Watch as Vine becomes the next great news-gathering tool

Although few are talking about it, the new video app could be a perfect tool for citizen journalists, and news organizations that want access to real-time news. One Vine shows the potential.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
4 min read
A Vine showing police officers patrolling San Francisco on Super Bowl Sunday evening. Screen shot by CNET

What if the Arab Spring, or Hurricane Sandy had been Vined?

Much has been made over the years about how Twitter is one of the world's most important new tools for reporting breaking news. But with the launch of Vine, has Twitter now expanded its control over citizen journalism to video?

Until now, most of the conversation about Vine has been around the service's ability to capture life's quirky moments, or as a way to create interesting (and sometimes artistic) stop-motion video. And of course, everyone knows that there's plenty of porn to be found.

Today, I encountered my first use of Vine as a newsgathering tool -- a video of a fire breaking out in a San Francisco neighborhood -- and it struck me immediately that this is one future for Vine I hadn't yet heard people discussing, although as Wired points out, there have been cases of people using Vine to to document a broken water main and a broken-down San Francisco subway.

The possibilities are staggering. Since Vine is so easy to use -- especially if you're just shooting an uninterrupted six-second video -- there are millions of people who, while witnessing some sort of breaking news or notable situation, could pull out their smart phone, run the app, and quickly shoot and post a video. For now, Vine is only available for iPhone and iPod Touch, but Twitter wil surely release an Android version before too long, as well as versions for Windows Phones, and perhaps other platforms. And that will just expand Vine's potential reach, although Twitter has yet to release any download or usage numbers.

That means highway accidents, police misconduct, fires, protests, fights, and just about anything is fair game for anyone to post to Vine and disseminate via social networks like Twitter and Facebook. For the citizen journalist -- or professional reporter -- having the ability to so easily post a video of some kind of newsworthy situation is a potentially invaluable tool. And for professional news organizations, access to such videos could be priceless.

Other short-form video services
Of course, Vine is hardly the only video app available. Others, such as Tout, Cinemagram, and YouTube, have for some time made shooting and sharing such videos fairly simple. YouTube told CNET that 7,000 hours of news-related video are uploaded every day, and more than 350,000 news- or politics-oriented videos were uploaded from Syria in 2012. For its part, Tout has been used to varying degrees by quite a few news organizations, including "The Wall Street Journal," NBC-TV, Sky, and many others, including CNET.

But it would seem that if Vine takes off, its ease of use, and ties to Twitter, could make it the tool of choice for posting -- and perhaps most importantly, instantly sharing -- quick video tidbits of what's happening out in the world.

"The next Zapruder film could come from Vine," said Steve Rubel, an executive vice president and media analyst for Edelman. "That's an interesting concept, and we don't know what's going to happen until there's an event like that. But like the Arab Spring demonstrated the power of Twitter [for disseminating newsworthy photos], there will be something that comes along, something that's momentous and goes on for a period of time and affects many people. [Hurricane] Sandy would be a perfect example."

To Rubel, what sets Vine apart from other short-form video tools is its ties to Twitter and how high-profile Vine has already become. And whether or not Twitter intended Vine to be used this way, the video app fits right into Twitter being "such a watercooler for what's current in news and culture," Rubel said.

Others clearly agree.

"Think of the impact Twitter has made so far on real-time reporting -- making everyone, everywhere, a potential instant eyewitness who can share text or a photo with the world," wrote Jeff Sonderman for Poynter when Vine was launched last month. "Now think of how that effect is amplified when the public can easily start sharing videos of the same events. For one, videos have the potential to be more realistic or graphic than a still photo. That's good when you want to bring the world virtually closer to a news event."

Is it a good thing?
But in his article, Sonderman also raised concerns about whether this kind of citizen journalism is a good thing, asking whether video documentation of events like last August's Empire State Building shooting would have been too much for many to take.

Sonderman also wonders if there are ethical questions raised about tools like Vine about how and when is appropriate to use such tools in news reporting.

"At the same time, [Vine] gives journalists fewer options for balancing ethical concerns," Sonderman wrote. "For instance, with a news photo you can quickly crop or blur specific areas the public shouldn't see. When dealing with a video, that's much harder to do."

To be sure, it's very early days, and until today, I hadn't seen a single instance of Vine being used in anything resembling a newsgathering capacity. But everything has to start somewhere. So did Twitter envision this use for Vine when it acquired the video service last fall? It's hard to say, and Twitter did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

But given how important Twitter has become during any kind of news event, it's hard to imagine the company didn't see the citizen journalism potential of Vine, even if until now, that's an angle that has hardly been talked about, either by the company, or in the larger conversation about the tool and its utility.

"There will be a Zapruder film moment," said Rubel, "or one like the Miracle on the Hudson, which put TwitPic on the map, and made people say, shoot, Twitter is for photos. There will be something, some sort of newsworthy moment, and that [Vine] will become the iconic image" of the event.

There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick... on Twitpic