Journalists Fight on Twitter About Using Twitter to Contact Amtrak Crash Victims


Twitter is many things, among them a personal microblogging platform, an extraordinary delivery mechanism for immediate information, and a generator of interactions that transcend physical and societal barriers. These functions often find themselves in direct conflict with one another with no clear rules of adjudication, as was the case when victims from the Philadelphia train derailment began tweeting about the carnage only to be swamped by media requests:

One of the journalists screencapped there took offense, noting that contacting people involved in news-making events was an elemental action of journalism:

And we were off:

Los Angeles Times’ Matt Pearce, whose Twitter feed has evolved into a real-time j-school graduate seminar, weighed in as well, countered that the “Twitter media query” was a technological evolution of the standard TV/interview request, which was how journalists have always gained reactions and information to late-breaking events.

The debate here is largely of degree vs. kind: is contacting someone via Twitter just the social media version of pestering them for an interview at a crash site, or a wholly different phenomenon in which internet content producers mine Twitter for suffering to coldly aggregate? Does being at the site to solicit interviews entail an emotional and experiential engagement fundamentally negated by the distance of social media? That the two are not mutually exclusive — journalists have been called vultures since the dawn of the profession — only complicates the matter:

This is not to say anybody here is being a scold versus a practitioner. Ries clarified that he hardly considered bounds of right and wrong to be clearly elucidated, and said that everybody was more or less culpable:

If you’d like to carp that the media have once again made the story about themselves, the comment section is down yonder.

[Image via screengrab]

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