Last week in the wake of the Tiger Woods story MG Siegler wrote a piece in TechCrunch claiming that "In the Age of Realtime, Twitter is Walter Cronkite". Devin Coldewey gave a thorough rebut of Siegler on CrunchGear (Real time, real discussion, real reporting: choose two) and I recommend that everyone read both. It's an interesting debate. The essence of Coldewey's piece is that journalists provide analysis, perspective and context that Twitter (at least right now) cannot.
I have a problem with this on a number of levels. The most obvious is that it's confusing a medium with a person. Reports from people come through the Twitter the medium. The credibility of the people reporting is what should be important not the delivery mechanism.
While you could argue that this is semantics I don't believe it's that trivial. Twitter's value is largely based on the speed with which information can be distributed but does nothing to guarantee the quality of the reporting. Siegler argues that mainstream media can't deliver on quality either. He uses Cronkite's reporting of John Kennedy's assassination to argue that velocity is more important than accuracy. But Cronkite brought more than just speed (it was fast for the time). He qualified the reports as unverified. More importantly Cronkite had worked long and hard to gain the trust of Americans. They knew that he was going to give them the most accurate news possible -- even if it meant viewers had to wait for it.
This trust is something that is very difficult to replicate through Twitter, other than following traditional news organizations or bloggers who have gained reputation and trust in the same way that Cronkite did -- demonstrating his passion for accuracy and the truth over time. To put it in Cronkite's words "journalism ought to be about telling people what they need to know not what they want to know". Much of Twitter, as demonstrated in the Woods story and others, tends to be more about the former than the latter.
In his TEDx talk, Mathew Ingram argues that what makes traditional media worth saving are the qualities of accuracy, independence and trust. He feels that what traditional media needs to adhere to some new ethics including interacting with media.
There is a real opportunity here for traditional media to play an important role as curator for reporting on new media like Twitter. It would bring traditional media (and here I'll include blogs that have established credibility) qualities to Twitter and give (or remove) credibility from those reporting there. Thoora is one solution that is beginning to provide deliver on some of these capabilities. It aggregates stories from top news sites and blogs along with real time commentary from Twitter. In addition to "curating" this information into a single space it provides a discussion facility. Cloud services like Superfeedr are emerging to offer real time feed aggregation and parsing.
Providing this kind of service would significantly improve the interactive capabilities of traditional media (as Ingram calls for). To accomplish this traditional media have to start thinking of themselves as hybrid organizations -- part news, part technology.
I believe there's a real opportunity here for traditional media and for new online news organizations. What are your thoughts?