Don’t Question Me

You would never consider a Tweet reading : “I just had a wee. How was your last bowel movement?” So why do some news organisations insist on asking inane questions after every story link posted?

Don’t get me wrong here – Twitter is a great way of getting your message out to an audience that might not have viewed or listened to your core content. But if it’s genuinely interesting, they’ll click on the link. Simple. You don’t need to ask my opinion on everything. Sometimes I won’t have one.

It seems that some outlets are (rightly) using Twitter to drive up numbers. More followers will lead to a greater probability of retweets, and even more followers. All of which looks great on the corporate stats page for your boss. But to your audience, it starts to smack of desperation after a while.

What’s more, reusing the responses given to silly questions is likely to generate silly answers. The kind of inane comments that so often appear directly below stories on some news websites. And yet, such comments are increasingly masquerading as serious journalism. Phrases like “angry people took to Twitter to express their disgust” are becoming commonplace. Worryingly, sometimes, for front page splashes or lead stories.

Of course, content is content, wherever it comes from. But ten people whinging on your own social media account is no more representative than a vox pop. Arguably, it’s less credible since the journalist has often had no direct contact with the contributor. It’s generally accepted that people will say things online that they wouldn’t dream of saying in public. The danger is that using such comments to stoke an often weak story cheapens the profession to somewhere close to the gutter.

That’s not to say that social media shouldn’t be used as a newsgathering tool. It can and does lead to some great stories. Only last week a Tweet came my way promoting an “alternative” speed dating event for Valentine’s Day. Subsequently, it sparked a great story and a huge debate in the local and national media.

So journalists shouldn’t dismiss the potential of social media comments for genuine stories. But they shouldn’t be used as a way of bypassing the basics of journalism. That starts with checking the facts and then using traditional techniques of verifying and researching the story.

And please, only ask the audience for their opinion when the story genuinely warrants it.

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