Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Copy editors on Twitter? MIA

Journalists who live on Twitter -- and there are plenty -- like to re-tweet other news accounts, as well as their own. PR people call this "repurposing" content. If done thoughtfully, it can be a useful way to draw readers to content that they may have otherwise overlooked.

This re-reporting is less effective, however, when the tweeting reporter adds his or her own 'take' on the story. Not so much to editorialize, but to add a snappier 140-character headline to snag a few more readers.

Thus, a recent story about a developer who'd run into financial hurdles while trying to develop an upscale restaurant amid a street of bakeries, sub shops, Chinese takeout place, and a guitar store was viewed as a "swanky" neighborhood. His son had sold a popular gaming website for millions of dollars, a few years ago; the re-reporter on Twitter said the developer owned that gaming site.

Wrong. And wrong.

  • Did the developer have financial issues? Yes. That was the accurate part of the story.
  • Did the developer own the gaming website? Nope.
  • Was the neighborhood in question a "swanky" area? Judgment call. In my opinion, one upscale steakhouse amid delis and OTB parlors isn't swanky.

My issue: if the re-reporter had submitted this to his or her news editor, that editor would have asked the questions I've placed in bullets, above. Great copy editors challenge assumptions. They insist on facts, and frequently overrule perceptions that can't be substantiated. Swanky leaps to mind.

Twitter has no copy editors. No one to challenge the veracity of news reporters who re-post material they didn't originate.

As a former newspaper reporter, I know how tough it is to file accurate stories, day after day, on deadline. That's why newspapers employ copy editors: to ensure the reporter's story has its roots in fact, not assumption.

Twitter has no copy editors. There's no one to hold writers accountable for repurposed, re-headlined stories they didn't originate.

So before evolving into a Twitter-based news service, re-reporters must make certain their breezy 140-character tweeted headlines are based in fact.

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