In defense of the despicable 'things journalists do on Twitter'

New York magazine posted a clever top 10 list of the "things journalists do on Twitter that we despise." Many hyper-tweeting journalists among us ate it up yesterday with a good-natured chuckle. After all, these are things we tend to do.

But should we "despise" them? On half the counts, I think that's wholly or partially wrong. I would hate to see journalists led astray by thinking some of these practices are now taboo.

Below, a point-by-point defense of why journalists should or at least may reasonably do some of these despicable things.

2. "+1"

Defense: Nothing wrong with this one as shorthand for "me too" or "I second that." Because so many bias-scarred journalists feel it necessary to disclaim that "retweets do not equal endorsements," it's necessary to have some way to let followers know when you do endorse the idea you retweet.

3. Co-workers who tweet each other’s stories to the point of saturation

Defense: It's easy to argue against doing anything "to the point of saturation," but some amount of tweeting co-workers stories is a good thing. The key idea is to recognize that Twitter is "an interest network" more than a social network -- an audience follows each person for certain topics.

If your colleague writes something of overlapping interest to your audience, it's a service to tweet it. It's particularly useful when one journalist is writing outside their normal topic area. If the lifestyle columnist happens to profile a local sports star, the sports editor ought to be retweeting that so it gets to the sports-oriented audience.

5. Retweeting everyone who tweets about your own article

Defense: Again with the extremes! "Retweeting everyone," no. But you ought pass along other tweets of your article if they contain some new insight or a smart comment.

Remember that social media is like a cocktail party, where conversations build on previous conversations and jokes build on previous jokes. If a reader's retweet puts a new spin on your story and advances the conversation, amplify it with your own retweet.

7. Asking a question and then retweeting all responses to uninterested parties

Defense: This is very similar to the last point. In short, retweeting smart answers that would be of interest to your audience is a good thing. Retweeting every answer, or those that are only relevant to you personally, not so good.

8. "Re-posting for the morning crowd"

Defense: This phrase may be annoying because it has become cliché. But the underlying practice is sound. In fact, there is a "morning crowd" on Twitter different from an "evening crowd." There's probably even a late-morning crowd, an early-afternoon crowd and a late-night crowd.

Twitter is a fast-moving stream. Each user dips in and out briefly at different times, seeing only what's "live" at that moment. In this way, the consumption pattern is a lot like television (before DVRs) or radio, where dayparting has long been the norm. If you want to reach many of your Twitter followers, you'll need to repeat yourself a few times.

But perhaps do it more carefully than just saying "re-posting this." Try to emphasize a new angle each time you tweet. Or, in further defiance of item 5 above, just retweet someone else's tweet of your story at a later time.

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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