Journalists have looked to social media as both a tool and information source since networks like Friendster and MySpace exploded onto the scene nearly 20 years ago. With such a mass of information coming from places like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks today, weeding through the noise and focusing on what's important is a challenge that can contribute to a story's success or failure.
Identify Important Trends Before They Break
On July 21, 2018, a gunman took shoppers and employees hostage at a Los Angeles Trader Joe's. Over the next four hours, a standoff ensued. One woman was killed and six were injured.
A century earlier this would have been in the newspaper the next morning. A few decades ago, it might have first emerged on evening television coverage. In 2018, Dataminr detected the event from social media nearly an hour before it made headlines.
This type of cutting-edge lead may not have been as necessary in the past, but with a combination of online reporting, social media, and citizen journalism, the 24/7 news cycle makes every moment precious when working to report or break a story.
More than 600 newsrooms rely on Dataminr to find what's most important in a stream of more than half a billion daily Tweets. It would be impossible for a human to read everything, so artificial intelligence (AI) platforms—powered by smart algorithms—discover breaking alerts before they pop up on smartphone screens around the globe.
Through social media, a reporter can connect with an eyewitness anywhere in the world. After getting a tip about a new story from Dataminr, an inquisitive journalist can locate the most interesting Tweets from people in the area and contact them directly for an interview, follow-up, or request to use a video or photo in a story.
Zero In on Facts and Sources
It takes more than an alert about a breaking tip to be a news leader. You can't just copy a Tweet and call it a story—journalism still requires fact-checking, investigating, and interviews. Once you identify something you want to bring to the public using a tool like Dataminr, you can dig deeper into the story.
For example, when an explosion rocked a natural gas facility in Austria, it triggered a wave of events. One person was killed and more than a dozen were injured. In addition to the loss of life, energy markets across Europe were sure to react to the facility going offline.
After identifying a Tweet from an eyewitness who shared a photo of the flames, Dataminr sent an alert that beat the news and company announcement by an hour-and-a-half. During those vital 90 minutes, more Tweets came out with images of the fire, which was visible for miles.
To tap into the true power of the alert, the journalist can follow additional Tweets about the incident and reach out to the people who posted the images via their Twitter accounts. That first contact can lead to a phone interview for a story or even a live broadcast.
Value Citizen Journalists
In Social Media's Impact on Journalism, David Squires at the University of Southern California explains that the impact of social media on journalism is the connection journalists get with their readers. "Journalism has moved from its organized and old format of newspaper to a new format that anyone can easily create."
A recent fire in Sao Paulo, for instance, didn't break on the evening news. Instead, citizen journalists began sharing details, photos, and videos on Twitter as flamed engulfed the structure. Videos from an eyewitness on a nearby balcony captured a dramatic video of the fire, which ultimately engulfed the 26-story building and led to its collapse. After early Tweets triggered a Dataminr alert, journalists could interact with local witnesses who were sharing the story online.
Because they are already disseminating information about the event publicly, an onlooker can easily transition to a citizen journalist when a reporter contacts him or her for more details on what they witnessed.
Build the Complete Story
Tools like Dataminr are vital in helping journalists surface early signals of what could become news and succeed in the modern media industry. By assembling the right arsenal of digital tools, you can stay at the forefront with timely, accurate and informative reporting—and that's what quality journalism is all about.