...Thing is, if you don't think Twitter is useful or valuable, don't use it. Please don't care about it. It's really no skin off my ass. Those of us who use these tools aren't offended by your opinion. In truth, we just don't find your opinions all that interesting.
The strengths and weaknesses of Twitter and other social media tools are far more apparent to the people who use them than the people who don't, so you're not breaking any news to me when you tell me about their "flaws." Half the conversations on social media are various forms of bitching about social media tools.
And when we observe with wonder the mysterious things that occur because of these proliferating new tools, and probe their meanings and implications obsessively, by all means try to frame that as a discussion about editorial control and quality. The party didn't start when you noticed it. It didn't stop when you left. It doesn't care that you don't think it's a good party and that you and your friends want to go somewhere else. Knock yourselves out..--Me, from my comment on the Columbia Journalism Review blog thread "How Should Journalists Use Twitter?"
So, let's begin with the most obvious question:
A: Because it's almost 2009, dammit!
Here's that CJR post. in summary: "The New York Times wrote a story about how Twitter was used during the Mumbai attacks. How do you think we ought to relate to this as journalists?" Perfectly reasonable question, right? Which should mean that the people who leave pissed-off comments must be less than reasonable, right?
Wrong, and here's why:
In the news business, you're supposed to be accountable for the current state of the relevant discussion on the topic you're covering. And the state of the Twitter-and-journalism discussion, as reflected by the traditional media, is still stuck in October 2007. That's when Twitter (which made its first splash at SXSW in March 2007) played a significant role in coverage of the San Diego fires. The fires introduced the Twitter-and-journalism topic to traditional-media outlets and employees.
So it has been basically 13 months since Twitter's role in journalism entered the discussion within the traditional media sphere, and yet the traditional media is still having the same discussion today, as if those original discussions never happened, as if nothing has changed, as if there have been no additional developments since. And these professionals, who didn't like Twitter then and still don't like Twitter now, are acting as if this institutional ignorance is not merely acceptable, but reasonable and responsible, too.
Here's another way of looking at it: In October 2007, our economy hadn't yet gone into recession. Would you find it acceptable if later this week CJR posted the question "Are reports of a sub-prime mortgage loan crisis worthy of coverage, or just more junk-economics and fear-mongering?"
The terror I felt every day as a working journalist was that I would be called upon to write about some topic that I couldn't account for rapidly enough, and that my lack of proper context would not only be misleading but damaging to someone. Which has happened to me, btw, and it's an awful feeling.The Web made things better, because it gave me the power to background all sorts of things rapidly. The flipside? The Web raised the bar for context.
Yet when it comes to Twitter and the social web, this is the kind of analysis we get from our mainstream press:
In the Information Age: Knowing equals Being.
Twittering isn't entirely new, of course. The Facebook generation has been sort of twittering for years, posting prosaic bulletins about their whims and whereabouts, providing a glimpse of what the world would be like if hummingbirds could type:
"Jordan is busy busy!"
Josh is driving to the mountains today."
"Kate is sooooooooo never drinking martinis again."
On Planet Facebook, nothing in one's life is not worth mentioning. To what end, one can only surmise. I am, therefore I am, therefore I am. But what are friends for, if not to feign interest in what's not the least bit interesting?
Serious twitter subscribers expect more than a mood update, I'm told, and presumably won't stick around long for less. Or will they? I recently created an account at Twitter.com. Nary a tweet have I posted thus far, yet already I have a dozen subscribers.
Who are they? How long will they wait? Why do they wait? Will they spurn me if I fail to twitter? Would a banter suffice?
That's nationally syndicated columnist and professional tsk-tsker Kathleen Parker, by the way, in a column that appeared in Wednesday's Washington Post and this morning's local paper.
What's her qualification for writing such condescending, misleading drivel? Well, she has friends who Twitter now. And she has posted a Tweet. Hence: Expert.
Would I have hated this column had Parker written it in January? Probably not. It's OK to try something new and write about the exploration with a sense of skeptical, probing, imperfect curiosity.
But here's the thing: Twitter isn't new. In fact, it's so not new that I have a friend who has already abandoned it entirely for FriendFeed, and many of the people in my networks maintain footprints on both platforms... while intermittently experimenting with others.
And so much has changed in the past year. When I put together our presentation on "Building Ad Hoc Breaking News Networks" for CreateSouth in April, Twitter didn't have an organic feature for generating RSS feeds around hash tags. That meant I had to imagine cludgy work-arounds to organize informal networks into a breaking news wire. Then SearchTwitter came along, and now anyone can create a live, global news feed from any search term. Instantly. Follow it. Point to it. Put it on your site.
There's more new stuff (like ElectionTwitter -- how can you write about national politics and not know about ElectionTwitter, for crying out loud!) , but let's move on to the most obvious reason professional journalists should be better informed on this topic: The great gray battleships of 20th century media are sinking, and the social web is adapting rapidly to fill the spaces they'll vacate. Journalists are in the communications business. Shouldn't they at least have a professional interest in the evolving state of modern communications technology? Shouldn't journalists at least be curious about the way other people communicate?
Only they aren't curious: They're hostile.
I said this back in September, and it's as true now as it was then: Newspaper companies (and many of their employees) hate modern journalism. They resent change they don't control. They're angry that "the people formerly known as the audience" have developed alternatives to their mass-media monopolies.
They're angry for a lot of reasons, not all of them rational. And it blinds them to the obvious:
- The social web isn't "Planet Facebook," you assholes.
- Making fun of the word "twittering" doesn't make you clever or insightful.
- Talking about how "good journalists" are responsible professionals who "add value" to information while you opine seriously about subjects you haven't even researched makes you look foolish.
So while you Mainstream Journalism Big Brains are sweating over how to keep networked Web 2.0 media out of your newsrooms, we're already moving on toward Web 3.0, in which smart informatics agents are going to create news tools that are going to bitch-slap whatever remains of your 20th-century media companies in 2010.
You can like Twitter or hate Twitter. It doesn't matter. If you're a journalist, you're accountable for Twitter, because it exists in the world you're supposed to cover and care about. No, it's not OK for you to be so goddamn behind the times, or to make weak cynical jokes about tech users.. Or to pretend that people who use the technology have never thought about the problems that come with it. We get that.
Mainstream news media is still relevant, still powerful, still immensely useful. But we've got to communicate to them that this cutesy curmudgeonly bullshit attitude toward technology and the people who use it has got to stop.
Get with the now, fuckers!