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.

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