Finally, something positive about journalism and Twitter!

Twitter bird cartoon by Hugh MacLeod

Those of you who’ve been reading me for a while will know I get frustrated by the curmudgeonly journalists who whinge that the end of the world is nigh. (If not, here’s a catch-up reading list.) Finally today I found a more positive view with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Reuters news editor David Schlesinger has been using Twitter to cover the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. His live tweets broke news even faster than Reuters’ own news wires. But is he worried this is the end of journalism? No.

Bring it on, I say!

There’s a nice slab of Schlesinger’s full blog post, as well as the comment I posted, over the fold.

Schlesinger writes:

I have no idea what journalism will look like in five years except that it will be different than it is now. That’s a great thing, I believe.

I have little patience for those who cling to sentimental (and frankly inaccurate) memories of the good old halcyon days of journalism that were somehow purer and better than a world where tweets and blogs compete with news wires and newspapers.

Bring it on, I say!

Journalism is one of the great self-declared professions and crafts. I am a journalist because I said I was one more than two decades ago and have spent the years since working on my abilities. I am not one because I am somehow anointed with a certificate or an exam result.

Journalism is ideally designed for democratisation…

Microblogging and macroblogging and social networks are themselves great platforms.

If great storytellers use those platforms to display their knowledge, access, expertise and abilities, I think that is a marvellous advance.

If I don’t beat the Reuters wire with a live tweet because I deliberately hold back, someone else will. If I don’t beat the Reuters wire because I’m slow or inattentive, someone else will.

The reason my live tweeting was fast is that it was unintermediated, while the journalist covering the story went the traditional route and had a discussion with an editor about how best to position and play the story.

Both methods have important roles. In this case, the editor added value.

In a democratic world where publishing platforms are available to all, editors and institutions like Reuters MUST add great value if they are to survive the competitive fight with the unintermediated storytellers.

I love that.

I love the competitive pressure that brings.

My comment on this post, written after reading the comments Schlesinger had already received, encapsulated something that’s been on my mind all week.

I’m continually astounded at how many discussions about journalism and Twitter — including this one — end up asking whether Twitter “is” journalism. Of course it isn’t — no more than the telephone system is journalism or a typewriter is journalism.

Even if you take the word “Twitter” as shorthand for “the communities of people who use Twitter” rather than the technology itself, it’s still not journalism — any more than the groups of people talking at a bar or on a street corner are journalism.

Journalism is a process by which all these raw sources of information is turned into some sort of media product — a newspaper story, a TV report or whatever. Those processes include uncovering hidden truths, cross-checking the information you receive and turning it all into a coherent narrative for your audience.

A 140-character tweet could itself be a journalistic product. But it’s the processes — and the people who conduct those processes — that make that tweet The News rather than small-n news or, as we like to call it, “gossip”.

Someone asked how you fact-check a tweet. Exactly the same as any other piece of information you receive. The medium by which you receive that information makes no difference whatsoever.

And before anyone asks how a 140-character tweet can be a news product, consider this hypothetical tweet:

PM Rudd’s aircraft shot down over Timor Sea. No word on PM’s safety.

If such a dramatic fact had been confirmed via a reliable source, then of course it’s The News. How could it not be?

Catch-up Reading

If you haven’t read my rants about journalism before, try these in order. If pain persists, please consult a professional.

  1. Note to “old media” journalists: adapt, or stfu!
  2. Bloggers: the biggest whingers since journalists
  3. “Trouble at t’paper”
  4. Sunday Thoughts about Journalism (which itself has lots of links to other people’s writing)
  5. Journalism in a hyperconnected world

2 Replies to “Finally, something positive about journalism and Twitter!”

  1. Exactly Stil (and David Schlesinger). Twitter is a tool. Sometimes it’s a tool that can break/create news, but mostly it’s part of the process, which adds value overall.

    Oh, and an obeservation. Maybe it’s just the circles I follow, but given the brevity (discipline) a “tweet” requires, I have yet to see any seepage of (incomprehensible) SMS shorthand into the twitter stream.

  2. @Cassie ST: THere is a perception (possibly wrong) that Twitter has an older demographic, whereas SMS usage is much higher amongst the young. Is the lack of SMS-like abbreviations just a reflection of an older, linguistically more conservative user base? Or a reflection of the high level of “professional communicators” like journalists and marketing/PR people?

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