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Twitter : Where you go for breaking news

I was asked to participate in a Financial Times roundtable discussion in New York a week ago. The Financial Times was looking for feedback from publishers, subscribers, and other executives on what they could do better — especially as it pertained to producing and distributing the news in this day of the iPad and social media.

One question they asked was where we went for breaking news. Many said television and others said news sites such as CNN.com. I said Twitter and I was not alone.

This weekend Twitter broke the news of Whitney Houston’s death 27 minutes before the mainstream media broke the story. I picked up the news via Facebook before it was reported on television.

Is it any wonder? Look at the below tweet from someone whose aunt worked for the singer.

Twitter for breaking news

In response to how this story broke, Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) of GigaOm commented this morning about Twitter and the incredible shrinking news cycle.

In the not-so-distant past, news generally tended to travel in a few well-worn paths. Either it was reported by a newspaper, or it appeared on television at noon or 6 pm, or it was mentioned on a drive-time radio show — and those involved usually had plenty of time to report it and produce it. The arrival of CNN and 24-hour news changed all that, however, and Twitter and Facebook have changed it again: now, the news is just as likely to appear in a tweet, or to be posted as a status update by someone who is directly involved in the event. In a nutshell, this means that the value of a simple “scoop” or breaking news report is declining rapidly — and that might just be a good thing…….Much of that journalistic process of verifying and making sense of news reports used to happen behind the scenes, inside newsrooms and TV studios and news-wire offices. Increasingly, however, it is happening out in the open, where anyone can see it — and where anyone can take part in it by committing what Andy Carvin of NPR has called “random acts of journalism.” German chancellor Otto von Bismarck allegedly warned that anyone who enjoys either the law or sausages should not watch either one being made, and the same is true of the news — but we have no choice but to watch now, because it is happening all around us.

Journalists and the mainstream media have always played a key role in confirming reports. Now they’re going to have spend time confirming and analyzing reports that come through social media.

In the process we’re going to see “random acts of journalism” and how sausage is made. As such, we also play a role in verifying the stories we see.