Is Twitter ruining journalism or are journalists ruining Twitter?

The Awl | Calbuzz | San Francisco Bay Guardian
Twitter’s detractors are mounting a spring offensive.

Choire Sicha had a revelation Wednesday as he watched journalists live-tweet Rupert Murdoch’s testimony: “Who gamed a substantial number of professional news-gatherers into providing free content for Twitter?”

“We saw a seemingly endless number of journalists spend the very early hours frantically live-tweeting every possibly interesting bit (and plenty not) of Rupert Murdoch’s testimony… It certainly wasn’t helping them get their news articles published in a more timely fashion! And it not only didn’t result in any revenue for their news organization, it didn’t even result in any revenue for the writer in the course of his job duties.”

Separately, California politics blog Calbuzz raised three criticisms of Twitter in political news. The most nuanced argument was this:

“It makes everything as important as everything else … favors the trivial over the substantive … the immediate over the consequential … and events over ideas.

The result: a second-by-second, self-contained and self-referential closed feedback loop.”

The San Francisco Bay Guardian posted a response to Calbuzz’s critique, arguing the problem lies with people, not Twitter.

“It’s not Twitter’s fault; Twitter’s just a tool. It’s the idea that everyone should report and re-report every trivial thing that happens (or maybe doesn’t happen) in a mad rush to be the first with it and get all the traffic.

… You can’t blame technology or the applications it creates for turning us in the news business into a bunch of attention-starved maniacs who put stuff out there without checking the facts. That’s happened for years.”

Who’s right? I lean toward the Guardian’s side; a tool is just a tool and the craftsman is responsible for how he uses it. However, craftsmen need to understand a tool’s built-in biases and limitations in order to wield it well.

Yes, it is possible to overuse Twitter to the detriment of your other reporting; it is possible to pursue trivial tweetable “scoops” to the detriment of insightful journalism. The solution isn’t to not use Twitter — it’s to not use Twitter that way.

Related:The other problem with the immortality of the Tweet: It’s a chunk of writing that’s difficult to put into context [later]” (Pando Daily).

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  • Anonymous

    I don’t think that journalists are ruining Twitter because the good ones are using this invaluable tool to provide tremendous benefits to their viewers/readers/listeners. But, I think the ones who are questionable in their ethics and who are more concerned with being first than being right are doing a huge disservice to the industry as well as Twitter. These are the ones who are fanning the flames of every crazy who’s too stupid to decipher the difference between what is a true representation of the facts and what needs to be put through a filter.

  • Virginia Lee

    A tweet written without thought can affect business both in a good and a bad way. Social media shouldn’t be regarded as trivial.

  • bart brouwers

    Ruining, come on! If used wisely, twitter has enriched and will be enriching journalism. Twitter is the best present journalism has ever received. I’ve put the evidence of this claim on slideshare (mostly in Dutch, unfortunately)

  • bart brouwers

    Ruining, come on! If used wisely, twitter has enriched and will be enriching journalism. Twitter is the best present journalism has ever received. I’ve put the evidence of this claim on slideshare (mostly in Dutch, unfortunately)

  • Matthew Keys

    Twitter is ruining journalism about as much as the Internet is ruining journalism.

  • andrea gillhoolley

    Neither? Who cares, it works!

  • andrea gillhoolley

    Neither? Who cares, it works!

  • bart brouwers

    Ruining, come on! If used wisely, twitter has enriched and will be enriching journalism. Twitter is the best present journalism has ever received. I’ve put the evidence of this claim on slideshare (mostly in Dutch, unfortunately)

  • Anonymous

    Err, Media Matters (non-MSM) is a check on Fox News (MSM). If George Soros was evil he’d buy a cable news channel, like Rupert Murdoch, rather than partially funding a website that exposes right-wing media bias.

    “It used to be that the MSM was pointed, straightforward, and for the most part honest”

    You mean back in the good old days when it was dominated by white guys?

  • Anonymous

    Fact of the matter is; Twitter keeps us informed. Whereas the MSM is attempting to sell us a product. On Twitter we can all be who we are, speak as we feel, and say what we think. 

    For example;
    Not long ago many facets of the MSM were reporting that John Boehner’s  Congress is the worst ever because of the failure of the Super-commitee and the fact that only 55 pieces of legislation had made it to the Presidents desk since the GOP retook the majority in the House.

    It shouldn’t need be stated that this is a prime example of, biased  or crony Left-wing journalism. When journalist in the MSM start reporting their bought-and-paid-for opinions as news and there is nobody there to call them out, well…”Houston, we have a problem!”

    Twitter gives us that outlet. It is the place where private citizens can go and call out the BS.

    There is little wonder as to why a media mogul like Murdoch, owner of the vast FauxNews empire would find it cumbersome.

    It used to be that the MSM was pointed, straightforward, and for the most part honest. But todays MSM has it’s own agenda and will engage in every form of manipulation and deceipt to meet its own ends. We need look no further than George Soros’s ‘Media Matters’ for unalienable proof of this fact.

     The MSM used to act as the voice of the people, it was an integral part of the system of checks and balances. But as it no longer concerns itself with the truth, there is no longer any practical reason for it’s existence.

  • benito_a

    I believe we’re talking about the value of curation. 

    Nieman Lab has done a pretty cool thing with their Fuego: “Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot. Every hour, it tracks the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about on Twitter and identifies the top 10.”

    Although I’d wager their “heat-seeking Twitter bot” is a college intern manually updating his searches from Tweet Deck. 

  • Melissa Bower

    I find that attitudes such as these are indicative of a bigger problem in our field – the unwillingness to adapt to new technologies. Instead of stating what you think is wrong with it, why don’t you use it and find ways to help your company or news organization? Twitter is another outlet journalists can use to communicate with the public. Not only is it a tool that news organizations need to use to represent themselves (because if you’re not, someone else will, news stories are popular sources on Twitter) but it’s a tool that individual journalists can use to empower their careers in a time when corporate-owned news can make employment difficult. The technology is there, and companies need to adapt to find new ways to profit from it.
    Professor Steinle, if you have some study to prove, I’d love to read it! I do find that certain parts of the general consumption news market are not on Twitter, for example, the small news market where I live in northeast Kansas would not benefit from Twitter at this time. However, the niche market I cover within the military has a high interest in Twitter, so I am able to share information quickly across the world. Twitter is a nonexclusive outreach tool, unlike Facebook which is an exclusive in-reach tool.

  • Paul Steinle

    Apparently many journalists are using Twitter, but what percentage of the news-consuming public actually “follows” Twitter?  Isn’t it just another small fraction of the news market?

  • Anonymous

    well, of course, that’s exactly what is needed, something that will keep reporters from getting “complacent on the job.” huh? wonder how publishers avoided that pitfall in the olden days? i can’t think of a single example where a tweet caused me to go to a “final-product” news story that i wouldn’t have looked at anyway (if i were interested). for real journalists, tweeting is  nothing more than the-latest-fad busy work. can you imagine david browder or johnny apple tweeting?

  • Brandon Goodwin

    I agree, I think Twitter is just a tool. But for news organizations and journalists who care for how many people read their work, its more than that. It is one of the best distribution outlets out there.

    Twitter is one of the biggest referrers to my news site we have.

    If a journalist can use Twitter about a certain topic and gain a large following, whether that be a general topic or specific court case, you’re only increasing how much reach your story will get in the future when you’ve published your final product.

    I would dismiss arguments about the fact that Twitter doesn’t make a newspaper money. Maybe not a lot from assignment to assignment. But in the long term, I think it is worth the trouble.

    Besides, it keeps your reporters from getting complacent on the job.