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Social media - a milestone in news reporting history?

Nearly 10 years ago, Thais first experienced the true power of popular votes for the first time.

With the introduction of reality show Academy Fantasia, they were allowed to cast their votes to favourite contestants.

On the contrary to traditional political voting, this satisfied them probably in the way that the voting results are accumulated in a quick manner. Political voters may dissent when the disliked parties won, but for this the dissent is kept to the minimum it is not the voting for lawmakers.

Technological innovation introduces a new way of casting popular votes. Now, popularity is based on the number of Twitter followers or the number of friends in Facebook accounts. Anyone can turn into celebrity, within the power of their fingertips.

In 2011, Thai Tweeter users amounted to 909,631, who punched in a total of 452 million tweets. According to www.lab.in.th/thaitrend, on Saturday alone, 147,175 tweetple in Thailand punched in 3.5 million Tweets. In the day when Bangkok’s temperature exceeded 37 degree celcius, the most used word in the tweets was "hot".

To people in newsroom, this phenomenon has been closely monitored as it remains unclear where this will lead to.

To date, it is necessary for all reporters to have their own Twitter accounts. Through the accounts, they update their followers on what they have experienced, fresh from the scenes and unedited by editors in office. In competition to non-reporter Tweetple, they allow themselves to contain emotions in their Tweets. Yes, that could spice up the day and induce more followers.

But just as they send their own tweets, they follow many others and retweet their messages, mostly without thinking. An issue here is the degree of verification for their tweets and retweets and it is whose responsibility if the information is wrong.

Certainly, if the wrong tweet is about a concert, it should be fine. But what if it's about something that could stir panic in society, like earthquakes or some one-sided political messages?

Reporters claim that they censor themselves with their own experience and followers' reaction. Why worry when it's all's dream to become untainted celebrities?

Last week, senior military correspondent of the Huffington Post, just won the Pulitzer Prize. For eight months in 2011, Wood reported extensively on the lives of severely wounded veterans and their families in "Beyond the Battlefield", a 10-part series. Wood’s Pulitzer marks the first win for the seven-year-old Huffington Post and a milestone in the influential Pulitzer committee’s recognition of online-only news organisations.

But like one of his followers said, Wood is from an old school. He has a tweeter account, but his latest tweet was on March 28. From his timeline, in the month, he punched in a total of four tweets. He did not even tell his 713 followers that he won the Prize. In October, he did tweet on the links to some articles. Other than that, some were on the weather condition in Pakistan and some war developments.

Wood tweets little, but focuses more on his reporting which eventually brings fame to his organisation.

Fame and accuracy aside, it remains unclear how Thai reporters' tweets are benefiting their organisations. Right now, their followers learn first-hand reporting directly through their smartphones and the Internet, free of charge. Most of the followers do not bother to read the full versions, whether they are online or in print. In the society where reading is so unpopular and becomes a national agenda, the reporters just support the quick news-consumption habit. Few would bother to check other sources for verification. Would this lead to the death of online and print news organisations? Would this lead to a new news organisation that relies solely on regularly-tweeting members?

Should Thai reporters change their tweet strategies? I guess that's too late. Their followers have been already hooked up by their fast tweets. And they are now engulfed in fear that if they do not tweet things they learn of, someone out there - reporters and non-reporters, can easily take over their part. A big concern now is if social media is a milestone in the reporting history or a cannibalising phenomenon?


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