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Twitter's impact on traditional media has raised the benchmark for breaking news and its existence has blurred the perception of media credibility vs. reliability. Breaking news is often reported to Twitter first then re-tweeted and immediately broadcasted to the traditional media and other various internet sources. This puts a twist on the way Americans view news outlets.
It's first important to distinguish the difference between credibility and reliability. They are similar but have a distinct difference; reliability looks for consistently good quality of information that can be trusted while credibility looks at whether or not the specific source of information is believable.
Traditional media such as CNN, NBC, CBS and Fox News have been built as reliable sources of information; however, when it comes to breaking news, they are losing the battle to Twitter. The strength, traditional media still holds is its ability to provide credible information to the public - it’s a little harder to hack the television station. The purpose of any news outlet is to provide reliable and credible information to the public however as a Gallup poll suggested that U.S. distrust in media is at an all time high in the U.S. This presents a problem for the media.
The decline of trust in media may just be a pattern that occurs as a new medium forms pops up. It already began when the first presidential debate was televised. (Nixon vs. Kennedy in 1960) Kennedy won by a landslide and showed the impact television has and ushered in the subsequent decline of radio power. This shift of media power has occurred again today, and how televised media adjusts can either make or break them. People are beginning to look at Twitter for breaking news instead of waiting for the television to catch up. Does the mainstream media use Twitter or does Twitter use the mainstream media?
For televised media, it takes a much more complicated process when it comes to announcing news compared to Twitter. One has an entire production department dedicate to reporting news and the other requires a computer/tablet/phone and 140 characters or less. This may make Twitter quicker to report breaking news, but its reach is relatively limited. It’s when people begin to re-tweet breaking news and the traditional media reports on it that its reach becomes practically speaking, unlimited.
Twitter's impact on the mainstream news feed should not be underestimated. Its strengths rely in its ability to quickly grow a news story and make certain topics trend. When Rand Paul filibustered the nomination of the CIA director, Senator Ted Cruz read tweets to the Senate floor about the trending “#standwithrand” that showed the tremendous amount of support from Twitter and clearly motivated Paul to continue his filibuster. The television media had little to no choice but to report on the internet support Rand Paul had received.
However, as Twitter becomes a reliable source for breaking news, each tweet and account should be heavily scrutinized because many accounts can be subject to internet hacking (As in recently, when the Associated Press's Twitter account got hacked and caused a brief drop in U.S. Stocks). So it is very important for the Twitter community to tread carefully when re-tweeting or claiming to report on breaking news and the same applies to when transcending the tweets to traditional media. Tweets now must be carefully examined before the mainstream media chooses to echo it. The mainstream media gives Twitter the credibility to be a reliable source.
Twitter is used by the mainstream media as well as anyone with an interest in communicating in the 21st century sense, but this comes with a very important aspect. Everyone (including mainstream media accounts) should be very careful not to accidentally report on false information. Twitter should still be able to flourish as the main outlet for reliable “breaking news” but only if the mainstream media continues to give it credibility. Steps should be taken to minimize the impact false/hacked tweets have on the community.
Twitter is obviously used by television media, which shows that these news organization have at least recognized that breaking news happens on Twitter first, however as the internet generation grows older, more people will look at Twitter for breaking news instead of waiting for the television news lag. Twitter should recognize the only reason why they have any reliability for breaking news is because of the credibility the mainstream media provides them to announce tweets on air. Lastly, we must ask ourselves, Is Twitter actually providing the news itself or is the mainstream media just using Twitter as another medium of information, similar to the transition from radio to television. Either way, the media has evolved again into a digital age.