The use of Twitter in journalism

So many things I would previously have blogged about, I now find myself twittering about. I, like many people, hated twitter until I actually started using it.

But I still have my doubts about using it as a reporting tool. As Matt Thompson frequently points out, one of the main jobs of a journalist is to add context. Twitter’s 140-character limit obviously doesn’t allow for much context. Using Twitter to cover this story, for example, would require tweeting like this:

  • CP Mayor Brayman isn’t going to run for re-election, leaving former Dist. 3 City Councilman Andy Fellows as the only declared candidate for mayor.
  • Brayman isn’t likely going to run for higher office, but will likely campaign for some council members and against Dist. 2’s Jack Perry.
  • Fellows orginally said he was going to run in 2007 and the mayor said then he wasn’t going to run.
  • Earlier this year, however, Brayman indicated he may have changed his mind.

And so on and so forth, except the posts would be in the opposite order, with unrelated posts in between if the user was looking at their main twitter feed. The result would be annoyingly difficult to read.

But while Twitter’s usefulness in actually reporting is obviously limited, it can still be useful as a social networking tool. This tweet, for example, is a way to grab the attention of a reader who might not visit the Gazette’s website everyday:

Or an even better version.

  • College Park Mayor Stephen Brayman announced he won’t run for re-election. What are your thoughts? http://tinyurl.com/ntor2b

Basically, Twitter’s primary use to journalists should be to expose stories to readers and to collect ideas and thoughts from those readers. While other social networking sites – Facebook being the most obvious example – enabled journalists to do this, Twitter is a more limited system. If a journalist wanted readers to be able to give him feedback via Facebook, he also had to let them see his family photos, etc. until relatively recently. But all you share on Twitter is your thoughts, which makes it a more comfortable environment. This is probably why the chattering classes – Jake Tapper, David Carr, etc. – have all embraced Twitter so eagerly. It’s quicker than blogging, even if you kept your blog posts really short, and enables them to severely limit what the general public can see. Basically, it maximizes exposure to what they want people to see, while minimizing exposure to what they don’t.

It’s also worth nothing that intrepid Diamondbackers Ken Tossell and Aaron Kraut have launched Twitter accounts for The Diamondback and for Diamondback Sports.

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