Scoops and Tweets

When it comes to journalists, scoops are irresistible and Twitter makes them irrepressible.

At a faculty back-to-school retreat for the Journalism School mid August, I invited the UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham to join faculty and staff for lunch.  Cunningham recently finished an impressive strategic planning process to advance the athletic program both academically and athletically.   Since the J-school underwent a similar strategic planning process during the past year, I thought faculty would appreciate hearing how the athletic department got to its goals.  I also thought the staff would enjoy hearing from Cunningham and about the upcoming season.

After Cunningham’s presentation full of statistics and aspirational goals, he was asked about basketball player P.J. Hairston who has had a string of missteps with the police.  At first Cunningham gave a none answer, but when asked a second time, he committed news.  He was more specific than anyone in authority had been about Hariston’s standing as a player.    For one of our colleagues, that scoop was no longer an answer to a question asked at a faculty retreat.  It was twitter fodder.  He tweeted just past noon and by late afternoon Cunningham’s one sentence answer was all over cyberspace and by the evening big news across the sate and nationally in sports circles.

I hadn’t asked Cunningham to the retreat to make news but he made it and the journalism professor was thrilled he could still detect a scoop and make waves.

There has been a lot of laughter around the idea of Twitter making news – but that retreat comment proved how powerful the medium can be. Social media isn’t just for the few – it has reach.

Today in his column for the New York Times, David Carr reports how much of a reach.  Carr wrote a very engaging column about a report by Peter Hamby during a semester sabbatical at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard. Hamby is a CNN political reporter who wrote a long review of the 2012 campaign for his report and focused on the role of Twitter in it.  Hamby documented that the small group of traveling press corps following candidates from one event to another, no longer fed “big foot “ journalism stars but “filed” themselves all day, every day through 24/7 tweets.  Hamby’s conclusion:  the traveling press corps has become “one giant, tweeting blob”.

Tweets may not make for deeper more thoughtful coverage of candidates and their issues, plans and vision for the country, but they do mean there are a lot more people who can be engaged in the inside story of a campaign.  When I was a political reporter in Washington in the early 1980s the club of political reporters swapped stories about what was happening “inside” the campaigns. On the plane. On the bus.  Within the small cadre of the candidate’s advisers. But now everyone is a member of the club – if they want to be.  As the former spokesman for the GOP primary candidate Jon Huntsman put it in Carr’s article: “ Now people can find information in tons of places. They can find long form, both liberal and conservative, everywhere, keep up with the campaigns as closely as they want to on Titter.”   For Tim Miller that is a plus: voters have more access to more information in more places”.

So here we go.  Twitter is a player.  It’s a platform for making and sharing news.  Journalists need to learn how to use it best, and news consumers have to be able to separate the good inside tweets from the manipulated ones.



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