To tweet or not to tweet?
As a first-semester journalism student, I began the semester virtually unplugged as far as the industry goes. Sans Twitter or blog and friending only my real friends on Facebook left me relatively in the dark when it comes to the lighting speed of information in our media-saturated world. Too cheap to pay for cable, I was even without the benefit of a CNN crawler spouting the latest headlines from around the world.
That didn’t last long, Professor Katy Culver scared me (and a few other students, I’m sure) onto the blog and microblogosphere by insisting that to be truly a part of the industry we had to get involved with the ever expanding social media revolution. As Sue Robinson, assistant professor at the SJMC, said in today’s session “Whatever happened to verification in journalism?” journalists who aren’t online are excluded from the conversation.
But why the emphasis on the quick dissemination of sometimes less-than-reliable information? In today’s online world, the emphasis sometimes rests solely on being the first to break the story, and not on getting it right.
This being said, an interesting concept came out of this issue: the role of Twitter in modern journalism. Are “tweets” journalism? Panelist Scott Cohn says no, tweeting does not fit his definition of careful reporting based on an editorial process. Phil Rosenthal says yes,when he uses twitter to promote a complete story, that’s journalism.
Robinson provides a bit more complicated answer. A survey of Madison residents reveals about three quarters believe tweeting by journalists is indeed journalism. Perhaps this statistic should end the conversation. If the audience is holding us accountable for these 140 character microblogs, we should live up to that expectation.
The emphasis in news media has always been on reporting information as quickly as possible, but with everyone carrying Blackberries and iPhones, this takes on a new meaning. Instead of taking the time to thoroughly research and verify sources, journalists often post whatever information they have at the time, sometimes accurate, sometimes less-than. But as Robinson pointed out, this is not how the audience understands the medium.
Basic media literacy education would quiet some of this debate, helping audiences to know they must take these microblogs with a grain of salt. Robinson says the audience has as much of an ethical obligation as journalists to understand the information they consume. But that’s in a perfect-world scenario. For now, she posed the idea of using the audience as a major ethical touchstone instead of sticking to traditional old-media-style values. This would mean taking more time to consider the source of your information, and how it’s likely to be perceived in a largely media-illiterate public.
Is Twitter interesting? Yes. It’s fast, it’s a forum for discussion, and as Alfred Hermida said in a comment to the live blog, “It’s my morning newspaper.” It’s a quick space to see what’s interesting, what’s new, and what everyone’s talking about.
But is it journalism? It appears that issue has yet to be resolved. I’ll certainly be more critical of what I tweet and retweet, though I’m certainly grateful to be part of the conversation.