Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Reuters Journalists Can't Break News on Twitter

By Stefen Lovelace

Last week, reported on an interesting decision by the brass at Reuters. The UK-based news service has forbid their journalists from breaking news on Twitter before releasing the story on the wire first.

The strict instruction makes it clear that even though news continually breaks on Twitter first – especially in disaster scenarios – Reuters journalists are to break their stories first via the wire and not Twitter.

I found this to be a very odd decision on Reuters’ part. I admit I was skeptical of the Twitter phenomenon when it first became popular, and as an ex-journalist, I certainly saw the dangers of using it as a legitimate news breaking service. But after using Twitter for some time now, I see that its pros far outweigh its cons when it comes to breaking news.

What’s nice about Twitter is that as soon as news happens, journalists have the luxury of getting it out to their readers immediately. Since there are only 140 characters to work with, they can stick to just stating the most important fact, while working on a longer story with all of the details. When that story is complete, they can use Twitter to drive traffic to their full story.

If anything, Twitter should be viewed as a valuable tool for journalists and used accordingly. By forcing their journalists to break news on the wire first, Reuters is giving them an incredible disadvantage against the competition. Do you think a Reuters’ journalist will be able to write a wire story faster than a CNN or MSNBC journalist can tweet about it?

Judging by the story, it seems like Reuters has issues with social media as a whole.

…journalists are advised to get manager approval before using Twitter for professional purposes, have someone double-check their tweets before posting, avoid disclosing personal biases (especially political), and to separate professional and private activity with separate accounts.

The policy as a whole is a fascinating read and exposes that Reuters, as a media organization, is torn between encouraging employees to use social media and the realization that the online behaviors of their staff put them at risk, a sentiment expressed in the comment that these tools, if misused, could “threaten our hard-earned reputation for independence and freedom from bias or our brand.”

It’s no secret that you have to be careful with everything you post using social media. But Reuters’ journalists are trained professionals. If they’re working at a news organization as well-respected as Reuters, I’d like to think they know the importance of using discretion and eliminating their own personal biases.

The most important thing to take from this new policy, addresses in the last sentence of the story:

As other news organizations, reputable or not, continue to break stories on Twitter and even mandate social media usage, it will be interesting to see whether or not Reuters can maintain their relevance and position atop the news chain.

Without embracing social media, it’s hard to believe Reuters will be able to.

Stefen Lovelace is an Associate Account Executive. Contact him at

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