitter and then follow them. It allowed me to build my own village with people on my wavelength (no surprise when Twitter bought Summize)
  3. Desktop Twitter: The Twitter web page is nigh on useless in the age of Web 2.0. The power if their API and the fact that desktop applications like Twhirl can poll Twitter and alert me when there is something new in the village. Usually about every 3 minutes
  4. Mobile Twitter: accessing Twitter when mobile really brought it home to me. Especially when you’re at a conference/gig with hundreds of friends you want to meet up with and you don’t want to send a hundred text messages. If mobile email scared the crap out of operators, they should be up in arms about Twitter
  5. Being Passive: once you figure out that Twitter is all passive information you learn to love it. Of course you don’t need to see every tweet your friends ever posted. Twitter is a moment in time. If you want to see the past, you can of course search of use something like Twilerts
  6. Personal Brand: If you’re on the web, Twitter is becoming the next great extension of your brand? Can’t be bothered with a blog? Don’t worry, with Twitter you only have to write 140 characters or less.
  7. Brevity: On Twitter the 140 char brevity often = banality but it also means you have to think before you write anything beyond that. Sometimes I wish the other forums I converse in were limited to 140 characters. We’d get a lot more done!


For several months last year I had people in Microsoft ask me almost daily what the big deal is about Twitter. These days I point them to Common Craft’s excellent video (I think I mentioned to Lee they should to that video to save me time!). More often I simply them them:


Twitter is unquestionably the fastest breaking news service in the world. Bar none. It’s citizen journalism with a turbo charger, Viagra and steroids.


That usually gets them to go sign up and though the authority of Twitter will continue to be questioned (rightly so), it’s speed of growth will begin to match it’s speed of reporting.

This will be the year of Twitter and I’m tempted to agree with Bernard Lunn’s assessment that Sorry Google, You Missed the Real-Time Web! – no disrespect to Google there as so did Microsoft and everyone else.

I’m going to stick my neck out as far as saying I think we’ll see Twitter or some reference to it (Ev, Biz, the realtime web or something like that) being on the cover of Time this year. At the very least, it’s going to be a major, mass media year for Twitter.


[update 1] I enjoyed Matthew Ingram’s post on this topic and his pal Steve Safran’s comment on Twitter regarding the Hudson crash. He said, was “an excellent example of witness media and pro media cooperation. It’s not about the ‘versus.’”

[update 2] New tricks- 10 tips for Tweeting as your news organization

Comments (5)

  1. Joe Mescher says:

    Brevity rules.

    The first thing I locked onto when scanning this article (before committing to reading it) was your headline:

    "Twitter is becoming the front line of journalism."

    With the rise of Twitpics and video linking, it will be amazing to see how people elevate social media (I hope) using cheap technology like Flip video recorders.

  2. stevecla01 says:

    thanks Joe – the irony of this blog post is it’s probably my longest in a year and it’s all about Twitter where as you say, brevity rules!

    Do you think the headline was good or bad? genuinely intersted as I’m trying to get better at headlines

  3. Matthew Gain says:

    Funny to think that had this happened this week, when TwitPic has been behaving irrational at best, all those mainstream news outlets may have had nothing to put on their screens or next to their stories.

  4. Karln says:

    I wonder if in the past the person in question would have chosen to assist the rescue opposed to take pictures of people im distress ?

  5. Stephen says:

    Karl–I think you need only look at the video of the LAPD’s handling of Rodney King in Los Angeles several years ago to answer your question.

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