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Twitter: Next Generation of Citizen Journalism? June 30, 2009

Posted by billyburnettgbc in Journalism, new media, Twitter.
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I didn’t learn of Michael Jackson’s death on the news, nor did I read it in a newspaper or online, I heard about it on Twitter, the fastest growing medium of so-called citizen journalism.

I was in a public house near my flat and as a friend frequented the little boy’s room I took the opportunity to load up Tweet Deck on my iPhone.  I was suddenly met with over 300 “MJ related” Tweets, with an assortment of hash tags and tiny URLs which I could use to follow the story.  This was citizen journalism in action and I became part of it the minute I decided to Retweet and subsequently break the internet.

As the fastest growing website in the UK, experiencing a 22-fold increase in the past year, Twitter is now not only used by many for communication, but also as a source of news.  This is supported by a recent study by industry analysts Hitwise, who found that during May, links from Twitter accounted for 1 in every 350 visits to a website.  The figures also revealed that Twitter was the 27th most popular source of traffic to media and newspaper websites in the UK.

But is this a sustainable medium, not in terms of enthusiastic users but in terms of quality?  On the same day that I learnt of the news surrounding Michael Jackson, Tweets were also circulating around the death of Jeff Goldblum, culminating in an Australian news channel covering the news.  A term we are referring to internally as Tweeting Whispers.

Another challenge facing the use of Twitter as a source of news is the opportunity for misuse. Habitat has hit the headlines over the past couple of weeks when an overenthusiastic “intern” decided to leverage the popularity of hash tags surrounding the Iran elections and Apple iPhone to promote a special offer by Habitat.  On this occasion the site was simply misused to promote a special offer, but what if it was to send people to an infected website etc.

The challenge for Twitter is on how to address these problems. Does it put in place technical solutions that could potentially inhibit growth and functionality?  Or does it leverage the Twitter audience and create a new system of rating or reporting tweets?

The task ahead is unenviable however there is no doubt without some action from a predominantly unchanged social networking platform the Twitter platform will be replaced.  I am already thinking of a tool where you aren’t allowed to use vowels.

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