The Power of Twitter in Real-Time News Gathering

Remember playing the game of telephone as a child?

Remember playing the game of telephone as a child?

Steve Hawkins, a veteran news man and host of The Steve Hawkins Show on WFHG radio, recently posed these two questions to me: How are people now using social media to get their news? How has social media become a news source?  Steve said he was prompted to ask me these questions after the recent (local) Greene County school stabbing. Do you know where I heard about that incident? Twitter. I was checking my local tweets list on my phone and saw WJHL’s post about it. I told my husband about the incident as we were walking out the door to a First Priority fund raising dinner. That evening the Christian youth group used the tragic incident to discuss the need for the work that they do with youths in our schools.

I posed Steve’s questions on today’s “airwaves” and was overwhelmed by the quick response on both twitter and Facebook. Here are a few of the stories people shared with me.

Last summer (2013) Johnson City videographer Kyle Long of Digital-fridge, was shooting a tourism video for the town of Damascus, VA. Suddenly, an elderly man suffered a medical issue and plowed into a crowd with his car. No one was killed but there were several serious injuries. Kyle took and posted the photo of the car crash to twitter and Facebook. Within ten minutes of his tweet, ABC/New York called to ask permission to use the photo. He told them “sure” and his photo was blasted out to ABC news watchers around the globe. This actually poses an interesting ethical question that Kyle and I discussed. Who becomes the gatekeeper?  What if Kyle had taken a photo of “just any car” and said it was the one to plow into the crowd? In today’s rush of citizen journalists does the “first to post” win?

Apparently lots of news hounds like me monitor twitter. My intern Emma Brock said that when Soledad O’Brien visited ETSU she said she usually saw her news on twitter first- and then she would check her sources for the facts.Ted Bradford of Shop Local says that The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore retweeted his photo of downtown Johnson City flooding within 15-20 minutes of posting.

Of course there can be a downside if you don’t check the facts. My associate Sarah Kinsler says, “The way social media is used for news often reminds me of the game “telephone” … “what happened” changes as it’s being passed around person by person.” And former MSHA Vice President Ed Herbert adds, “Locally, there was the situation where MSHA was closing Indian Path Pavilion, the psych hospital, but one TV station tweeted “MSHA closing Indian Path Medical Center” and suddenly 700 team members at the hospital were fearful for their jobs, the tweet was then used as a source on other media outlets and MSHA communications and marketing spent the rest of the day correcting the erroneous tweet.”

Local WJHL-TV newsman Chris McIntosh says, “Some of the best stories I’ve covered have come from Facebook sources. I have fans and friends on Facebook that keep me up to date on what is going on in their neighborhoods and communities.”

Finally, my former intern Kristen Pierce, who is now with St. Jude’s says, “I usually get breaking news first on Twitter. I follow the Associated Press so I’m always staying up to date!”

Clearly, social media has found its place as a key influencer in our news consumption and creation.

Do you have a social media making/breaking news story to share? I would love to hear from you and publish some of those here. 

photo credit: Helga Weber via photopin cc


  • It’s very interesting how things are changing in terms of news delivery and finding out the latest news!

    I’ll keep you in mind when I do have a social media making/breaking news story to share!

  • Sue Painter says:

    The classic Twitter example of a few years ago is when the US was taking an action in the Middle East (top secret) and the guy in the apartment next door to the action was Tweeting it in live-time. I don’t think the Department of Defense quite expected that. 🙂

  • Jessica says:

    I admit it…. I don’t watch the news. I find it depressing and stressful. What does this have to do with your article? Whenever I am chastised by someone for not watching the news, my reply is, “If it’s important, my Facebook friends will let me know.” They haven’t let me down yet!

    • maryellen says:

      Jessica, I have heard that if you don’t watch the news you actually suffer much less from depression. So good for you. Ignorance really is bliss (and besides our Facebook friends will tell us anyways!)

  • Bill Painter says:

    I limit the news and never watch it in the morning since it is such a downer. On all news (twitter or national) I always wonder how good their sources are.

    • maryellen says:

      Bill you are right to question all news sources. I appreciate your comments. It’s interesting to see how we each treat news.

  • I almost never watch the news or read the newspaper, but I do follow traditonal news outlets on social media. If you want to know what’s happening in real time, twitter is especially useful. As with anything, you do have to check the facts and consider the source.

  • Mitch Tublin says:

    My work is across the board from large, medium and small business owners as clients. I must know about the news, what is going on in business, the economy and more. It is part of my work. In addition,
    you must be able to put aside the bad news stories which are essentially
    their marketing pieces and listen for the key information which is what you are in it for.

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