The job of journalism now is not to compete with Twitter but to coexist

A good read from Suzanne Moore on the Guardian on how Twitter has changed journalism.

There has been so much written about its impact this past week, some of which I touched on yesterday regarding Boston, and last month in a piece looking at ‘how Twitter won the social media battle for journalism’.

Moore starts by talking about one of the great media success stories of Twitter, a great Marmite brand, and one that many like to mock in the Daily Mail/Mail Online.

She picks up on the words of Daily Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere who recently spoke about how important Twitter has become to the Mail Online.

“Twitter could be a big marketing tool if we used it more effectively. I don’t think we do that yet. But, as a primary source of material, we are finding it as one of the major sources of news stories.

“The guys on Mail Online try and turn around stories from Twitter in about three minutes. So the timeliness of news is becoming much more important and journalists have to learn a lot more different skills in understanding that – and they are.”

That speed he talks about is the tempo at which news has learnt to function on Twitter, and social media more generally, where a starting pistol is started in 140 characters or less as soon as news breaks.

For a service that is less than ten years old, and has just celebrated its seventh birthday, it is an incredible achievement to find itself the “primary source material”.

The Mail Online, described recently (and fairly accurately) as the crack cocaine of journalismtakes from Twitter says Moore as do all news organisations.  It isn’t just a platform to share stories, but a place to find them. She points to how celebs, reported by tabloids, now “take to Twitter” when they want to make a statement to the world while the media “takes from Twitter” to fill its pages.

This has all helped  cement Twitter’s place as the de facto digital news wire service or what some have called the Twitter News Network – where news breaks first and very fast.

It is because of that lightning speed, because Twitter provides such good source material to the media, that “this micro-blogging site has redefined journalism”, says Moore who has had her own ups and down with Twitter following a row with the  transgender community earlier this year.

That link above is to the Mirror, but the Mail Online covered the story in-depth. The row led to Moore leaving Twitter before making a welcome return. 

Despite the changes to journalism, and how it has sped up, Moore like others notes that old fashioned journalistic skills of “reporting, sourcing, fact-checking” still matter and provide a contrast to the  amateur crowdsourcing that we have seen emerge as Boston and Reddit demonstrated most clearly.

The relationship between Twitter and journalism is deeply symbiotic and one of co-existence, says Moore.

“The job of journalism now is not to compete with Twitter but to coexist with it and show the best of itself. After a year of being publicly trashed, journalism may now be full of data crunchers and munchers but it will still have to finance decent reporters. The limits of “free” citizen journalism are becoming apparent.

“The very openness of Twitter, even when it gets stuff wrong, means such openness is expected elsewhere in every institution. Those who fail to use it effectively lose out. And if you want to see an organisation that mastered a tweet feed during a crisis, you only have to look at Boston’s police department. Even in their moment of “triumph”, they remembered the victims of the bombings.

“As annoying as Twitter is – not just in terms of misinformation but also in terms of spatting instead of building alliances (I plead guilty) – it cannot simply be turned off,” Moore writes.

Moore concludes her piece by arguing that “we have to trust Twitter less while we use it more and more”. That is an argument, I think, to trust the professionals, to trust sources like the Guardian, the FT and the BBC, whose presence on Twitter is what helps to make the service what it is.