Monday, May 16, 2011

Twitter Is No Answer

Last night another demonstration of how excellent Twitter is for sparking communication. Dave Winer (@davewiner), who's the visiting scholar of journalism at the NYU, posted up a discussion of how the service could well be the host for 'twitter only' reporters, and as he suggested, if there wasn't one already 'there was something wrong'. I found myself responding to this, then feeling a blogpost was in order and so here it is.

He wrote as follows:

"Last year I was looking out my window on Bleecker St in the West Village and saw a huge plume of smoke off in the distance. Within five minutes, through Twitter, I knew exactly where the fire was, and had seen pictures taken by people on the scene.
People working at a local TV station couldn't possibly have gotten a reporter and camera there that fast."

Well this is true. And twitter is a great way to stay alert to all kinds of happenings like fires, which lots can see and maybe tweet about, particularly in New York which is full of folk who love to tweet. But my issue with this is, who finds out what caused the fire? And if someone is hurt or killed, who names them? If the fire is in the small hours of the morning, or is in the middle of nowhere, what if nobody tweets about it?    

Lots will point to the chap who tweeted about the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound as it happened. But if the guy had been a real reporter as opposed to a twitterer just think of the story he'd have got. And the job offers he'd now be fielding. 

I think I'm some sort of dinosaur, because I feel that although it's clear Twitter has many qualities there is no way it's a replacement for longer forms of financed reporting, in which there's a proper investment into training, the development of veracity and the cultivation of trust.

Twitter  - let me deal with it now as a "community" - actually abandons standards many journalists are brought up to hold dear, as we've seen in the last few days with the ridiculous and libellous stories about two BBC presenters and the full scale challenge to the rule of law as followed by the rest of the media. I like to tweet, and I get a lot out of it - stories, thoughts, even friends. 

But Twitter is nothing more advanced than a high tech rumour mill. It doesn't replace sending trained and resourced correspondents to places, as Dave, in fairness, admitted in his blog post. It can't replace the kind of journalism that requires even a modicum of fact checking and investigation. It's a magnificent communication and referral tool, but it can't go far in replacing journalism.  If somehow mainstream journalism withers as a result of people claiming it's a panacea to the rest of our ills, well we shall all be hugely the poorer.  


dt said...

nice piece. I'm with ya. interesting though that the whole argument about this is happening on twitter and not here. which makes it disjointed and almost impossible to follow (not to mention shallow, given the 140 character limit).

for the record, I have also gotten into it with @jay_rosen. there's no winning that argument. he just keeps it going, getting nastier with each iteration.

Hendo said...

He does doesn't he? Scary man.
And he hasn't bothered following me either which reveals a certain fragility.
Thanks so much for the supportive comment, it's much appreciated.

Selina Kingston said...

I'm definitely a dinosaur because Twitter has never appealed to me, although everyone around me keeps telling me I should get on board !