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On Tweets and Rumors (Big Ones)

Heated tweet exchange between BW and Time employees over BW's rumored shutdown.


Bill Mickey By Bill Mickey
09/24/2009 -12:52 PM






Notch this one for the gossip column, but it does raise some interesting Twitter etiquette issues and highlights the confusion over just what kind of role Twitter plays in journalsm.

On Tuesday morning Peter Ha, technology editor for Time magazine, decided to ask his 1,000+ Twitter followers to confirm or deny a rumor that BusinessWeek was shutting down. The magazine has been on the block for a while now, and official bids are reportedly just being submitted. At this point, the last thing McGraw-Hill needs is a shutdown rumor on the loose.

In any case, Ha's tweet got picked up by a couple BusinessWeek employees—Arik Hesseldahl, BW senior tech writer (3,500 followers), Ron Casalotti, BW director of user participation, Business Exchange  (1,100 followers) and Steven Weiss, McGraw-Hill's corporate communications director (28 followers), who seemingly signed up to Twitter just for the occasion. Ha promptly had his wrist tweet-slapped for fanning rumor flames. Weiss went as far as urging Ha to "call me promptly."

Former Portfolio contributing editor and freelance writer Gary Weiss weighs in on what he thinks is some irresponsible behavior from Ha—and his post got picked up by Poynter.

It's a sensitive topic, to be sure, and one with significant repercussions either way. And sensitive particularly to those who work at the magazine, or used to, in Gary Weiss's case.

Seems to me, though, with the almost 5,000 followers between Hesseldahl and Casalotti, they might have been better off just ignoring Ha altogether.

Besides, journalists routinely use Twitter as a story-building tool. Ha may have been pursuing a story on the BusinessWeek sale, or he might have simply been curious about the tip—he's since gone dark on the topic—but what's the difference between using Twitter to confirm a rumor versus placing a few calls? Rumors still spread pretty quickly before we had Twitter. And reporters will still track them down.

Here's the exchange pieced together in one string, starting chronologically from the top.

Peter Ha (Time Inc.)
Just caught wind that BusinessWeek is shutting down. Can anyone confirm or deny?
8:10 AM Sep 22nd from TweetDeck

Ron Casalotti (BusinessWeek)
@ThePeterHa Hadn't you heard? BusinessWeek being sold, not to be interpreted as "shutting down" --please convey to all your retweeters
about 24 hours ago from Power Twitter in reply to ThePeterHa

Peter Ha
@roncasalotti I know what's going on w/ BW. I'm simply inquiring about what I heard this morning, which I hope is untrue.
about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to roncasalotti

Peter Ha
I never said BizWeek is shutting down. I know they're looking for a buyer, but heard this morning that it was being shut down.
about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck

Arik Hesseldahl (BusinessWeek)
@ThePeterHa Caught wind? Would you care to elaborate what you caught wind about?
9:55 AM Sep 22nd from TweetDeck

Peter Ha
@ahess247 I heard that it was being shut down!
about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to ahess247

Arik Hesseldahl
@ThePeterHa then why don't you elaborate on what you heard this morning?
about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck

Peter Ha
@ahess247 I heard it was being shut down and immediately ran back to my computer to see if something had happened.
about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck

Arik Hesseldahl
@ThePeterHa from whom? in what context? someone in a position to know something or the guy who shined your shoes?
about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck

Peter Ha
@ahess247 bc my shoe shine guy would be a reliable source.
about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to ahess247

Arik Hesseldahl
@ThePeterHa And tweeted it to 1,028 people, some of whom promptly re-tweeted it. Thanks for that.

Peter Ha
@ahess247 It would be one thing if I stated that BW was shutting down, which I didn't. I was merely looking for a point of clarification.
about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to ahess247

Arik Hesseldahl
@ThePeterHa We'll soon see how good was the source of that breaking wind that you caught.
about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck

Peter Ha
@ahess247 Is it because you're a Duck and I'm a Beaver?
about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to ahess247

Steven Weiss (Corp Comm. McGraw-Hill)    
@ThePeterHa Want to discuss your irresponsible posts about BusinessWeek but you are not in Time directory - please give me ur contact info
about 22 hours ago from web

Peter Ha
@SHWeiss01 and you are?
about 21 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to SHWeiss01

Steven Weiss
@ThePeterHa I run communications for McGraw-Hill which owns BusinessWeek.
about 21 hours ago from web

Steven Weiss
@ThePeterHa You now know my name and employer. If you are a responsible journalist intent on factual reporting you will call me promptly.
about 21 hours ago from web

Peter Ha    
For the record: BizWeek is not shutting down. I never said it was shutting down. It was something I overheard this morning.
about 21 hours ago from TweetDeck

Peter Ha
And that's all I'm going to say about it
about 21 hours ago from TweetDeck





Bill Mickey By Bill Mickey -- Bill Mickey is editor of Folio:. Follow him on Twitter: @billmickey

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