This past year, social media replaced traditional news outlets as an unrivaled source of information for at least a few era-defining stories: Twitter broke the Osama Bin Laden story and YouTube became the window into the Arab Spring.
Backed by a compelling history of performance, journalists rushed to their Twitter accounts over the past few days to speed up the painfully slow unraveling of the Norway massacre news. The problem is, the fire hose that is an unfiltered hashtag feed such as, say, #osloexpl, provides quality journalism embedded in a haystack of foreign languages, unlinked comments, and even the odd Star Wars quote (see below).
So a few technically savvy outlets, including The Washington Post, found that by editorially curating quality social media channels, they could cut out the noise associated with a raw Twitter feed and still relay key information at Internet speed.
TwitPic, the popular Twitter photo sharing service, can be just as informative at displaying the visual story of breaking news. But during the height of confusion in Oslo, TwitPic was often less than helpful:
Instead, The Washington Post promoted its own editorially curated Twitter list of Norwegian journalists, a crisis expert, and one American translator–none of whom have any outward association with the newspaper. These sources relayed much of the same information, often with a skeptical tone toward rumors and a healthy mix of links, updates, and quotes from officials:
Other web outlets dedicated to editorially curated social media, such as Storyful (cofounded by former CNN international editor, David Clinch), seemed to have a more informationally dense multimedia feed, at least compared to new kid on the block, Google+.
As word of the initial explosion reached Americans, the Storyful stream offered a mix of key photos, on-the-ground-commentary, and a video of public reaction:
The raw Google Plus news feed was a virtual twin of Google News, with informative stories and video feeds, but lacked the on-the-ground feel of local tweets, and was rather redundant:
Raw social media feeds are not without merit. Facebook’s open search function is a fascinating look into the thoughts and opinions on breaking news, especially now that Facebook may represent much of the United States population (however slightly biased it may be due to a younger user base).
But for hard-hitting news, the Oslo attack hints at a future of interdependence between old and new media–assuming, that is, that such distinctions even have a future.
[Image: Flickr user johsgrd]