News travels quickly via TV, radio or online, but not as fast as it does over social media. The "Twittercycle" is faster, hyper-vigilant and often more nuanced than the traditional one.
Take the recent, much-awaited U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare. As traditional outlets were just barely breaking the news, the social media world was already buzzing with reports that CNN and Fox News had gotten it wrong.
Both news outlets erroneously reported that the law had been overturned, prompting disparaging tweets like "This is historic! CNN has just delivered the Twitter generation's 'Dewey Defeats Truman.' " Bloomberg and the Associated Press tweeted the news first, within 24 seconds of each other.
This gaffe illustrates the new "Twittercycle" of news--its speed, complexity and the risks inherent in it. The expanding role of social networking sites in news dissemination is unquestionable, as events like the Arab Spring have shown.
Still, social media's permanence is up for debate among media professionals-- IJNet's readers included--despite the growing population of news consumers who rely on Twitter's aggregating capabilities for information.
But at what point does a new form of communication cross over from fad territory to become an indelible fixture?
Rem Rieder, editor and senior vice president of American Journalism Review, believes that switch has already been made.
"If it's a fad, it's an awfully successful one," he told IJNet. "Twitter has become a major force in how news gets reported. It's a terrific early warning system."
It needs to be used with caution, Rieder said, given that it comes with new challenges in accuracy and verification. But when it's used properly, it's "truly potent." And the same can be said for Facebook, which is used less for breaking news but is still a valuable tool for journalists. "Growth rates may well slow down, but both seem to be embedding themselves deeply into the culture."
Greg Linch, special projects and news application producer at the Washington Post, said social networking sites will continue to serve as dominant news sources as long as they remain part of the public's daily routine. "As they become more ingrained in how we lead our lives, the distinction between social and other media will growingly fade," he said.
It's that piece--our acclimation to social media as a mode of daily communication--that convinces me of its staying power. We don't just absorb the news, but we share it as a way of constructing and projecting our identities to the cyber world. Each news item we distribute is a reflection of our interests and values. If Twitter and Facebook prove to be fads, this type of self-focused dissemination is sure to find a new home.
What do you think?