Is Twitter a threat to journalism? Hardly

 

I don’t want to ruminate on the Twitter phenomena, but I can’t help but chuckle at a recent essay by journalism instructor Melissa Hart, who feels that Twitter is taking away the very heart of journalism. Reporting in 140 characters or less, she maintains, can get the facts but takes the soul out of the story — and in turn out of journalism as a whole.

It’s unfortunate that a journalism instructor — one that is charged with teaching future journalists to work with the new tools of the trade — is naive to the role social networking is playing in the profession … and why Twitter and other social networking sites are so important to it.

I certainly agree that a news tweet isn’t the same as a 1,600-word, well researched investigative piece. But tweets are not meant to be investigative, and Twitter was never meant to replace other media.

The uniqueness of social media — Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc. — is that it can get the word out fast. There’s a demonstration in Tehran opposing the government’s election. Soldiers take to the streets to keep the crowds at bay. Social media reports the scene as it happens, one snippet at a time. It’s real-time news, delivered at a speed unheard of before.

There is no time for depth and detail. It’s just the fact, and the events, as it happens. That is social media in it’s purest form.

News organizations still get the depth and detail in their news, which is posted to their web sites. Then Twitter becomes the hook to get readers back to the story, much like a “50% off” placard in a store window gets you inside to view the goods, and hopefully pick up something else. Yes, in these scenarios, Twitter does become simply a headline service, but how is that different than the town criers of the days of old, or the paperboy’s chant of “extra, extra, read all about it” on a street corner?

Instead of shaking a fist and cursing Twitter, our educators should be more focused on how to show students how to use Twitter, Facebook, et al, as supplemental tools in their roles as journalists. In Ms. Hart’s essay, she mentions students who were enlightened by going out and finding stories. Why not teach them to use the basic fundamentals of journalist to craft a fine story, then show how to use blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc., to get readers to the story.

For example, Ms. Hart cites a seminar with Boston Globe editor Martin Baron, in which students around her were tweeting away during the seminar. Granted, the students were obviously focused on reporting the event “as it happens.” Couldn’t Ms. Hart take that example and, through her teaching, show the students how to develop a more in-depth story with the feeling and pathos she described? Then, once the story is written, why not post it to the student’s blog or Facebook page, and use Twitter to link to it?

After all, in the real world, these students may be called on by a future employer to write the story “as it happens,” and later rewrite it for a web and/or print product.

The problem with journalism is not Twitter. The problem lies with those in the industry and those entrusted with our future who refuse to recognize and adapt the new and innovative into the core of our profession.

Are you a twit if you’re not on Twitter?

 

I’m amused by the blowback among the social media masses over this week’s Late Show with David Letterman. Dave admits to actor Kevin Spacey that he doesn’t use Twitter.

Spacey pulls out his BlackBerry and shows Dave just how easy Twitter is. Dave responds he “can’t afford it” and later, says it reminds him of “a waste of time.”

The Twittersphere burned up the next day with folks basically labeling Letterman a Luddite for dissing the Twitter world and choosing to avoid it.

However, I think it’s better that Dave avoid Twitter. We already have too many celebrities and other folks who don’t get Twitter clogging up the bandwidth.

Remember, Twitter is all about conversation. It’s the world’s largest water cooler. What you get out of the conversation depends on what you put into it. You follow, you get followed. You interact.

As a Twitter user, I try to follow those who follow me, figuring that I may someday learn something from them. And the conversations at times have been very interesting and enlightening.

Unfortunately, the conversation has been diluted by celebs who treat followers like a body count…the more you have, the higher your stature. Much of the glitterati on Twitter now treat the conversation one-year. They have many followers, but follow few. I’m sure psychologists can explain that people feel the need to follow a celeb on Twitter as a personal fan club or to live vicariously through their lives.

But are they really connected with them? I looked up a few key celebs on Twubble, and here are their stats as of July 22:

Oprah Winfrey: 16,846 following; follows 43
Ashton Kutcher: 2,901,305 following; follows 187
Kevin Spacey: 840,078 following, follows 4(I was very disappointed by this, considering Spacey acted like he got the concept when he was on Letterman.)

I can understand that it would be next to impossible to follow hundreds of thousands of folks, but these numbers show that for Twitter, their conversation is strictly one-way.

They have put the Twit in Twitter. They have cast a pall on Twitter’s potential to become a remarkable social networking and marketing portal.

(I must note that not all celebs are Twitter abusers. There are a few, like WLS-TV weatherman Jerry Taft, who understand it’s about the dialog and contribute to the conversation.)

So Dave, thanks for not getting on the Twitter. Kevin, if you’re serious about Twitter, start listening to those who follow you. Oprah and Ashton, thanks, but you can move on to the next fad now … maybe finding a life in the Twit competition below (Thanks to Monty Python’s John Cleese, who incidentally is on Twitter and does provide some wonderfully funny tweets)

The rest of us…we’ll forgive the interruption and get back to the conversation.

That’s the way it is

 

The man who was my inspiration to pursue a career in journalism has died. Walter Cronkite was 92.

Dubbed “the most trusted man in America,” he was the man who set the standard of television news anchormen — a standard rarely met by the majority of today’s standard bearers. He was articulate, intelligent, inquisitive and authoritative, but never lost touch with his human qualities. I cried as he choked up on the announcement of John Kennedy’s death, and cheered with his exclamation of “wow!” as Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the moon’s surface.

He was a professional who could walk with the dignitaries and the downtrodden and tell their stories with authority and compassion. He was also a person who shared his love of the world and the wonder of man’s achievements with us all.

Godspeed, Walter.

Brits invade New York…again!

 

Way off topic today. Paul McCartney’s performance on “Late Night with David Letterman” had to be one of the best TV performances ever. Sir Paul and his band played a couple of numbers while perched atop the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater (in homage to the Beatles’ famous 1969 ‘rooftop concert’ at Apple Studios in London).

It’s incredible to think it was 45 years ago that Paul and his fellows Brits first performed in the legendary New York theater. Letterman was brilliant to pay homage to that with this unique concert.

Can free be profitable?

 

I’ve been reading Chris Anderson’s latest work, “Free,” and am finding it a great argument against the movement afoot by newspapers to begin charging for its online content.

Anderson’s book focuses on why the adding cost to a product does not necessarily give it value, and why giving something for “free” does not diminish its value. In fact, free can be a door into profitability.

The problem for newspapers, though, is that those who are looking at charging content are basing it on old business models. However, we’re finding those model are no longer working in print. Why should we expect them to work online?

Forcing people to pay for what they got for free will not build readership and future customers. Anderson points to a computer hardware website that has used a business model of providing free hardware in raw form, or completed versions at cost. The model for its success:

1. Build a community around free information or advice on a particular topic.
2. With that community’s help, design some products that people want, and return the favor by making it free in a raw form.
3 Let those with more money than time/skills/risk-tolerance buy the more polished versions of those products. (That may turn out to be almost everyone)
4. Do it again and again, building a 40 percent profit margin into the products to pay bills.

Newspapers are devoting time and effort to thinking up new ideas that might or might not work. They’re hiring consultants and professionals to tell them where they should focus and what they think will sell.

How many have actually opened a dialog with their readers to find out what they want, let alone who they are? And, once they have, why not offer a tiered system that provide free information in raw form, but premium services that could save readers time and inconvenience at cost?

The free horse is out of the barn, and it’s time to look at providing providing services that let readers ride the horse, at cost.

Anderson offers a free version of his book at this link. Yes, it is a raw version that cannot be downloaded, but it is free.

It was nice while it lasted

Blogger Jeffery Pijanowski notes that in June, only 277 newspaper layoffs were announced. It was the lowest number of monthly layoffs in 2009.

While it provides a glimmer of hope, it was shadowed by the revelation that Gannett Corp. plans to lay off about 1,400 people later this month — more than four times the June total.

C’est le vie.

* Who would even think of starting up a new newspaper right now? OK, maybe GateHouse Media. The company with a reputation of buying into the industry at a bad time is starting the Cape Cod Day in Massachusetts.

GateHouse may have the right idea on focusing on small, community newspapers. But given the current economic climate, the flat advertising market and the fact that Cape Cod already has an established daily, you have to wonder whose Kool Aid Gatehouse execs have been drinking.

* RIP to another “soft parade” venture. Last week The Seattle Courant, a community-focused online news product, closed up shop after a one-year battle.

The Courant’s founder, Keith Vance, explains the main reason he ended the venture was lack of money. It takes a lot of it to create a newsroom that can compete with the established media, and while the intent was noble, the business model was not sufficient.

Maybe Vance could get some tips from the former Rocky Mountain News folks, who may have a combo that will keep them going for a while. The group of investors, ex-RMN staffers and bloggers will launch the Rocky Mountain Independent on Monday, hoping to continue what they tried to do with the InDenverTimes.com site earlier this year (before their financial backers pulled out).

Using the name “Rocky Mountain” in the site’s name is a good way to leverage the old Rocky’s brand into their site … and hopefully without E.W. Scripps getting their corporate knickers in a snit. And … most importantly … it’ll be interesting to see if Denver readers still want their Rocky.