Reuters is in a bit of a bind.
To protect its bread-and-butter wire service, it’s telling its journalists not to “scoop the wire” by breaking news stories on Twitter. According to the latest guidelines issued to staff:
As with blogging within Reuters News, you should make sure that if you have hard news content that it is broken first via the wire. Don’t scoop the wire. NB this does not apply if you are ‘retweeting’ (re-publishing) someone else’s scoop.
“Scooping the wire” must have been a difficult discussion internally. Just a year ago, Dean Wright, the agency’s global editor for ethics and innovation (interesting to see that Reuters has paired ethics and innovation in the same position) wrote in a blog:
If I don’t beat the Reuters wire with a live tweet because I deliberately hold back, someone else will. If I don’t beat the Reuters wire because I’m slow or inattentive, someone else will. The reason my live tweeting was fast is that it was unintermediated, while the journalist covering the story went the traditional route and had a discussion with an editor about how best to position and play the story. Both methods have important roles. In this case, the editor added value.
Overall, the guidelines are constructive. Reuters wants its journalists to:
The concern at Reuters is understandable. But it needs to keep two things in mind:
First, though powerful, Twitter is a very niche product that doesn’t (yet) have the same reach as TV or the wires. Breaking news will be seen by more editors, financial services analysts and investors faster on the wires. When was the last time you heard of a fund manager putting a sell or buy order on a stock because of what he/she read on Twitter?
Second, in the long run, such a move robs Reuters and its journos of the knowledge of how to build a sustainable and effective news service through social media services. Ultimately, a modern journalist has a personal brand that matters.