Dec 1, 2010

[Social Media] How Should News Agencies Like The Inquirer Handle Twitter?

Last Monday, a single person won the over P740 million GrandLotto pot. Shortly thereafter, a lot of stupid things happened.

A single message was sent out declaring that there was one winner from Luzon. And in the parenthesis, the name of the reporter, as is inconsistently standard for the Inquirer Twitter account. I'd post a screenshot, but of course the Inquirer has deleted the offending update as of this time - if anyone has a copy, feel free to pass it along back to me.

Anyway, we eventually got this stupid pseudo-retraction:

Inquirer Lotto Tweet Retraction

And now Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter Miko Morelos claims to fearing for his life because of Monday night's stupidity. And best of all, he blames Tim Yap. Can this story get any crazier?

Let's look at CNN first and how they handle their Twitter account.

I'd guesstimate that a good 85-90% of their updates are direct posts from the account itself, representing official news that also appears on CNN's news banner even before a full article is written. The remaining 10-15% consists of re-Tweeted messages (using the old RT format mind you) coming from other Twitter accounts of the CNN family (such as CNN Money and Eatocracy) and named anchors like Anderson Cooper and Larry King. Lesser known reporters and anchors like Pauline Chiou have that distinct "CNN" at the end of their Twitter username.

Let's go back to the Inquirer.

The Inquirer Twitter account makes liberal use of the new version of the re-tweet version, which removes their branding and instead inserts these updates directly into their newsfeed. What's worse, the re-tweet a lot of different sources. Sure, some may include the companies themselves but other cases include other news agencies, other Twitter news sources who aren't necessarily news agencies such as advocacy groups. And they re-tweet a bunch of other people who may or may not be reporters for the Inquirer - you can't really tell from their Twitter accounts.

Oh, and sometimes the give credit to their reporters by inserting their names between parenthesis, claiming this is standard when they don't follow this for more than 90% of their updates. Go figure.

As a news agency, people turn to them for verified updates. Quoting another Twitter account is not necessarily verified - all you can write there is that "according to the Twitter page of *****" and so on and so forth. That's not journalism - that's being lazy! And how are we supposed to know who the Inquirer's reporters are? They're not as prominent as columnists or news anchors on TV.

Thus here's my quick list of recommendations for the Inquirer's Twitter handlers:
  1. Attribution is not important - If something appears on your Twitter page, we should expect it comes from an official reporter. Better yet, it should link to an article which contains the reporter's byline. You shouldn't waste 140 characters on that. Besides, when there is no attribution in the Tweet, then who posted it? What's the difference between those updates and those from reports?
  2. Stop re-tweeting outside of the Inquirer group - It's okay to re-tweet from subsidiary newspaper sections or sister newspapers. That's okay. But don't retweet from reporters, company twitter accounts, NGO groups and whatever else is there. You can write an article about what they had to say and then publish it on your website, but don't just pass along other people's tweets as your own efforts at pseudo-journalism.
  3. Stick to the old RT / re-tweet format - This is important for two reasons. First, it's good branding practice for the newspaper. Second, it means that the person at the Twitter helm at least took the time to re-copy the message and hopefully think about verifying the news item before adding it as something "official" on the company Twitter account.
  4. Clearly identify reporters's Twitter accounts - And this means having them all change their usernames to somehow include "PDI" or something. But more importantly...
  5. Reporters should have separate Twitter accounts for news versus their own updates - The irony of many PDI reporters is that if you visit their Twitter pages, it clearly states that their updates are their own and not the opinion of the Inquirer. And yet later on the Inquirer will instead re-tweet these messages as their own.

Fine, given the recent incident is also an example of people not verifying news, it also taps on the fact that the Inquirer is hardly 100% reliable either. The average Twitter reader doesn't check sources that deeply - this is a 140 character format after all. And that should be taken into consideration when using this medium.

Will the Inquirer take my suggestions? I doubt it - as evidenced by the tone in the tweet featured at the start of this article and the retaliatory article written by the "fearful for his life" reporter Miko Morelos, clearly this is a key part of their journalistic strategy. I mean come on, to blame a single Twitter personality, one who happens to also write the occasional feature for the Inquirer? Either he's that naive or it's just more sensationalist journalism to stir up more attention for Tim Yap. *shudders*

And don't get me started on their misleading, sensationalist and inaccurate headlines. That's a whole different blog entry altogether.

So let's all take a look at a better example of a local news agency, like ABS-CBN News. Now THAT's a good example of an effective Twitter news agency. Why the heck have I been following the Inquirer so long? Time to unfollow the Inquirer and start following ABS-CBN and other news agencies who make better use of the Twitter medium.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.
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