I am not a journalist.
I have never so much as attended a journalism class, referred to myself as a journalist and, as a matter of pride, restrict my dealings with “journalists” to hanging out with Pamela Hughes. But last Friday I found myself in the middle of a journalistic storm as the story in Boston unfolded.
Since I have nothing better to do, I was glued to social media accounts of the events that led to the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Since I was at home and not needed at the radio station, I began to tweet (@BruceStJames) different news bits I was picking up through news organizations, private citizens and maybe best of all, the Boston Police Department scanner. Besides the retweets, comments and new followers I gained Friday night, I also got a new awareness of the good — and bad — aspects of Twitter as a news source.
First, the good.
By monitoring multiple channels and cross referencing reports, locations and coded radio messages, I was able to “beat” the cable news channels by several minutes with real, factual and dramatic news reports. Everything from the fact the suspect was alive and moving (according to the sniper on the roof peering into the boat AND the Massachusetts State Police helicopter’s infrared radar), to the efforts of the Hostage Rescue Team to coax the suspect out on his own, knowing the clock was ticking as the helicopter was low on fuel and soon they would lose its eyes in the sky. Talk about real life drama!
And now, the bad.
I have no special powers to separate fact from fiction and I debated hitting “send” on a few of my tweets because I thought the source was dubious or the information suspect. What I figured out fast was that ALL truth existed on the Internet and it was up to me to sift through, edit, discard and highlight certain information. No pressure. Literally, no pressure. What is the downside of ME getting it wrong as opposed to AP, CNN or even KTAR? In hindsight, I did a reasonable job of accurately tweeting the events but will also admit to falling for bad leads, misunderstanding communication and/or trusting the wrong source.
Which brings us to this dilemma: fast or accurate?
I’ll take my chances with fast. Never before has “normal” news gathering felt so slow. And by slow, we are talking 30 seconds to three minutes behind what was already out on Twitter. As much as I’d like to say that, next time a major news story breaks, we will all wait patiently for stories and sources to be vetted, triple-checked and double-sourced, count me as one of the people who will be breathlessly following along on social media, re-tweeting what I see and hear as quickly as my fat little fingers can type.