If you would’ve asked me five months ago if twitter should be considered a proper journalistic tool, I would’ve laughed and told you it was just a fad. But now, I’m well and truly converted and am here to spread the twitter gospel.
My twitter journey started about a year ago in a print journalism tutorial when our tutor suggested we open an account for a class exercise. I had been thinking about opening one for a while, but honestly didn’t see how I could gain from it journalism-wise. My closed-minded attitude and half-hearted approach to twitter back then never allowed me to reap the benefits of the medium and so my account remained inactive for most of the year.
I had followed a few journalists, news organisations and way too many celebrities, but never felt the draw or addiction to the platform. After all I had my regular routine of the morning paper along with radio and TV news bulletins, including an occasional perusal of ABC online throughout the day – I didn’t need something else to repeat the same information and waste my time. I had barely any followers, so I never felt the need to tweet. At the same time I never bothered interacting with anyone else in the Twittersphere. My main criticism was that no one could provide any information of substance, let alone news, within the limitation of 140 characters.
I felt all these things because I didn’t know any better and because no one had showed me how to use twitter to my advantage.
It wasn’t until starting the Advanced Broadcast Journalism unit this semester that I realised how valuable twitter really was. At the beginning I was still sceptical of twitter, but as I began to learn more about it there were short bursts of enthusiasm that kept me going and I slowly started to develop my twitter presence. But it was while live tweeting PM host, Mark Colvin‘s guest lecture that my addiction to twitter was ignited.
The excitement of live tweeting combined with Colvin‘s love for twitter inspired me to delve further into the Twittersphere. I began branching out and following new media organisations and journalists from around the world, some of whom I’d never heard of before. I looked at who the journalists I admired were following and I’d follow them too. I’d click on interesting links that people retweeted and from there I’d discover new blogs and websites to subscribe to. It’s a cycle that still continues and as you probably know, there is endless information out there. Never have I had such a wide variety of information to choose from in the convenience of one location.
Managing Director of the ABC, Mark Scott sums it up pretty well:
Never before would I have had so much on offer, from so many different places or been able to experience the work of so many different journalists. It has increased my hunger for news and information rather than diminished it – and this is from someone who has always loved news and newspapers. (Scott, 2010)
I agree completely with the above statement. Now that I know what’s out there, I never feel fully satisfied that I’ve consumed all the news that I possibly can.
I’m still just starting off. I have about 50 followers and am following 146. There’s a healthy mix of journalists, politicians, news organisations, celebrities, universities, friends and classmates- both in english and spanish (I’m using Twitter to develop my language skills too!) I find the 140 character limit makes spanish news easier to digest than trawling through online news sites as they’re direct and to-the-point, but this equally applies to english news as well.
As Roy Clark points out in ‘How journalists are using Facebook, Twitter to write mini serial narratives’, Twitter often resembles the grammar and style of direct, observed reporting (Clark, 2011). Particularly in breaking-news situations, realtime reporting in a series of short, succinct tweets can provide followers with snapshots from an unfolding story (Clark, 2011).
Such a feature enables citizen journalists to get in on the action, tweeting their observations from the ground. A recent example is Sohaib Athar, who shot to fame after unknowingly tweeting about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound (pictured right).
I wish I could say that I heard the big news about Osama bin Laden’s death on Twitter like most of my peers, or any major news story this year for that matter. But without a smartphone with a constant Twitter stream, I was missing out on the conversation whenever I wasn’t at a computer. However, the moment I heard the news I immediately checked Twitter because I knew that the story would’ve progressed further than traditional news outlets.
It’s the best source of breaking news, which is why other broadcast mediums rely so heavily on it.
ABC Brisbane’s Amanda Dell explains just how crucial Twitter is to radio:
When there was a minor earthquake in Melbourne recently, I knew about it seconds after it happened. It was at least 20 to 30 minutes before any of the online news sites had the information. In radio, that immediacy is a huge advantage. (Cited in Posetti, 2009)
However, there is the inevitable speed versus accuracy issue. It’s understandable that mistakes can occur when competing to be the first to break a story. Sometimes facts are overlooked in the mad rush to get the information out before it becomes out-dated. Thankfully I haven’t encountered this problem yet, but I’m terrified that in the future I could very well fall into this trap, especially since twitter has redefined the word ‘instant’ (Latika Bourke cited in Posetti, 2009). Leigh Sales says it best: If in doubt, leave it out (Sales, 2009). Hopefully by sticking to this advice I’ll be able to avoid situations such as the one Jay Rosen found himself in earlier this year.
Above all, I’d say Twitter’s best, most unique quality is its function as an interactive medium. In terms of audience engagement, journalis’s and their followers can interact on an equal platform. I believe this is important for a journalists credibility, especially in the Twittersphere. Interacting with your audience not only gives you a human value but makes you seem trustworthy too. The ABC’s national youth correspondent, Michael Turtle sums up the importance of open and honest audience engagement pretty well:
I think the very nature of Twitter lends itself towards having an open profile and being honest about who you are. The power of the site is the ability to connect directly with people and engage in conversations. It wouldn’t be nearly as effective if you chose to do that anonymously. (Turtle cited in Posetti, 2009)
But overall, audience engagement on twitter will prove to be a great tool for sniffing out potential news stories, crowd sourcing, brand building and promotion (Posetti, 2009).
So that’s how I came to be a twitter convert. I continue to be amazed by how much twitter has changed the face of journalism in just the few short years it has existed. It’s a platform for sourcing, creating, broadcasting and advertising news. While it does have its risks, if used responsibly, Twitter will prove to be a rewarding and helpful tool. And that’s why I’ll be proclaiming the good news for many years to come.
Clark, R P (2011) How journalists are using Facebook, Twitter to write mini-serial narratives http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/newsgathering-storytelling/writing-tools/115607/how-journalists-are-using-facebook-twitter-to-write-mini-serial-narratives/
Posetti, J (May 2009-May 2010) Twitter Journalism Series PBS Mediashift http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/julie-posetti/
Sales, L (2009) How and Why I Use Twitter http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/11/18/2761665.htm
Scott, M The Drum ABC (2010) The Golden Age for Australian Journalism http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/11/25/3075798.htm