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Mzinga backlash: Is Twitter a reliable journalist/blogger source?

March 18th, 2009 by Lloyd Gofton

Respected blogger and Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang came in for a bit of a battering yesterday when he published a blog post about social software company Mzinga, claiming he’d received multiple reports (“over four direct messages or emails”) that the company was in trouble. Please read the full post by Jeremiah.

The post has received 75 irate comments (at time of writing), and Jeremiah has since been compelled to write a full public apology to Mzinga which has stirred up a further 35 comments.

The incident is an important lesson to every blogger/journalist, and raises a big question mark over whether Twitter should be considered a reliable source of information, or indeed any social source.

Trained journalists are taught to use multiple sources – as a rule of thumb, I was always taught to corroborate a story through a minimum of two to three trusted sources.

According to Wikipedia, examples of sources include “official records, publications or broadcasts, officials in government or business, organizations or corporations, witnesses of crime, accidents or other events, and people involved with or affected by a news event or issue”. I haven’t been able to find any up-to-date industry guidelines on how journalists should treat social media sources – if you know of any, please share!

In my mind, the mistake that Jeremiah made was to not wait for an official response from Mzinga. He linked to a Twitter reply from the company’s PR manager, in which she wrote: “@jowyang Sorry to not reply sooner. Happy to talk about what you’ve been hearing. Will DM you to set up a time to chat”, but decided to publish before having had this conversation. A journalist would never have been able to sneak this under the nose of an editor!

Respected bloggers have a responsibility to their readers, and it could be argued should be bound by the same ethical and liable rules as journalists. Twitter is an unmoderated platform where anyone can say anything, and if it is to be used as a story source, my feeling is that the rule of multiple sources should be at least tripled before a story can be corroborated.

If any journalists are reading this post, I’d be interested to hear whether their editorial guidelines are the same for their newspaper/magazine as their company blog, and whether they relax rules for a personal blog that they might write.

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6 Responses to “Mzinga backlash: Is Twitter a reliable journalist/blogger source?”

  1. Mark Says:

    Jeremiah is not a journalist. How many journalists do you know that take money from the subjects they write about? That would be a conflict of interest….

    Marks last blog post..Looking for a 20 page review of Twitter clients? Me neither

  2. Wendy McAuliffe Says:

    Hi Mark. Thanks for commenting. I’m not suggesting that Jeremiah is a journalist, but making the point that both respected bloggers and journalists should think carefully before using Twitter or similar unmoderated social networks as story ‘sources’.

  3. Toby Says:

    Mark, I agree with you 100%.

    That said, Jeremiah Owyang writes for a reputable company (Forrester) and, for better or worse, seems to be taken seriously by those that read his stuff (me not included). So, while I agree that he is not, technically, a journalist, I also agree with this post’s author when she infers that respected bloggers need to adopt journalistic standards for fact corroboration.

  4. Mark Says:

    Toby,

    I guess I’m challenging Forrester’s reputation. Why does an organization that takes money from the companies it’s supposed to cover objectively deserve so much respect?

    My point is that Owyang adhering to more stringent journalistic standards is irrelevant – the very charter of his position is tainted!

    Marks last blog post..Analyst 2.0: A call for transparency

  5. Christian DE NEEF Says:

    No, Twitter is NOT a reliable source of information, and the rules are Unchanged: one should always double check one’s sources!

    @cdn

  6. G20 protest coverage? I'll stick to Twitter | Online PR and social media consultancy - Liberate Media Says:

    [...] anything according to personal agenda with no visible consequence. (See my colleague Wendy’s recent post on this issue). But I trust my personal network and if they are on the ground receiving direct information I will [...]

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