Twitter’s — and Dave’s — big day

A couple of years ago, I appeared at a Policy and a Pint session with my boss on the subject of ethics and opinion in news coverage.

You can scroll to 36:17 and see the exchange (one sided because someone didn’t wait for the microphone) in which a journalism professor at the University of Minnesota assailed my response to her question of where I turn for news. My answer, of course, is numerous places but one of them is Twitter.

“That’s like saying you get your news from the telephone,” she said. “That’s not a news source.”

Her point was clear. There had to be a journalist — probably a mainstream journalist — using Twitter as a distribution platform, but Twitter itself was not a “source” of news.

By that rationale, I guess, most journalists are using their employers as a distribution platform. But I digress.

This morning, I noted, there was nothing on the front page of the largest newspaper in Minnesota, about the biggest flash flood in Minnesota in 40 years that was occurring last night. On last night’s TV news — at least the one I watched before turning to 30 Rock — there was (legitimate in my opinion) coverage of a storm in Lakeville and South Saint Paul, but nothing about the unfolding disaster in Duluth.

But I knew about the situation in Duluth. Guess how?

Let’s be honest here. Outside of Duluth, mainstream media struggled to play catch-up on a pretty big story and while much of the Twitter “coverage” came from the Duluth News Tribune, which did a fine job with things, a lot of it came from people in Duluth reporting on the situation while ignoring the middle man.

One of them was Dave Chura, who was the author of the original tweet last night, and also provided particulars during the morning to his Twitter followers.

Chura isn’t a journalist by the standard definition. He’s the executive director at the Minnesota Logger Education Program, and a citizen board member of the IRRRB.

Dave had a bigger day than we journalists did. Around midmorning, MPR’s Cathy Wurzer put out the word that she couldn’t get in touch with her dad, who lives in Knife River.


So I put the word out on Twitter…

And guess who lives near Knife River. Dave.

“I checked on the parents and they’re all OK,” Dave reported to me a few minutes ago.

And I got the news on Twitter.

  • dreadpiratejene

    I find that twitter is a *great* source for first-hand accounts of just about everything. It’s a good way to get the *truth*. For example, when thousands were camping out in WI’s capitol, Fox was calling it a violent riot that wass destroying the building, and I was watching videos of conga lines and seeing photos of the sign-up sheets for organized cleanups.

  • John O.

    Kudos to @dchura. He might not be a trained journalist like the good professor would demand, but he certainly delivered invaluable news for at least one person today.

    Of course it’s not the phone that is a news source–it’s the person talking into it. Or tweeting from it.

    I follow several journos in this market (and elsewhere) on Twitter, and most do a good job of conveying important information in 140 characters or less. Others who are not journos also provide valuable news as well.

    It’s up to me as the consumer of this steady stream of information to sort it out as I go.

  • JP Rennquist

    Thanks for the word, Bob. And for the record, I get a decent news story from you here and there, too. 😉

  • Robert Moffitt

    the the year 2007 B.T. (before Twitter) many of us turned to to get information, check on each other’s safety and express our shock and horror on the day the 35W bridge collapsed.

    It was one of the old website’s finest hours, doing what the traditional media could not. Among those posting updates on MNSpeak that day was WCCO-TV reporter/anchor Jason DeRusha, who was reporting from the scene.

  • listener

    twittervangelism is so 2010.

  • Bob Collins

    But not as old as trolling.

  • Carol

    I half agree.

    Twitter can be really good for breaking news, headline level stuff. The “you need to know this NOW” kind of information

    But when someone tells me that the only place they turn to for news is Twitter, I start to wonder where they are getting important things related to the headlines. Like WHY something is happening, or the implications of the activity. I can’t imagine trying to understand what is going on in Israel or Syria or Mexico–or anywhere–by only reading Twitter feeds.

    For that type of understanding and analysis, I really think you also need to be a consumer of in-depth news, like the kind from The Economist, MPR/NPR

    or similar sources.

    The lack of editorial oversight on Twitter (for most people) also bothers me, but that’s a different issue entirely.

  • Bob Collins

    //I can’t imagine trying to understand what is going on in Israel or Syria or Mexico–or anywhere–by only reading Twitter feeds.

    I don’t think anybody is recommending Twitter as one’s only source for news. However, as long as we’re on the subject, Twitter is real good at relaying stuff being ignored elsewhere.

    The uprising in Egypt comes to mind. And Libya. Search “Andy Carvin” on Google and you can see how just a well-refined feed on Twitter actually dictated mainstream news coverage.

    The “why” of something is happening is, of course, another subject, and that’s right up the alley of some media who have a lot of phone numbers for professors in their Rolodex. :*)

  • BenCh

    Hope people enjoyed my Duluth Flood tweets… It’s hard to describe how much of a hold it put on the city and how many people it affected. Hopefully the water will recede soon and we can start rebuilding roads and buildings.

  • KTFoley

    That Policy and a Pint session was at the Variety Theatre on a winter’s evening, right? I got to attend that one!

    This seems like a conversation where the theme remains constant and only the technology examples that we cite have changed. Eight short years ago, the following post on the old News Forum heralded a similar topic on Midmorning:

    ” ‘The Democratic National Convention is offering press credentials to bloggers for the first time. Will the move usher in a new era of legitimacy for the free-form, on-line manner of media?

    Guests: Jay Rosen, chair of the journalism department at New York University. He maintains his own blog.’

    – Midmorning 05/12/04

    Should bloggers get press credentials for political coverage? Are they columnists, or journalists? Neither?”

    Time has answered that question, would you agree? Flash forward to 2012, and we’ve moved on to twitterers and late-night talk show hosts.

  • Mike Rose

    This is great, and I agree with many of the commenters. Of course Twitter itself isn’t the source of news…neither is the TV set or the computer. But all are platforms through which we can receive valuable information. It just so happens that Twitter might be the quickest and most efficient platform around.

    It’s up to each Twitter user to determine how to use the platform. You choose who to follow, so if you’re getting junk, who can you blame? If you follow the right people and hashtags, you can really watch a beautiful narrative unfold.

    And to the WHY question raised above, all I can say is: Click on the short URLs many folks provide on Twitter (reporters especially). The WHY should just be that one click away.

  • Mark Gisleson

    Why would a newspaper that refuses to tell us who owns them bother to tell us that Duluth is flooded?


    Just asking because there’s really no way to know what drives these decisions at the Strib when you don’t even know which things in the news their owners profit from. But, if you followed the lobbying and reporting on the new Vikings stadium, you do know that the Strib places a very heavy thumb on the news when weighing two or more sides to the critical issues of the day.

    They are players. It’s just that they don’t let you know which side they’re playing on most of the time.

  • Bob Collins

    Some things never change, the overexposure of Jay Rosen being just one. :*)