Twitter and Journalism

The digital age has revolutionised the media industry for journalists and readers alike. Not only has it reinvented the way we access and read our news, but also the ways in which journalists source and write their articles. The major factor for the shifting landscape of the journalism industry is Twitter. Without a doubt the most influential application to be released over the past decade, Twitter gives us access to an unlimited amount of news material and it’s all at the touch of a button.

There are a number of positive and negative bi-products of Twitter that need to be considered when assessing its impact on journalism.

The two traditional phases of the news cycle are now void. In the past, journalists would act as gatekeepers, where a story would be written and published before the public then had chance to read it and reply via an opinion or comment piece. As a result of Twitter, users have to ability to comment on articles immediately and actually communicate with the author.

It is this immediate nature of Twitter that has essentially ended the concept of ‘the scoop’ as we knew it. In the past, if a journalist broke a new headline than it would typically remain as a breaking story for at least 24 hours. Now however, when somebody breaks a news story it’s lucky to last two minutes before people are Tweeting similar headlines and writing their own account of events.

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This has the potential to be very dangerous, where “51% of PR professionals agreed that the reliability of news has decreased due to social media and [a] lack of fact-checking” (Kemsley, 2014). A recent example of exactly this came after the death of South Africa model Reeva Steenkamp. Just hours after the story broke on Twitter, there were a number of wild theories and facts being thrown around which were later proved to be completely false.

Perhaps the silver lining on this cloud is that journalists on Twitter have the power to rectify their errors and update their article as the facts become clearer.

Twitter has a huge appeal for journalists because it gives them access to the opinions and comments of people around world. By identifying what is ‘trending’, journalists can essentially give the people what they want by writing articles about hot topics.

Similar to this, the ‘Retweet’ and ‘Share’ functions are crucial for online journalists. The more people that Share of Retweet their article, the greater their audience size, background and reach.

Knowing that having more ‘followers’ is the key to reaching a greater audience, the online identity and reputation of journalists has become more important than ever. Presenting a positive and successful image is an inherent human desire, and this is no different online.

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Presenting a desirable identity of one’s self has become a lot easier to manipulate and design, given the emergence of social networking sites. This is crucial for journalists, who traditionally need to have a positive reputation in order to secure major news stories and interviews with key witnesses. With so many different news sites online, it becomes all the more important for journalists to project a strong, trustworthy and professional image. Intrinsically connected to this, journalists need to be able to produce a well-researched, in depth article, one that users can justify paying a digital subscription for. In an age where citizen journalists have become more and more prominent, the battle to be considered a legitimate and major news site is a tough one.

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Likewise for citizen journalists, gaining the trust of the public can often be an issue in itself, particularly when you’re just starting out. Unsurprisingly, most experts agree that to be considered a legitimate news site the author is best served to follow the MEAA Code of Ethics. By promoting the values of honesty, independence, fairness and respect, will subsequently allow you to produce fair and professional news article.

Twitter has changed the media industry indefinitely and as a result journalism and its key structures have evolved. The media industry is a dynamic environment that is constantly adapting and changing to keep up with the new technologies it has become so reliant on.

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The Internet & News Media

The Internet has brought with it a new era for news media, redefining the ways in which we access and interact with the news we consume on a daily basis. It’s hard to imagine life without the Internet – did people really use to go to the library when they wanted to research an essay?

Similarly the paperback newspaper, whilst still relevant today, has become much less common following the development of new technologies like the smart phone and tablet. These technologies, which harness the unlimited potential of the Internet, provide a huge number of options for any individual seeking to access the news. In fact according to the most recent statistics, 33% of people read their news media on more than one device, as illustrated below. 

Media Consumption

This led me to ask the question – Does the platform we use to read the news change the way we consume it?

Online v Paperback

Reading a few journal articles online the results were a little bit unnerving. In fact a lot of studies had been done in the area, but the one that received the most media coverage was titled ‘Is Google making us stupid’. The study put forward the notion that ‘people who read text studded with links, comprehend less than those who read words printed on pages’ (Carr, 2010).

In an increasingly digitally oriented world, this presents a serious issue for our ability to critically interact with the content we are reading. This ability is becoming all the more valuable, particularly when online newspapers produce significantly more junk journalism than their paperback counterparts, who have a greater focus on quality and investigative journalism.

Internet Monkey

The counter argument to this is exactly the opposite and represents a view held by a number of leading experts. In the wake of the Google study, the Pew Research Center decided to conduct a survey, focusing on 895 technology experts who were asked questions about their expectations relating to social, economic and political change by the year 2020.

Referring directly to Nicholas Carr’s book ‘Google Will Make Us Stupid’, 76% of respondents dismissed the claim, arguing that ‘by 2020, people’s use of the Internet will have enhanced human intelligence’ (Anderson, Rainie, 2010).

While the argument that the Internet is making us stupid is still up for debate, there is little to no doubt that the quality of journalism has dropped in transitioning to the web. With so much competition online, readers have developed this tendency to skim over news until something captures their attention.

Despite some newspapers offering a finite number of ‘free’ articles to read online, most of the major newspapers are beginning to introduce subscription fees. Whilst this is a positive thing, as it promotes quality journalism, it will also drive a number of people the plethora of free alternatives.

Passive readers who seek free alternatives only serve to enhance the large amounts of junk journalism online. Without quality journalism, the media in its role as the fourth estate begins to lose its traction within society – that’s if you still believe the fourth estate exists of course.

Google

Never before have we had access to so much information at the touch of a button, although the main argument that Carr was attempting to make was in relation to our cognitive abilities or rather there lack of. Carr also calls in to question the effect that the Internet has on our memories, because why would you bother writing something down when you can simply type it into Google later?

 The fast paced, dynamic nature of the Internet has our attention constantly switching between different things and Carr argues that this will affect our ability to properly digest what we are reading. Perhaps the issue is made more significant when we think of the roles that sites like Wikipedia play in our everyday lives.

Wikipedia is often used as the first-stop shop for developing a very general understanding on a topic, which is reinforced as it often appears as the top hit on Google Search. Again the issue comes back to the fact that anybody can edit Wikipedia, leaving many to doubt the accuracy of the information being posted. It is becoming increasingly important for individuals to know quality journalism when they see it and to engage with the material being written.

Digital media is here to stay and without a doubt the future of journalism. How we interact and access our news becomes therefore all the more important. Perhaps the Roman Philosopher Seneca summed it up perfectly 2,000 years ago when he said, “to be everywhere is to be nowhere” (Tosta, 2013). Never before has this statement had so much relevance in this digital age.

 

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