Politics From The Twitter Firehose

From center to centrifuge? A story breaks once, twice, three times. And now, everybody misses things — except, perhaps, @zekejmiller.

Twitter has become political reporters’ and junkies front page: It’s faster and more comprehensive than any wire service or website, because it includes them all, along with the voices of newsmakers and reporters who make and break news there before it hits the old web.

But as Twitter, this cycle, displaces the old, authoritative tally of presidential politics — one that used to run on the wire, and which in 2008 was seized by blogs and fast-moving websites — we’re losing our ability to keep track. Blink — or get up to go to lunch, or look away from TweetDeck for a conversation — and you can miss a whole news cycle of scoop and reaction, joke and outrage. One feature of this: A midsize scoop can now “break” several times in a day, as different outlets simply miss the others’ work.

And so on Friday, BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray landed a pretty nice scoop: Rick Santorum had failed to get enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot in Indiana. It was a good political scoop because it was both new news, and had broader implications: A candidate who can’t make the ballot in key states can’t really be seen as a serious contender. And she’d reported it out in a very traditional way: her colleague Zeke Miller each had a source saying Santorum was short; she heard the same from a campaign source; she then called a Marion County official, Scott Carr, who confirmed it.

BuzzFeed shared it the way political news travels these days, on Twitter:

And many in the political class picked it up:

So we watched in mild, credit-hungry dismay Friday afternoon when a series of other outlets reported on Santorum’s failure and on his response to the story at a press conference this afternoon, and our editor-in-chief eventually dispatched a standard-issue grumbling email to ABC’s Shushannah Walshe.

But before Walshe could reply, we poked around a little more, and realized that Indianapolis radio station WIBC had actually broken the story just before noon — after Miller got his initial tip, but before we published with confirmation:

With just two retweets, the story hadn’t spread.

And despite tweets from several of our fairly widely-followed political reporters’ accounts, our story — written and played as a scoop — flashed by the Twitter stream fast enough that, when Santorum was asked about the report later that afternoon, it felt like news again to many reporters and junkies.

This has to do with the sheer volume coming out of the Twitter firehose at this point. Very few junkies — Miller is one of them — have Twitter wired so closely into their brains that they miss nothing. Now even most political professionals have trouble following the flow of information. (And in case you missed it this morning: In a new count, Santorum claims he’s made the ballot, a claim backed by an Indiana Republican source.)

But Twitter remains the political class’s front page; more comprehensive, and faster, than any publication can be. More than one or four years ago, though, news can fall between the cracks. The joy of Twitter, for junkies like us, has been how it has centralized the conversation; the challenge this cycle will be to fight the centrifugal forces.

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