Social media has changed the way we receive news. It's also changed how it's reported.
When the "Arab Spring" hit Egypt, I began tweeting. A lot. We were witnessing history and I was riveted to my television and my computer. I tweeted out information and updates for no other reason than because it was a hugely important story. I wanted to share the same fresh info I was reading myself.
There was great and exceptional coverage by several reporters on the scene, including CNN's Ben Wedeman, Nick Kristof from The New York Times and NBC's Richard Engel. I got a lot of information from them, but not by reading a column or watching TV. I followed their Twitter feeds.
And if I wanted more than bite-size chunks of information, then there was network news and I don't think anyone did it better than Al-Jazeera and of course, my former post CNN. I can personally attest that no one deploys phenomenal reporters, producers, photographers and equipment faster than CNN.
But still, the inflow of news from social media told the story in ways that TV could not. No TV network or newspaper can replace the adrenaline rush of reading or watching what's going on at any given minute in any given place directly from the source. TV can't always convey the thoughts, sentiments and feelings of the people on the ground as well as their own words can.
And TV can't capture every shot or piece of amazing footage the way that millions of people can using nothing but what may be the best piece of news equipment ever invented: the smartphone. It's a computer, word processor, still and video camera, recorder, editing system, phone and satellite uplink all in one. Best of all, it's cheap and accessible for everyone from the suburbs of California to the streets of Cairo.
There are, of course, limitations to getting your news -- and having news reported -- in 140 characters or less. A tweet is just too short to convey detail or context, and multiple tweets one after another become annoying.
That's where Tumblr comes in.
It's what Goldilocks would call, "just right." It's not a full-blown blog and it's not a one-sentence message service. It is, as Steve Rubel noted last week, a "hybrid," a platform that is "...a social network for both original and curated content... longer than a tweet and often more visual in nature."
And that's what makes it the newest and potentially one of the best tools that journalists now have.
In a month where Facebook may have lost as many as 6 million users in the US, and Tumblr -- with now over 20 million blogs -- surpassed wordpress.com in size, Tumblr is about to hit the critical mass necessary to make it useful as a platform to broadcast and receive news.
So what makes Tumblr great? It enables journalists to send news updates with the immediacy and ease of Twitter. With no 140 character cap, spelling, punctuation and key words and sentences don't have to be sacrificed. Posts can be short in length but long on substance. And posts can include pictures and video, without having to click on a link or leave the site -- information and images together. Journalism is at its best when it provides detail and context.
If you follow someone on Tumblr, then you get his or her updates instantly, you can read them in your dashboard feed and "re-blog" the content you like, all of which makes Tumblr that hybrid blog and social network content stream.
I found Tumblr the same way I've discovered other forms of social media -- through my teenage sons and their friends who describe it as the new "it." Admittedly, I'm new to Tumblr (this is my very first post). And while I'll always love Twitter, I can see Tumblr becoming the next great tool for journalists, one that both reporters and news organizations would do well to fully embrace.
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