We got a news tip the other week from a completely anonymous person whose name is provided on Twitter, but may not in fact be real. As a result of said tip, we dispatched a helicopter and produced a story that helped lead off one of our evening newscasts.
OK, I glazed over a couple details in that set up: (1) the chopper was already in the area and (2) we didn’t just fly over there on the advice of someone who messaged us on Twitter; we checked the information and proceeded accordingly.
The story didn’t turn out to be huge, but it mattered to people and it mattered to me that we were the ones to look into things for them and tell them what was going on. (Note: For what it’s worth, I’m the one who wrote the web copy.)
The larger point is that Tweets — even anonymous ones — Facebook posts, YouTube videos and whatever else are part of the news ecosystem and deserve to be treated seriously. Not all of them deserve to be treated seriously, but they deserve consideration. How do you determine whether some one who phones in a tip is legit or just prank calling you? Use good judgment. It’s not hard.
What may be hard for some people is getting over the idea that some of your information is going to come from people whose voices you may never hear, whose faces you may never see and whose names you may never verify — that’s OK. We are journalists and information is important to us; fretting over funny-sounding screen names is not.