Columbia Journalism posted a discussion: How Should Journalists use Twitter?
Their Staff Writer Megan Garber critiqued a few of my tweets. Some of the criticisms were justified, others were, in my opinion, unstudied. Below, I have transcribed Ms Garber’s comments and my response.
But, then, I wonder about theory versus practice in this case. So many of the Twitter feeds I read about the Mumbai attacks were — to me, anyway — extraordinarily frustrating, not just in their general lack of depth, but also in their impulse toward speculation. (From Arun Shanbhag’s Twitter feed, the one mentioned in the Times article above: “THis is wise strategy! The terrorists are at it for 48+ hours! Are they not tired, restless, need to use bathroom? food? #mumbai” and “If there are too many hostages, danger they may all attack hostages! particularly if they know they are going to die! #mumbai” and “We all agree with the meticulous planning, training and support they had; No doubt they started off from Karachi!”)
I don’t mind, necessarily, the personality-driven nature of Twitter, or even its prose-be-damned approach to news narration. But I do worry that this kind of speculation run amok — “No doubt they started off from Karachi!” — can easily get out of hand, edging more into rumor-mongering than newsgathering.
I also wonder about the sheer quantity of the Tweets that a user must sort through to get anything resembling a true narrative. Sure, every once in a while, there are diamonds in the rough, hidden among all the lumps of Tweeted coal…I just don’t know whether the diamonds are plentiful (or, for that matter, brilliant) enough to warrant the time and effort it requires to gather them.
Posted by Megan Garber on Tue 2 Dec 2008 at 02:25 PM
Here was my response:
I was one of the ‘citizen journalists’ discussed in the NYTimes article and Ms Megan Garber, one of your Staff Writers, critiqued my tweets above. I would like respond to the comments (and accusations) Ms Garber has made regarding my tweets.
First, Ms Garber does have a point: a tweet restricted to 140 characters (spaces, punctuations and tags included) does not leave room for Shakespeare. Further, when sending a flurry of 1-sentence tweets, as in SMSs, it is common to make typing mistakes and even grammatical errors. And yes, I did make several. Ms Garber picked one. After sneaking around the security cordon I twitted about hearing blasts in different parts of the Taj complex, as well as multiple types of gunfire. Also I wondered why hostages did not attack terrorists. The tweet should have read, “If there are too many hostages, danger they may all attack “terrorists” (and not hostages attacking hostages, as I erroneously typed) …” As this was part of a series of tweets discussing hostage issues, my typing error would have been clear to a person following my tweets in real-time,.
But Ms Garber highlights one particularly tweet as speculation. (“We all agree with the meticulous planning, training and support they had; No doubt they started off from Karachi!”) Well this was part of my studied opinion! If Ms Garber had made the effort to look carefully at the time stamp of said tweet, She would have noted that this was posted about 12 hours AFTER the operation was completed; Importantly, this tweet came about 24 hours AFTER Indian security forces had clearly identified and reported in the main stream media that the boats terrorists had arrived in, did originate in Karachi.
Further, the said tweet came three tweets after I clearly identified a subheading of “Ruminations: At the Taj; 3 terrorists hold off nearly 200 hostages and an Indian Army for 60 hours? Really” (8:04 am Nov 29 2008, US EST). link
This was followed by a variety of issues such as funding and motivation of terrorists and types of victims targeted. Given the twitter medium, this is the only way to convey a longer discussion. As Ms Garber re-reviews my tweet update, may I note they are in reverse chronological order, and even though I was/am visiting Mumbai, my tweets are still identified as originating from US East Coast time zone).
Unfortunately, Ms Garber could not be bothered into checking time stamps and collating with real time events, before she went off on her tirade and accusations of “rumor mongering.” Ms Garber’s observation “ — can easily get out of hand, edging more into rumor-mongering than newsgathering,” probably best describe here own un-studied comment.
In her haste to diss Citizen Journalists, I think Ms Garber; a staff writer for your elite Journalism Review provides clear justification for the necessity of Citizen Journalists. Thank you, Ms Megan Garber.
Posted by Arun Shanbhag on Sat 6 Dec 2008 at 03:09 AM