Much of the news we get from local papers originates from wire services. This is the end result of multiple studies conducted over the past couple of years, a few of which are summarized in this excellent post by Nikki Usher on OJR: The Online Journalism Review. Newspapers often get the credit for being the originators of news in local markets, but upon further investigation, a majority of that content comes from wire services. Journalists at local papers serve as filters of wire content and determine which stories to run.
In contrast, we’ve all seen the alternative to this traditional approach to local news across social media. Services like Twitter provide a never-before-seen view into local news, often first-person from eyewitnesses or “citizen journalists”. Because of its open architecture and lack of filters, all the news is “fit to print” online – though only the most interesting content rises above the noise. While local newspapers seem best positioned to meet our demand for hyper-local content, we shouldn’t discount the potential of services like Twitter to serve as a new wire service for the digital age.
Newspapers that integrate social media will quickly find they can provide broader, more comprehensive coverage of local news and events than ever before, with less effort. Rather than subscribing to feeds of national or international content, and repurposing the content for local consumption, newspapers can filter local feeds from their readers to identify true local content of interest to their demographic.
So back to the question and title of this post, is Twitter the new wire service? I think it is. You can find information on international, national, and hyper-local news and events faster using social media. When news breaks today, it breaks on Twitter. The question of accuracy will always be at the forefront of this conversation, but does the wisdom of crowds prevail in social media? I haven’t seen a concrete example of any event that was “reported” inaccurately on Twitter without quickly being self-corrected. On the flip side, there are plenty of examples of where traditional media outlets get it wrong.
This isn’t to say that one is better than the other, but rather we need to consider social media more seriously in the conversation about the future of reliable information sources – particularly when it comes to local news and information.