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August 21, 2008

Filed under: journalism»new_media

Twitter Is Bad News

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 internalize it.
  6. 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?
  7. 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?

Future - Present - Past