Who broke the Oscar Pistorius story on Twitter yesterday and does this even count?
I think so. When you consider how the story moved around the world on Twitter so fast and dominated social networks and media platforms all day.
It is quite simply the story of the decade. There hasn’t been anything this big globally since OJ Simpson.
And this time around we have Twitter so it is well worth watching how it will affect media coverage and the quality of information – and disinformation – going around.
This starts now.
As a news organisation, for example, how do you keep the information accurate and ethical amid the frenzy?
It is hard. But I can report that Beeld, the Afrikaans daily newspaper of Pretoria (where Pistorius lives and the shooting took place) and Johannesburg, had this at the very forefront of their thinking even as they were THE VERY FIRST to break the Pistorius story on Thursday morning with this tweet at 8.03am:
Oscar Pistorius skiet sy vriendin in sy huis dood omdat hy glo dink sy is ‘n inbreker.
— Beeld (@Beeld_Nuus) February 14, 2013
Beeld, which has more than 29 000 followers, got this story up by crime reporter Fanie van Rooyen on their website at 8.04am.
It seemed to go viral when Talk Radio 702 tech expert Aki Anastasiou (with more than 38 000 followers) tweeted this at 8.08am:
Hectic News @beeld_nuus is reporting that Oscar Pistorius shot & killed his girlfriend this morning thinking she was a burglar.
— Aki Anastasiou (@AkiAnastasiou) February 14, 2013
Beeld news editor Pieter du Toit told me this morning that two Beeld reporters, Fanie van Rooyen and Hilda Fourie, got tip-offs from two separate independent sources after the shooting, which took place in the wee hours of Thursday morning, and it was all hands on deck pretty much from 6am for the Beeld staff.
“Before we broke the story (on Twitter) there was a conversation between all the senior editors, the editor and the assistant editor about how solid was our information and were we willing to go with it.”
Du Toit said Beeld found itself in a similar situation last year, when Nelson Mandela was hospitalised and the government was keeping the hospital’s name under wraps.
Beeld was on to the Pretoria hospital a week before anyone else but it held back on breaking the news of its name as they debated the moral and ethical issues around publishing it.
“It’s a difficult one to decide,” said Du Toit, “because I think newspapers are moving into the realm of radio – with their continuous news cycle… With Twitter and our websites, we are starting to move into that space. So the challenge is: When do you break news that you think that you’ve got exclusively? On Madiba’s hospital we waited too long and Eyewitness News broke the story. They got the credit and good on them.
“But this time around we were happy with the solidity of our sources. The issue that we considered was: “Is it in the public interest?” We decided: ‘Yes, it is’.”
“It happened in our backyard and squarely in an area where we are the biggest newspaper – the east of Pretoria – and where our contacts across the board from the police to the prosecuting authorities are at their best. Looking at today’s newspaper, I would venture to say that we are ahead on the story at the moment.”
The main story in Beeld today by Van Rooyen and Fourie says that Pistorius’s girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was found dead behind the bathroom door and there were bullet holes in the door. Further, that the police and the estate’s security were called two hours before the shooting took place about noise coming from Pistorius’s home.
“It is a difficult story to do,” Du Toit said. “Like other local media, we were swamped yesterday with requests from TV, radio and newspapers from overseas. It is a big story so the challenge is to do it in a responsible manner and get as much detail as we can without prejudicing the legal process or prejudicing the victim and the alleged perpetrator.”
As an aside, it is also so interesting that this is not the first time that we have seen a tweet by Anastasiou on breaking news go viral.
When news of Eugene Terre’Blanche’s death in 2010 was broken on Twitter by blogger FromTheOld, it only went viral when Anastasiou and Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes tweeted about it.
Granted, Anastasiou has more followers than Beeld but not that much more so why was his tweet amplified to such a degree?
Is it because he is a popular radio personality and so people sit up and really pay attention? It is because he tweeted this in English and not in Afrikaans (as Beeld did)?
Did that mean that the tweet could, therefore, move beyond South Africa more quickly. I’m not sure?
Please let me know your thoughts – I’d be fascinated to hear – as Twitter is such a strange, defining phenomenon of our times.