Twitter was an imperfect news channel during Giffords coverage

News of the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was followed quickly by social media receiving more than its share of credit and blame for mistakes made in the early reporting.

But Chad Catacchio at The Next Web writes that Twitter coverage of the event was no better or worse than any individual news anchor:

"The conflicting reports upset many people, blaming Twitter/reporters/people sharing the news that they messed up. That, to me, wasn’t the case -- news organizations were doing their best to get the story as straight as quickly as possible, and many on Twitter were also doing their best to constantly pass on the correct and most up-to-date information. In fact, if anything, it reminded me that news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination was handled in quite a similar fashion by [Walter] Cronkite – trying to sort through all of the conflicting reports as an anxious world watched in the real-time of the day."

Dave Wilcox, a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication, writes that the coverage on social media points to the need for everyone to be better news consumers as well as producers. He followed events on Twitter and gives the service an "A" for engagement, and a "C-" for accuracy:

"All in all, I believe I would have been far better served as a news consumer if I had simply waited for what my local daily paper put together with their significant resources and skilled editors. But I can’t wait; I want my news NOW, damn it. And therein lies a dilemma, of course. To date, we remain far from having old media accuracy at digital media speed."

Steve Safran at Lost Remote chronicles some of the mistakes made, which included conflicting reports of the congresswoman's death. He asks how media organizations should handle incorrect tweets once the wrong message has already been spread:

"One argument ... is to stop or slow the retweeting. But this is difficult, if not impossible. And it is tempting but impractical to call for a squad of people to monitor tweets. For hours after it was reported she was alive, people kept discovering the original tweet that she was dead, retweeting it to their friends without seeing the update. In several cases, the retweet of the incorrect report came three or more hours after the report first spread."

Poynter's Vicki Krueger writes that many newsrooms do not have written policies for the delivery of news over digital channels, and last weekend's events point to a need to address the issue. Krueger writes that an Associated Press Managing Editors study and webinar suggest questions for developing ethics and credibility standards to be applied to Twitter and Facebook messages as well.

UPDATE: This story generated some discussion on Twitter, which I have captured for reference below using Storify:


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