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David Schlesinger: all a-twitter and scooping Reuters

Editor-in-chief David Schlesinger has started a debate over his twitterings.

“I’ve been tweeting from the World Economic Forum, using the microblogging platform Twitter to discuss the mundane (describing crepuscular darkness of the Swiss Alps at 5 a.m.) or the interesting (live tweeting from presentations),” he writes on the Reuters blog Full Disclosure: Ethics, Innovation and News Standards.

The scoop? Beating Reuters from Davos on news that billionaire financier George Soros believes the current economic downturn could be worse than the Great Depression, and that as much as $15 trillion might be needed to save the banking system.

“Is it journalism?

“Is it dangerous?

“Is it embarrassing that my tweets even beat the Reuters newswires?

(Tweets are Internet messages limited by the technology to 140 characters.)

“Am I destroying Reuters standards by encouraging tweeting or blogging?” Schlesinger asks.

“(These aren’t rhetorical questions - I’ve been challenged by many people who would answer those questions as No, Yes, Yes, and Yes! I answer them as Yes, Potentially, No and No.)”

Schlesinger recalls that the foundation of what Reuters does as a company and as a news service are the Reuters Trust Principles.

“While it is vital to read the five as a whole, I take the fifth (”That no effort shall be spared to expand, develop and adapt the news and other services and products of Thomson Reuters so as to maintain its leading position in the international news and information business”) as an imperative for continual innovation and experimentation.

“I have no idea what journalism will look like in five years except that it will be different than it is now. That’s a great thing, I believe.

“I have little patience for those who cling to sentimental (and frankly inaccurate) memories of the good old halcyon days of journalism that were somehow purer and better than a world where tweets and blogs compete with news wires and newspapers.

“Bring it on, I say!”

Schlesinger says working for Reuters gives him a tremendous platform and great access. “It does not give me a license.”

Microblogging and macroblogging and social networks are themselves great platforms.

“If great storytellers use those platforms to display their knowledge, access, expertise and abilities, I think that is a marvellous advance.

“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.

“In a democratic world where publishing platforms are available to all, editors and institutions like Reuters MUST add great value if they are to survive the competitive fight with the unintermediated storytellers.

“I love that.

“I love the competitive pressure that brings.

“I love the way it will force us continually to redefine our role vis-a-vis unaffiliated storytellers.

“I love the way it is and will continue to force us to redefine our profession and our craft.

“Are there potential pitfalls and dangers? Could a mistweet hurt our reputation? Of course. And over time we will have to work hard to decide what we have reporters tweet in their own names and what we have them do in the company name; we’ll have to refine our rules about micro and macroblogging to allow the maximum of free expression while holding fast to our important values of being fair, accurate and free from bias.

“But we will get there. And consumers of news will be the ultimate beneficiaries.”

Bravo, David, says Silicon Alley Insider, another blog. “Reuters and other newswires have made their names and their fortunes by being first with the news — now anyone who is at a news event has the equivalent of a newswire in their pocket, thanks to cellphones, Twitter, and other social-media tools. Does that make them journalists? Possibly. But best of all, ‘real’ journalists can make use of all those tools too.” ■