Twitter can't beat wire agencies for breaking news: study

A study has revealed that Twitter cannot beat wire services when it comes to breaking news, although it is useful in bringing additional coverage of events and for sharing news items of interest to niche audiences, such as local sports results.

According to the research by British scientists, Twitter can only break news before news agencies in rare incidences. For major events there is little evidence that it can replace traditional news outlets.

Scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow developed a software algorithm to track Twitter activity. They used it to study 51 million tweets over 11 weeks in summer 2011 and compared these with output from news outlets for the same period.

Newswires tracked included the BBC, CNN, Reuters and The New York Times, which seek to set the news agenda and break stories ahead of one another.

Scientists were able to examine Twitter messages relating to major news items. They also identified a large amount of minor news items that had featured on Twitter but had been ignored by the mainstream media.

It was mainly for sport and disaster-related events that Twitter outperformed newswires for speed of coverage, or other items with a short life-span, the findings showed.

The study, supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is to be presented at the 7th International AAAI Conference On Weblogs and Social Media, scheduled in Boston next week.

Dr Miles Osborne of the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics said that Twitter can bring added value by spreading the word on events that we might not otherwise hear about, and for bringing local perspectives on major news items.