News Gathering, Social Media

‘Never’ Use Twitter as a News Source? Let’s Talk

This post was originally published on Wendy Fry’s Posterous blog, April 1, 2011.

I was in a collision this morning. A traffic accident of sorts between new media and old.

Somewhere between a jog on the beach, yet another redevelopment debate, FPPC complaints and hotel construction to cover, my two-years out of journalism school and fiercely protected new media mindset crashed full force into Stewart Jacoby, the director of radio programming for South Texas Public Broadcasting System, Inc., a broadcast journalist for the past 40 years.

It all began on Twitter, of course, with a tweet by Grant Barrett of

A pub radio program director: "I would NEVER recommend using Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, or even the internet as a news source."
Grant Barrett

“WHAT?!” I cried. Jacoby and I needed to have a conversation pronto so I could enlighten him on the ways of our brave new world.

Even more concerning, Jacoby wrote: “Accurate news comes from official sources only.”

Dear pub radio dinosaur: Using just official sources only covers your ass if you make mistakes. It doesn't make your work mistake-free.
Grant Barrett

Jacoby said he was responding to a comment on a listserv posted by another journalist, who was essentially bragging about how fast he had gotten information about the recent tsunami out to radio listeners when he learned on Twitter that it hit the Hawaiian coastline. That journalist said he beat the competition by 15 minutes.

Jacoby wrote back: “Waiting that extra 15 to 45 minutes to report on a breaking story or a news development can mean the difference between accurate, professional reporting and a rookie mistake.”

He had a lot of evidence on his side. Citing the Gifford debacle, he firmly stood by his position that breaking news should come from official sources only when I called him Friday morning to discuss the matter.

Who does he define as official sources?

“Police, fire officials, people like that,” he said.

For a brief moment that lasted an eternity with all the Twitter, RSS feeds, television and radio blaring at my now attention-deficited mind, I was baffled.

I pointed out to him that more often than not, police and fire officials have some false information in the middle of a major breaking news situation. And, it is a proven fact that officials in the Bush Administration and BP, for example, purposely twisted information and outright lied to journalists in the past. (Jacoby’s station played a key role in reporting information about the BP disaster in the Gulf.)

He agreed. We each took out our insurance cards.

“That’s a very good point. Whenever possible, it’s advisable to quote the news source: according to so and so from BP or according to the Bush Administration, and then if the information proves to be false, it’s tied back to them,” Jacoby said.”Look, experienced journalists know when they’re being sandbagged, that’s when, as a journalist, it is your job is to challenge what the person is saying.”

Kinda like I’m doing now.

After more discussion, we determined that Jacoby does consider, for example, a victim of a natural disaster, an official source. But eyewitnesses, not so much. People don’t always understand what they’re seeing, he said.

“I think what’s been happening a lot lately, and it really bothers me, journalists are just printing and airing information from Twitter, and we don’t know who’s running that account. We don’t know if the person’s name is who they say they are. We don’t even know if maybe they’ve temporarily lost control of their own feed and someone else is posting info to their account,” said Jacoby, who noted that his radio station in Corpus Christi does put out info on both their Facebook and Twitter page. “If you as a reporter have not gone back to make sure that the statement you read on twitter is accurate, then you’re not doing your job. If there’s something questionable, you need to check with two or three other people and be very, very careful to what we’re doing to our profession.”

What about the New York plane crash, what about the earthquake in China, what about Michael Jackson’s death? They all broke on Twitter.

Jacoby doesn’t advocate for not using Twitter for leads, he just wants journalists to use more verification. An attitude as old as time: “If your mother says she loves, you check it out.” He said in the example of the tsunami hitting Hawaii, he would have taken an extra five minutes to call the National Weather Service, something I would have done too.

On Sunday night, news broke on Twitter than San Diego Congressman Bob Filner possibly said he was considering a bid for mayor. Against my better judgement, I helped report it. So, here’s my promise to you, Mr. Jacoby. I will slow down. If you will get yourself a Twitter account. (He’s not on Facebook or Twitter.)

As we’re wrapping up the interview, he says, don’t you want me to spell my name for you? Give you my official title?

“I’m looking at it right here on the KEDT webpage, sir,” I say. He spells it out anyway.

“By the way, how’d you hear that I wrote that?” he asks.


“Ah. Well, thanks for calling. That’s exactly my point.”