It's not just angsty IT professionals who are using Twitter anymore. The
service is a huge hit in newsrooms, if by newsrooms we mean "editors who
consider themselves futurists." Slate is twittering the Olympics. CNN
twitters headlines. The BBC twitters British celebrity gossip, if you
get the wrong feed, and to my everlasting despair I generally do.
I am, unsurprisingly, skeptical. Actually, I'm more than skeptical. I
think Twitter is Bad News, literally and figuratively.
- The people you've got won't use it. Reporters outside of
tech beats are usually not incredibly forward-thinking people. They
didn't grow up with IM, and they don't trust blogs, so the idea of
Twitter itself simply doesn't resonate. And if they're any good, they
don't particularly want to interrupt their work to send off 140
characters instead of a real story.
- The people who will use it probably shouldn't. For example,
look at Slate's Olympic feed, which brings us such enlightening updates
as "Well, the day has definitely taken a turn for the better" and "And
there ... go ... the ... ashes" and "May and Walsh are the only
Americans who still like Dubya." This isn't news coverage. It's
low-grade, low-context snark I could get from anywhere.
- It's a needless duplication of technology. BBC sends out
headlines and links via Twitter. Which sounds brilliant, except that we
already have a proven system of distributing headlines, links, and even
content. It's RSS, and it's built into everything already.
- It encourages Cable News Syndrome. You know, the tendency to
think that just because the Internet's always available, you've got to
be always publishing, no matter how trivial or repetitive? That empty
text box on the Twitter form encourages the same thing. Think twice
before hitting "submit" on that form--and then maybe think again.
- It doesn't leverage reporters' strengths. Let's pretend that
your good reporters have gone to journalism school. They've learned
about inverted pyramid, developing sources, hopefully even doing a
little analysis and critical thinking. And now you want them to write
140 characters? That's not a story, it's a long headline. Anyone can do
that. Everyone does do that. Just as bloggers can and should
replace pundits as our source of amateur, uninformed commentary, Twitter
should be an opportunity to crowdsource the soundbite, not further
- It does enhance your weaknesses. Why do people hate the
media? One reason is the sensationalism and the shallowness of it. Even
setting aside the characteristics of the microblogging format, let's
consider the very act of jumping onto the Twitter train: sensational?
Shallow? Just a little?
- Hello, Failwhale. I know, it's gotten better. But this is
still not a service that runs reliably. It's not a service that's
going to run reliably for quite some time, if ever, given that
the masterminds at Twitter headquarters seem unwilling to take
common-sense steps at limiting the load (lowering the limit on
following, for example). Heck, I got an over capacity error while I was
checking something while writing this post. And you think it'll
survive when something worth Twittering actually happens?