Aug 24, 2012 · 3 minutes

A few minutes ago, I saw a Tweet from Automattic's Peter Slutsky that there had been shootings at the Empire State Building. First thing I do is hop over to the New York Times.


Back to Twitter.

I search for "Empire State Building". The tweets come pouring in. This instant access to breaking news is part of what makes Twitter great.

But the tweets I'm seeing do little to fill out the picture. A link leads to an ABC story that reveals "multiple people have been shot". No more details.

Back to the tweet stream.

The tweets are coming thick and fast, but no one is adding new information. Most of the tweets are just regurgitations of previous tweets.

As expected, there is much lamentation and wailing. "Oh no!", say a lot of people, who, darkly, also seem to revel in being among the first people to break the news. (As you can see from the screen cap above, one of the top results in the "Empire State Building" search is from Khloe Kardashian telling us the "violence has to stop". Like I give a fuck what she thinks right now.)

These early reactions are effective for measuring the mood of a situation, but they're not good for assessing the credibility of the reports, or finding out what actually happened.

In the meantime, I'm getting a lot of tweets from people who are blithely unaware of the tragedy, which make their micromessages about new coworking spaces, fish, and property spirals seem so out of place.

I switch over to just read the "Reuters Top News" feed. An all-caps tweet shouts: "TWO DEAD IN SHOOTING OUTSIDE OF EMPIRE STATE BUILDING--NY POLICE SOURCE". The next tweet says there's no apparent link to terrorism.

So far, Reuters has provided the best info. But I don't usually follow that account. In fact, I don't follow any breaking news accounts on Twitter. Most of the time, I'm happy to wait a few minutes or hours to make sure I get the news straight and with adequate context. And I don't want the tweets crowding up my stream.

In the case of a shooting at the Empire State Building, however, I'm all about breaking news. It seems strange that Twitter hasn't thought of a way to deliver it to me more effectively – or offer me the option to turn on that hose whenever I want or need it.

And don't talk to me about lists. I, like 99.3 percent of the Twitter population, don't use them. I want one stream, pure and simple. But if there's a major news event like this, there should be a "Breaking news" button in the sidebar that allows me to see feeds from a selected few trusted sources: Reuters, BBC, New York Times, and AP, perhaps.

Then, I would be able to get focused, (mostly) reliable reports from trained reporters and editors, rather than wading through retweets and "me first!" wailings that do little to inform and much to distort – and distract from – the true story.

Twitter is clearly a medium primed for breaking news – 27 minutes after seeing that first tweet, the story still hasn't hit the New York Time's Web site – but only if it's used right. Twitter the company needs to make that way easier. Give me a quiet room where I can shut all out everyone else's jabbering, and just deliver me the important stuff, as it happens.

Only when it can deliver that will Twitter fully realize its power as a news medium.

Update: Now Reuters has a live blog related to the shootings. Well played. And guess how I found out about the blog.