The pros and pitfalls of reporting news via social media


Singapore’s government recently released its 2014 budget, with a generous healthcare-centric payout for the  country’s “pioneer generation,” i.e. Singaporeans born before 1950 and who became citizens before 1987.

I was following the budget via social media channels Twitter and Facebook, to see what was being shared and reshared and to get a sense of what Singaporeans are most concerned about.

More than 2,900 tweets were posted during the budget speech by Singapore’s finance minister, and “Budget 2014” quickly became the top trending topic on Twitter:

Not surprisingly, most conversations revolved around the increase in alcohol and cigarette taxes, as most of the active users on social networks are unlikely to be in the pioneer-generation group.

Could the newsrooms in Singapore have tried to steer the online conversations to other news topics revolving around the budget?

It is never easy for any newsroom to condense a complex news event like the budget into bite-size, relevant chunks of information for mass audiences. There are lots of numbers to crunch, and there is plenty of information to digest and distill into a few simple graphs and a few paragraphs of text.

Social media makes this harder, along with visual journalism. Speed is of the essence, and you are venturing into wild frontiers when sharing real-time news on social channels. There is little room for error, and the repercussions can be fast and furious.

A simple mistake can be shared and reshared millions of times as some kind of running joke, captured online for posterity.

One example is a report from KUTV news last year, in which a series of fake and racially offensive names were reported as the names of the pilots of a crashed Asiana flight. Staff members responsible for the blunder ultimately were fired, and people still talk about it today.

On the positive side, the visual journalism team at The Times newspaper in the UK has done some interesting reporting on the 2013 UK budget, using the mobile video app Vine. With the Twitter-owned app, users can create and post short, looping video clips.

Six Vine videos were created very quickly, covering everything from the increase in personal allowance (shared 50 times on Twitter), to the decrease in beer prices by 1 pence a pint (shared 88 times on Twitter).  Check out the videos here.

How is the budget reported in your country on social media? If you have other interesting stories to share, tweet me @alvinologist

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