Journalists start to get Twitter…about time!

February 23, 2009

Last week, it seems like Twitter finally hit the Washington press on the head with an anvil and they all finally got with it. Why most journalists are so far behind the curve is kind of mystifying to me. Millions of normal people use Twitter everyday, but when you look up major journalists on Twitter the vast majority of them don’t *get* it.

Just look at Anderson Cooper or Gawker or CNN. This is not how you use Twitter. These guys follow no one, and only post a stream of posts from Twitterfeed trying to get you to their blogs or websites. That’s not the point of Twitter. If you’re going to do that, why bother?

Recently, this is a topic I’ve seen discussed in other places. Luke Russert didn’t have a Twitter account even though he is supposed to be covering youth issues. And then last week  I noticed an interesting trend…journalists started to get it. Russert started his own account. George Stephanopoulos, whose Twitter account previously until February 18th was just a stream of ads for his blog, suddenly started posting updates like a real person. David Gregory and Mike Allen both joined Twitter and started posting real updates, and both garnered a huge following within days. Gregory even went so far as to start his own TypePad blog.

There are some journalists who have been getting it for a long time: Ana Marie Cox, or John Byrne, CEO of Business Week, John Dickerson of Slate, and of course, Rick Sanchez and Don Lemon of CNN. All of these journalists use Twitter to post real updates, information, and insight, and they genuinely interact with people and gather information, rather than simply using Twitter as a self-promotion tool. They connect — which is the point.

There are some great ways Twitter can be used to improve and complement serious journalism — it’s not just a frivolous tool for posting where you’re going every second of the day or what you had for lunch (NOONECARESABOUTYOURLUNCH.Why do I get so many tweets like that?) It’s a great way to discover breaking stories or find interview sources or simply step out from behind your byline, go where the readers are, and talk to them.

Social media is useless if you just use it as a one-way megaphone; it has to be a two-way conversation. I hope more journalists follow suit, because I have to wonder how accurately they can report on issues on behalf of the public if they’re missing a crucial opportunity to see what the public is talking about.

*This post itself was inspired by a Twitter conversation started by one of my favorite bloggers, Jaclyn Schiff. If you’re not already, follow me on Twitter. And Jaclyn!

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  1. Have you noticed that on CNN, sometimes journalists read twitter responses to what they say? It’s live, and sometimes really painful because some people say really dumb things just to get on air.

  2. Yes! Rick Sanchez seems to do that a lot. I think it’s a cool way to make the news more interactive, but you’re right that people say some dumb things just in order to get on air…

  3. […] may have just rated Gawker as one of the Top 5 over-rated blogs, but it’s also a must-read Journalists start to get Twitter…about time! – nishachittal.wordpress.com 02/23/2009 Last week, it seems like Twitter finally hit the Washington […]

  4. @Nisha, thanks for all the kudos! Enjoyed reading your thoughts on this… it is fascinating to see the way Twitter is bascially catching on around us (those of us who are Tweeting). The more time I spend on it, the more I pick up. It is quite amazing to see some of these journos, especially the younger ones, be resistant to social media! I just don’t see how you can even imagine a future in journalism without knowing your way around social media really well. But at the same time, if you step back a bit, people who are starting to Tweet now are still sort of on the early side of coming on board, I don’t think it’s 100% mainstream just yet, but it is certainly heading in that direction.

  5. Social media is useless if you just use it as a one-way megaphone; it has to be a two-way conversation.

    Social media is also what you make of it. It’s only as good as you put into it. And, I hope the journalists that you are describing adopt that attitude. They really have a great audience on their hands through Twitter, so the more they put into the community, the more they will get back.

    It’s about time more journalists become part of the interaction that bloggers know and love.

    Always a pleasure reading your writing, Nisha!

  6. Great post. My favorite journalist, NYT’s Nicholas Kristof, has a great twitter account. He could use it better by posting more helpful information or connecting with people, but I think he doesn’t have too much time. At the same time, though, he utilizes it relatively effectively, by not only updating with links to his articles and blog posts, but also stating where he is and giving often humorous and interesting updates. It’s really cool to follow his travels around the world!

    If more journalists made use of twitter and created a more personal voice for themselves as well, I think the world of journalism could become far more interesting.

  7. jaclyn: no prob! Your convo really got me thinking. And you’re right that people who are starting now are still on the early adopter curve- definitely not mainstream yet. But it will be soon, I’m sure… as my editor was telling me a while ago, its journalists who don’t keep on top of social media and the changing world of online media who will be the ones who don’t make it through the media industry’s vast layoffs…

    Jamie – definitely it is time more journalists become part of that interaction. Really increases the transparency and makes them a lot more human.

    Akhila – I LOVE Kristof’s twitter. I read his updates all the time. Best was when he tweeted a few days ago about rooming w/ George Clooney. And Kristof is one of my favorite journalists too…why am I not surprised. haha. good talking to you today by the way!

  8. Thanks for this. This is actually something I’m looking into studying as part of my dissertation, so I appreciate your discussion. You’ve got it right on. Twitter isn’t a megaphone, no social media should be. But it is very interesting to watch the evolution of the adoption of new techs by the media industries. Should be fun 🙂

  9. Matt — thanks for commenting. It definitely is fun to watch how the old-school media industry adapts to new technology! 🙂 Sounds like an interesting dissertation you’ve got there, good luck!

  10. nice post … i like it very much

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