So at the risk of furthering Twitter’s disturbingly expansive reach into popular culture, I’m going to spend this week talking about it.
Putting aside for a moment that the concept of Twitter is more than a little mystifying (despite many millions of dollars in funding from venture capitalists, it has yet to produce even a single dollar of revenue), let’s discuss a frightening concept that’s been spread in recent weeks: Twitter journalism (my initial thinking when I heard the phrase was “Oh dear God,” followed by banging my head against my desk. Twitter journalism? What?).
It is something that at least deserves a moment or two of serious consideration. Twitter has already led to news of several events spreading faster than previously thought possible. When the airliner crashed in the Hudson, the first news of this event was not broken by CNN, The New York Times or ABC News. Instead, Janis Krums “tweeted” (if we’re going to keep using this phrase, can we at least change the name of the service to Tweeter?) the crash to the whole world mere moments after it happened. The Associated Press broke news of earthquakes in California only moments before news of the seismic rumbling hit the Twitterverse.
If such news can be gathered and disseminated so swiftly, why shouldn’t it be a legitimate avenue of news?
Because in its current format, Twitter is not nearly robust enough to handle that responsibility. You can certainly tweet some news – just make sure it’s under 140 characters. The concept of Twitter – microblogging – is great for doing just that, but it doesn’t allow enough space for any substantive news transmission.
While potentially a good source of information – several news outlets tweet headlines and provide links to stories – providing information is only one aspect of journalism, and Twitter fails to deliver in other areas.
The primary virtue of Twitter, its speed, is not unique to Twitter, merely the format (online updates, essentially). Make no mistake, a newspaper updates its website as quickly as an individual user; the difference is the content. Twitter updates that don’t come from reputable organizations or reporters are not reliable sources of information. Moreover, the 140 character limit on tweeting creates greater potential for sensationalistic reporting; you clearly have more space than you would for a headline, but not enough for any meaningful reporting.
News tweets are exactly as reliable as blog posts; eventually users will decide which tweeters they trust and wish to follow (the followed/followers word choice by Twitter is a little creepy). Just like they decide which bloggers are worth their time! If your goal is to obtain accurate information beyond a simple news bulletin, Twitter is strictly worse than the rest of the Internet at fulfilling your need.
There have been intriguing uses for Twitter other than further enabling people that visit perezhilton.com; Vermont State Senator William Doyle has taken to tweeting frequently as a means of staying in touch with his constituents. By creating a place where people interested in both reading and posting short updates can congregate and tweet tweet tweet, Twitter has allowed for intriguing new ideas like Doyle’s.
The idea that it is a new format for news in general, however, is completely ridiculous. Creating artificial limits for a writing medium does not a new format create.
Incidentally, if you like to follow Twitter because it’s a trendy new thing and you want to be a hep cat (you can tell how cool I am because I use terms like “hep cat“), you can follow The California Aggie on Twitter. Look us up!
RICHARD PROCTER survived a week with four midterms and now he just wants to relax. Send him your finals success stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.