For Breaking News, Go to Twitter

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imageImage © William Hook | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

Those who aren’t United Methodist probably have trouble understanding why some of the ones who are UM get so wrapped up in this whole General Conference thing. For one thing, it only comes around every four years. It’s kind of like the Olympics. Well, not really. NBC doesn’t pay ridiculous amounts of money to put our General Conference on the air. We have to settle for a Livestream feed on the Internet which, more often than not, shows color bars. (Couldn’t we at least get a roving reporter with a cell phone cam fishing for sensational quotes between sessions?)

Eight years ago, I remember going to the UMNS website to get breaking news about GC2004. There must have been a lot of demand on the servers during that GC because I remember the site being down a lot. In those days we relied mostly on UMNS articles and the occasional mainstream news story to find out what was happening. Today we have all kinds of news sources and blogs with GC updates, but my favorite way of keeping track of what’s happening is Twitter.

I realized the power of Twitter as a news source on the Sunday night when Osama Bin Laden’s death was made public. CNN had announced an unusual White House news conference that would happen later in the evening. I changed the TV to Fox News Channel and Geraldo Rivera was saying the same. (If anyone was going to let the cat out of the bag prematurely, I figured it would be Geraldo, but not this time.) So I signed on to Twitter, and Bin Laden’s death was already trending. Television news had been scooped by the masses—what’s not to love about that?

Anytime you put power in many hands, it’s bound to get messy. That’s the nature of democracy and freedom. And there are few things as free and as democratic as Twitter. You obviously can’t believe everything you read there, but as long as you understand the limitations of the source and verify the information, you can learn a lot. And you can learn it before a reporter can write the first paragraph of their news story. It’s amazing how much can be said in 140 characters.

But Twitter won’t replace traditional news sources. It isn’t meant to. It will, however, help make in-depth reporting and analysis more important than ever. People will always want to go somewhere to find out more.

I glance at the #GC2012 Twitter feed from time to time while I’m working. I’m not that interested in every little detail of GC, but it’s fun finding out what’s happening in the legislative committees in real time. And the cool thing about Twitter is you can see every side of the story if you read enough tweets. Even sides you don’t want to see and sides you didn’t know existed. Plus you get the information and the emotion—unfiltered.

It’s a wild west, no doubt, but that’s the beauty of it.


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