(Or how a university assessment item became an unhealthy addiction)
In my experience, Twitter is a polarising force. Most people I have spoken to either love it or hate it. However, I have found the cynicism directed at Twitter comes mostly from those who have had only a limited experience with the microblogging platform.
It’s easy to focus on the negative when critiquing the merits of Twitter, particularly if you are a new user or a non-user.
- It’s not always easy to make your point in 140 characters.
- Correct spelling and grammar are often the first things sacrificed to fit this tiny amount of space (my pet peeve).
- As I’ve outlined in a previous post, the speed and simplicity of airing one’s opinions has proven disastrous for some.
- You can see in the screenshot to the right, ‘trending’ status is not necessarily reserved for the most thought-provoking or intellectually stimulating topics.
I’ve told a few people that one of my assessable items this semester includes my use of Twitter. Responses have ranged from excitable approval to pained sighs.
With more than 500 tweets to my name in just over three months I think it’s safe to say I’m addicted. I can see what the fuss is all about.
I can now tell the cynics that Twitter is what you make of it. A lot of people are happy to use Twitter simply as a platform for sharing meaningless thoughts, whether it be unnecessary details of what they are eating or their undying love for the latest teenage singing sensation.
It’s possible these inane and trivial tweets have contributed to the popular opinion that Twitter is not a legitimate medium for sharing genuine news. Or as some anti-twits have put it, “Twitter isn’t journalism”.
However, as noted by Julie Posetti, “Of course Twitter isn’t journalism, it’s a platform like radio or TV but with unfettered interactivity,”(Posetti 2009).
To completely dismiss Twitter as a useful platform because you disagree with or are disinterested by some of its content is like throwing out your television and refusing to watch Four Corners because you don’t like Glee.
Incorporating twitter into a journalism unit has not only forced us to become regular users of twitter and understand a new platform; it has provided us with an invaluable tool, one that has made this semester significantly easier than previous semesters, despite the growing workload and a higher expectation of quality.
Twitter first came to my assistance when a contact was recommended to me by my tutor. I tweeted an inquiry to the source and had lined up an interview in less than ten minutes and 140 characters.
Twitter has come to my rescue since. These short bursts of news have been the source of inspiration for story ideas and blog posts.
It has become a platform my classmates and I use to share ideas and exchange sources. There have been a few instances where other students have alerted me to information and events relevant to stories I’ve been working on. I’ve tried to do the same.
Twitter has started to play a huge role in breaking the news. I first heard about all the big stories this year (the death of Bin Laden, the tsunami in Japan, details of the protests in North Africa and the Middle East) on Twitter. However, for detailed analysis and contextual detail on these events, I turned to other sources. I believe the role of Twitter and other social media in journalism is only going to grow, but it will never become the only platform for journalism, it is most effective when used in conjunction with other platforms.
John Bergin, deputy director for Sky News Australia has the right approach.
“Like other broadcasters and newspapers, we use Twitter to alert others to new stories and to invite feedback — but we don’t believe it should stop there….We try to use Twitter as a means of inviting them into the newsroom, asking them what they think, what questions they would like us to ask our guests, and so forth.” (Cited in Posetti, 2009)
O’Connor laid out some of the pros and cons of using social media as a source of news in Word of Mouse: Credibility, Journalism and Emerging Social Media.
Of particular interest to me was the discussion on whether being able to filter your news sources was helpful or damaging. It is easy for most of us to contribute our opinion to an online discussion, offering a more diverse range of opinions than ever before, but it’s also easy to filter which of these opinions we are exposed to. These are both valid points and support my argument that Twitter is what you make of it.
Cass Sunstein, Professor of Law at Harvard University argues that filtering the information we receive “actually causes us to become more close‐minded”.
“…we have the ability to see only what already interests us and to filter out any exposure to the different concerns and political opinions of fellow citizens, thus preventing a truly democratic conversation….we carefully filter out opposing or alternative viewpoints to create an ideologically exclusive “Daily Me,” while gravitating toward media that reinforce our views.” (page 10)
On reflection, I must admit I have fallen into this trap on Twitter. I’m an opinionated person and I tend to follow politicians I agree with, people who offer views that mirror my own and causes I strongly believe in. Now that I am aware of this I will try and broaden my horizons and follow people with differing views. To an extent. I’m not about to find out if the Shooters Party have a Twitter account.
I don’t believe this “selective exposure” trap is exclusive to Twitter. There are plenty of people who only read one newspaper, only watch Fox News and only mix with other people who reinforce their views. On Twitter, if you follow people with only a moderate amount of diversity in their opinions, you will receive bite-sized pieces of information from a variety of people almost simultaneously, especially when the big stories are breaking.
In How journalists are using Facebook, Twitter to write mini serial narratives Roy Peter Clark (2011) explains how social media can be used to write an unfolding story – a user of social media delivers their story in chunks as it plays out. However, most of the ‘serial narratives’ I have followed on Twitter have been authored by more than one person. As I watched the tsunami story unfold on ABC news 24, I had my Twitter timeline in front of me. I was receiving information from major news organisations, climate experts and a friend who had family in Tokyo simultaneously. Twitter helped me experience the story in a complete way. Although I was receiving condensed information from all these sources, it exposed me to a variety of aspects to this story that would have otherwise taken me hours to absorb.
The quick and simple access to information from a range of news organisations is one of the best things about Twitter. In The Golden Age for Australian journalism, Mark Scott (2010) notes:
“Twitter reminds me of sitting in the newsroom, watching the feeds come in from the world’s great media organisations: Reuters, Dow Jones and Associated Press, the New York Times, The Guardian, AFP. Now anyone, simply by following their Twitter feeds, can have these great media organisations delivering a stream of updates to them no matter where they are.”
I agree with Scott that this abundance of news is only increasing one’s appetite for more.
And what do I contribute to the Twittersphere? Honestly, the quality of my tweets needs some improvement, especially as I plan on using Twitter as a journalistic tool in the future.
I retweet things I think are interesting, important or funny. I provide the occasional link to a news story I believe will be relevant to my small number of followers. I unashamedly use it to promote my blog and any of my other assessment items that appear online.
However, a lot of my tweets are about mundane thoughts and activities. Surprisingly, these are the tweets that receive the most replies. I probably won’t stop these sort of tweets, but they should probably be balanced with more tweets that suggest I’m a ‘Serious Journalist’.
I’d also like to experiment more with the ‘serial narrative’, at the moment all my serial narratives have been quite self-involved and have occupied the same theme: “Will Rachel complete her assignment? Stay tuned…”
The enforced use of Twitter has introduced me to a new way of immersing myself in the news and as the semester draws to a close and Twitter no longer remains a compulsory part of assessment, I have no intention of stopping.
Clark, R.P 2011, ‘How journalists are using Facebook, Twitter to write mini serial narratives‘ Poynter.
De Monte, M. & Solis, B 2011, ‘Twitter isn’t journalism’, Bloomberg Businessweek.
O’Connor, R 2009, ‘Word of Mouse: Credibility, Journalism and Emerging Social Media’, Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. Discussion Paper Series. #D-50, pp 9-10.
Posetti, J 2009, ‘How journalists are using Twitter in Australia’, Twitter journalism series PBS mediashift.
Scott, M 2010 ‘The Golden Age of journalism in Australia’, The Drum, ABC.