News agencies continue to have an edge over Twitter in being first with the news, a press release from the University of Edinburgh said on Thursday.
Research into reporting of news events by Twitter and newswire services has found that while Twitter can sometimes break news before newswires, for major events there is little evidence that it can replace traditional news outlets, the study said.
Twitter's main benefits for news are bringing additional coverage of events, and for sharing news items of interest to niche audiences or with a short lifespan, such as local sports results, it said.
Scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow developed a software algorithm to track Twitter activity, using it to study 51 million tweets over 11 weeks in summer 2011 and comparing these with output from news outlets including BBC, CNN, Reuters and the New York Times for the same period.
Scientists were able to examine Twitter messages relating to major news items, and also identified a large amount of minor news items that had featured on Twitter but had been ignored by the mainstream media.
Neither Twitter nor newswires was regularly faster than the other in breaking high-profile news, but when Twitter outperformed newswires for speed, it was for mainly for sport and disaster-related events, showed the study.
"Twitter and traditional news outlets each have their strengths in terms of delivering news. However, Twitter can bring added value by spreading the word on events that we might not otherwise hear about, and for bringing local perspectives on major news items." said Miles Osborne of the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics, who led the study.
Supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the study is to be presented at the 7th International Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Conference On Weblogs And Social Media, in Boston, United States, next week.