The swine flu. Iran. Michael Jackson. What do they have in common? Twitter.
The swelling wave of tweets has demonstrated something very concisely (as tweets are required to do): the public no longer depends on journalists to break the news, but to help them filter and understand it.
Yes, time still matters. But the source to publish stories with the most accuracy, breadth, and depth in the time they take will be the source the public will still go to even if they have to start prioritizing their source - i.e., if and when content becomes paid in some way.
So right now, timing matters - but it doesn't matter that much. Competition used to matter because it sold newspapers, and papers could get a story a whole day ahead of one another. Then TV outlets could get an edge by getting to the scene first. But when the difference is minutes instead of hours or days, and when users can surf from one site to another or even, hey, open all of them at once, the better coverage - the consistently better coverage - will begin to matter.
In an NYT article yesterday, Brian Stelter quoted Matthew Weaver, blogger for The Guardian, as saying, "When rallies and conflicts occur 'first the tweets come, then the pictures, then the YouTube videos, then the wires.'"
Sources are becoming citizen journalists, and vice versa. It's breaking news all the time - but it's not being broken by the major outlets anymore. However, they are still the venues the public trusts, and that makes all the difference.
Dealing with information that changes this quickly works because most bloggers - and news services - are transparent about what they know and what they don't.
The news environment has been sucked into the rumor mill, but that's not all bad - if reporters can strategize, rather than simply react.