Breaking News

The Social Web

News breaks faster on the social web than it did in the days of late-editions, publishing at the speed of a mouse click creates an expectation for fast news which when fulfilled reenforces the expectation for news quickly. The New York Times began publishing in 1851 when ink printed on paper was advanced technology and the fastest reliable way to spread news was on horseback as railroad and telegraph were only beginning to spread.

An analysis of The New York Times social media use on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTimes) between July 11 and July 16, 2011 showed a total of 403 postings of which 382 (94.7%) contained links. Twitter users saw the majority of the publications postings, 348 posts and 331 links compared to Facebook which had 55 postings over the examination period and 51 links. Posts on Twitter had a slightly higher rate of links, 95.1%, compared to Facebook whose users saw a link rate of 92.7%.

Staff at The New York Times chose to use Twitter exclusively for both “news alerts” and “breaking” news. Updates in these two categories totaled six tweets over the five day study including five “news alerts” and one “breaking” news update, one “news alert” is a near duplicate of the preceding update which has since been deleted.

News content appears no different from a “news alert” to a “breaking” news update, however the substance of the update is significant. All five alerts did not contain a link, while the one “breaking” update did. [blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/nytimes/statuses/91538316847095808"]

Headlines with links to stories dominate the @NYTimes account, and while some of these stories can be considered “breaking” or a “news alert” they did not qualify for that designation on social media by the newspaper’s staff. One story which The Washington Post considered worthy of a text message news alert was the U.S. government recognition of Libyan rebels as a governing body. The Washington Post texted:

WASH POST NEWS ALERT: U.S. to recognize Libyan rebels as legitimate government MORE @ http://wpo.st/vlX3

The same story as published on @NYTimes:[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/nytimes/statuses/91853090948530176"]

One possible reason for the split between two leading publications on what can be considered worthy of a “news alert” is who authored the article linked to in the update. Two Washington Post staff writers authored the piece that appeared in that publication while the article on NYTimes.com is from The Associated Press.

Combined, the six tweets classified as a “news alert” or as “breaking” totaled at least 393 retweets as of this writing (one tweet shows only “Retweeted by lildudefly and 100+ others” and the individual users cannot be counted).

While more than 101 retweets is good user engagement for a news alert, a similar story published to Facebook on the same day with a link but without the designation of a “news alert” resulted in greater user engagement. On Facebook 96 users commented and 392 users “liked” the article, for a total of 488 users engaging with the post. Approximately 2.3 times as many people follow @NYTimes on Twitter than “like” the page on Facebook (3,466,310 compared to 1,460,119 as of this writing) , accounting for this difference, more than a thousand users would have to engage with the post on Twitter to have the same engagement rate as Facebook with .033%.

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