A perilous world for a retweeting journalist

The Twitterverse lit up like a Sally Field Oscar speech last night when President Barack Obama credited peoples’ “tweets” with helping to bring the “debt crisis” to a conclusion.

Last week, Obama urged Americans to take to Twitter to send messages to their representatives to cut a deal. Never mind that most Washington politicians’ tweets are actually a staffperson who tweets on the congressperson’s behalf. That Twitter has been validated as a medium that’s as influential as a telephone is the point.

But it still has some serious growing pains, as an incident involving a New York Times reporter would suggest.

After the White House issued its call to tweet last week, Jen Preston, the social networking reporter for the New York Times, asked what the hashtag for the tweets should be (a hashtag allows people to filter all tweets to see an organized collection of relevant tweets. In this case, the hashtag was #compromise).

When the White House responded, Preston “retweeted” the message to her followers:

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The website Daily Caller charged Preston showed her bias in the “retweet,” apparently thinking — incorrectly — that a retweet constituted a willing participation in the effort. Other news sources picked up the story and the horse was out of the barn (the link above is an updated story that was rewritten to cover up the embarrassment of a journalist who didn’t understand Twitter in the first place).

Preston responded to the attacks with this defense on Storify (only a portion is quoted below).

Mr. Munro’s uninformed knowledge of Twitter not only questioned my integrity but unleashed a torrent of ugly attacks from right-wing and conservative Twitter users (including socks and operatives) who accused me of all sorts of things. I have been a journalist for 30 years. Taking abuse comes with the job. But, as a journalist, I am disappointed Yahoo News picked it up without even looking at my two tweets. And that Andrew Malcolm of the LA Times picked up the story without picking up the phone or apparently looking at the tweets in question. Reporters make mistakes all the time. I know that I do. Just last week. But we correct them.

This provides a good example of the dangers of mainstream media hopping into a new medium that others don’t get.

Just a few weeks ago, for example, my colleague, Tom Scheck, retweeted an item from a The Hill reporter who was promoting a story on Michele Bachmann’s voting record. He got a similar response as Preston:

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To which Scheck, who understands Twitter as well as anybody, responded with a message that mainstream media members are going to have to deliver more often, apparently.

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  • Bob Moffitt

    I often wonder why some of the people who always see bias in MPR (or Fox News, for that matter) reporting just don’t use a news organization they trust?

  • Jim Shapiro

    Scheck’s response is not far removed from that of the person who, confronted with spreading gossip, replies, “I’m just repeating what Billy said.”

    Instead, how about, ” Good question. Why don’t you research it?”.

    Or better still, “Irrelevant. Obama just a spineless, ineffectual president. Bachmann an ignorant hypocrite. Better copy.”

  • Kevin Watterson

    Here, it seems like most of the objective tags like #mnleg and #mn2010 were created by journalists and everyone else followed their lead. I can’t ever recall seeing them use a subjective tag created by a campaign or other outfit.