Dataminr, a New York-based data analysis firm, has just announced a new tool, simply known as Dataminr for News, that will allow reporters on Twitter to break a story as it develops — but before it begins trending. Unlike the social media giant, whose user base is estimated at 500 million, Dataminr doesn’t use keywords to look for “hot” topics. Instead, it uses geolocation and clustered data reports, checking tweet volume and displaying popular topics in an easy-to-navigate user interface.
For the huge volume of journalists who’ve found success using Twitter’s keywording system, Dataminr representatives note that there may be a short adjustment period. Dataminr CEO Ted Bailey points out that journalists using the Dataminr system shouldn’t expect customized results. Rather, it’s “a tool for when you don’t know what you’re looking for.” So far, CNN has used the system in conjunction with Twitter and Dataminr during the development process to great success.
One of the tool’s most interesting features is the ability to weed out so-called “citizen journalists,” freelancers, locals reporting breaking news, etc., from journalists working for established news agencies, like the Associated Press or the BBC. That may seem nitpicky to some, but the fact that journalism has moved toward Twitter as a main outlet and source, both for newsjacking and first-hand accounts, has elicited negative outcries from the traditional news community. Issues over the reliability and verifiability of accounts and sources, critics say, aren’t often addressed.
There is a very real sense among dissenting journalists, both those working in traditional formats and new media, that Twitter may be too volatile and unregulated to ever be a reliable news delivery system. Because Twitter users can shape the narrative any way they want, by retweeting and following leads that fit their political or ideological beliefs, stories are often just as manipulated as they would be on classically polarized media outlets, something both journalists and consumers have grown all too familiar with in the era of Fox News, MSNBC, and others of their ilk.
The sometimes harsh critique of social media journalism from within the community itself has done little to stem the flow of news to Twitter users. Not only are 59% of journalists across the world already using Twitter to gain insight and sources for their next piece, a number that’s only expected to rise through 2014, but 52% of Twitter users consume at least some news via their news-feeds.
Interestingly, the very thing that has drawn flack for Twitter reporting might be the same thing that makes it so popular. Consider that Twitter has been one of the only outlets for certain stories to get out and into the hands of journalists over the last few years. For example, the social media platform has been a huge source of reliable information on human rights atrocities carried out during Syria’s ongoing civil war and the protests in Ukraine.
In the end, being a good journalist and a good reader of Twitter news is simply a matter of being an intelligent consumer. Like print, radio, and TV before it, social media news requires the reader to dissect not only the information presented to them, but also the motivations that pushed the writer to create each piece in the first place. For both the ease and success of being a journalist in the Internet Age and the reliability of digital news as a whole, Dataminr’s ability to track breaking stories and the writers breaking them could be an invaluable resource. We won’t know for sure until Dataminr for News is released later in 2014.