"Tweeters Don't Break News"
I've just read this article by Joe Flint on the LA Times' Company Town blog. This is an interesting and - I believe - perfectly reasonable contention to make as Twitter continues its ascendency.
Basically, I love Twitter. I love its unparalleled simplicity and size, and I love how it fulfils its promise to connect people in a way which is not overbearing and yet also not totally meaningless. It is just the right amount of interaction and information. (In other words, it strikes a balance somewhere beautiful between Facebook and shouting stuff on a street corner). I have adored watching big news events unfold their complexity through the medium of Twitter lately, and I have come to fully appreciate the network's power to give perspectives on stories that traditional news outlets cannot - not in the same way, at least.
But there are many terribly important reasons for ideologically safeguarding the role of those traditional outlets alongside Twitter in the 21st Century. Journalists are scrambling around right now looking for ways in which to define what makes them special. Despite the (embarrassingly) long-reigning confusion over this issue, there ought to emerge out of the present chaos a form of journalism which is well informed, principled, intelligent and editorially authoritative. Flint, in his LA Times blog, denies that tweeters wield the power to 'break' a story - reserving that particular term for the professionals. This is an interesting semantic conflict. Of course the simple definition of 'breaking news' is news which is happening right now, but that is a modern etymological development. The term comes from the occasions upon which TV channels would break or interrupt their schedule in order to report on an unfolding story of unusual magnitude. So perhaps it is entirely appropriate for news organisations to retain use of that word as a reference to the particular dynamics of broadcast media, in conscious contrast to the global chatter we hear on Twitter.
CNET covered the encroachment of Twitter on the news media's space very recently, also in the wake of the Bin Laden story, and suggested that the 'scoop takes all' maxim we associate with news publishing (think about what the word news means, after all) is becoming less crucial in an age where everyone, theoretically, has the capacity to be first on the scene. CNET quoted Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, who commented, "For the most part who is first isn't as important anymore as who is answering their audience's most important questions." An exciting proposition which seems to hint at a more stimulating news media of the future.
Remember when FIRST POST! started being uncool? It looks like news media is catching up to that realisation. I think it's right that veteran journalists should, as Joe Flint argued, become better at representing their unique role as journalists even while acknowledging how Twitter has massively helped the news media in their quest to gather stories and research social data - because the results aren't always as expected and society still desperately desires the imposition of narrative and context which journalists are so ready to provide. But newscasters also need to agree not to turn lazily to Twitter to fill in the holes in their research while still expecting people to believe that they are doing a special job. Let's get rid of those cringeworthy moments on news broadcasts where the presenter looks down at a laptop and recounts what is "being said right now on the social networking site, Twitter..."
We know what's being said. We said it.
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