All the News that’s Fit to Tweet

By December 9, 2010Communications

A friend in the broadcast news business asked me what I thought about a news organization tweeting what comes over on the police scanner. It’s common practice for newspapers, radio stations and television stations to keep an ear cocked toward the police scanner, a fixture in any newsroom. It can be the first source for a story that is unfolding and may help a news crew get to the scene before the competition.

Often, though, a lot of nonevents and false alarms are reported – it takes a practiced ear to separate the news from the mundane and even then, false reports sometimes leak through.

So the question is, should news organizations be tweeting those first, early reports — the unsubstantiated buzz — heard on the scanner?

My position on this is that we look to the news organizations for fact — we trust them to be verifying the news they’re reporting and if there’s a change or an update, to report that as well. I want to trust that a news Twitter feed is actually NEWS; there are plenty of other Twitter accounts to tweet the rumors.

I applaud news organizations for recognizing that Twitter is a place they need to be, to share information and respond to the community, but I strongly caution management and news directors of these organizations to have the discussion internally about how Twitter should be used, and to be aware that anything the organization publishes or broadcasts on any platform can impact the integrity of the organization.

What do you think?


  • Ken Mueller says:

    As a former radio news guy, I kind of worry about this. A lot of that sort of thing is what broadcast traffic organizations do…mostly to at least alert people that something MAY be going on that MAY cause traffic problems.

    I understand that with tight budgets, you can’t just send someone out to check on everything. But in the haste to tweet everything, you could cause more problems than if you wait a little bit to confirm the facts.

    I think that Twitter is going to play a rather large role in the reporting of news, but we need to figure out a proper balance so that it is not only timely and effective, but correct.

  • Soccer Mom says:

    I can’t recall a time when the DP or broadcast station tweeted a non-event…but I don’t see all the tweets that come across. I think anyone used to listening to a scanner can often tell the difference between any “chatter” and actual events. At least I always could–my writers often said I loved the “songs of the scanner”–and they were right 🙂

  • Ginger Germani says:

    I agree that when I read a tweet from a news organization, I expect it to be factual. I typically do not have a radio or television on througout the day or even in the evenings. My Twitter feed is my source for news. I follow organizations that I trust and follow links to their web sites when I see a headline that I would like to know more about.

    Nice piece. I hope news orgs are taking this into consideration.

  • Traffic is a unique area of breaking news and one at which I feel the DP excels at reporting through the use of Twitter. We Tweet traffic updates when the disruption could impose serious delays and/or impediments to commuters.

    Soccer Mom is correct. An experienced ear can discern the importance of an event very quickly. Being the news junky that I am, I got my first police scanner in my early teens. I can hear “code black” or “priority 1” from across the room while engaging in conversation.

    Let’s examine a standard traffic Tweet from the DP.

    {Avoid Area} 29N at Airport Road due to a vehicle fire. Expect major delays.

    This was sent out at 4:58pm on the 3rd, right at the beginning of rush hour. If I was on the other end of this info, I would know to maybe take Dickerson Road to the circle, or maybe take Buffalo River Rd. if I lived in Greene as many commuters do. Clearly there is a benefit to the commuter armed with this information.

    It is important to consider the police scanner is not one source, but a collection of many, similar to Twitter. Twitter is not a source, the people on it are. The accident cited above was reported by school buses as well as independently phoned in to 911. I could verify its location as well as the fire department by using the Fire Information Display System or FIDS.

    All of this information was taken into account before sending out the above tweet. If we sent out a reporter to investigate every report of an accident, you might be spending a lot more time in traffic.

    Are we perfect? No. Will we make mistakes? Yes, but we will acknowledge them and strive to do better next time.

  • LisaMc says:

    As someone who works at a newspaper that has a news feed on Twitter, I can say that we don’t tweet everything that comes over the scanner, or every news tip that comes in via Twitter, e-mail, phone, etc. We’re probably a little cautious, in that we don’t put up every fire or wreck or robbery. But we try not to send out anything unverified or trivial. I also get lots of news from Twitter, and I’ve quit following certain feeds that are trivial/unreliable.