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Twitter Isn’t Journalism, Or Is It? Perhaps It’s the Wrong Question to Ask

I was asked to enter the Bloomberg BusinessWeek Debate Room to make the case “for” Twitter as a platform for journalism – at least that’s how I interpreted it. On the other side, ScribbleLive CEO Michael De Monte debates why it is “for the birds.”

But before we get too far down the path, let’s frame the discussion. The original debate topic posed by BusinessWeek, “Twitter Isn’t Journalism, Or Is It?” is a bit misleading  and honestly, I think it’s the wrong question to ask.

In his reaction to the question as posed, Jeff Jarvis shed light on its fallibility through a literal interpretation, “More like an undebate. Typing: journalism or not?”

Dan Patterson of ABC News Radio introduced helpful frames of reference in his Tweet, “It’s the wrong question. Twitter is a tool, the web is a medium, and journalism is an action.”

Perhaps Jarvis’s response is an example of what’s really at the heart of the debate, context. BusinessWeek’s headline as proposed is constraining. It implies Twitter as a platform is or isn’t journalism, which isn’t the intention, at least not in how it was presented to me. The bigger discussion is rooted in the action of Tweeting and whether or not for example, protected by the same rights as other media.

As Alex Howard signals, “There is a debate, whether you acknowledge it or not: shield laws now protect journalists, not acts of journalism.”

Perhaps, for the sake of this discussion, the question would be better asked this way, “Can Tweets represent acts of journalism?

When we look at the question in this light, the original intention for the course of conversation is righted.

In addressing the spirit of the debate, GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram steers the discussion back on course with his response, “the answer is being provided by @acarvin and @NickKristof.”

Seeing the question in a new light, we need not look any further than NPR’s Andy Carvin for an answer. From the front lines in Bahrain, Carvin  Tweeted, “Later; too busy tweeting reports from Bahrain now.”

Twitter is a platform. And if journalism is an action, can Tweets represent acts of journalism?”

There are valid points on both sides of the discussion, but we learn a great deal more when we open it up to more voices. Please join us…share your thoughts.

Debate Topic: Tweets can recite facts, but Twitter doesn’t qualify as a journalistic vehicle. Pro or con?

To comply with BusinessWeek’s request, please click through to read the post in its entirety…

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61 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Twitter Isn’t Journalism, Or Is It? Perhaps It’s the Wrong Question to Ask”

  1. Gsideman says:

    Twitter is a tool that may be used in journalism. Like anything that’s broken via face-to-face information or email, facts must be vetted before they’re presented as fact. It’s also the job of publicists to be honest about what we post.

  2. David Perdew says:

    This post is interesting, but I’d end up on the “con” side of thinking that Twitter doesn’t have the breadth to transmit breaking news intelligently.

    The tweets cited by Mr. De Monte are raw, meaning they don’t contain links, and they’re also not as thoughtfully “headlined” as more powerful examples might be:

    “DA in Williams case relates mindset of a predator: (link).”

    That’s effective tweeting, and the speed and depth at which such a quality update spreads is far superior to anything a traditional news source can put together in the time it takes to hit “Enter.”

  3. Susanne Dupes says:

    To me, a tweet is the headline. The attention grabber. It points to a story. It alerts us. So it is a part of journalism. But just as I don’t see a headline as journalism standing on its own, I don’t see a tweet as journalism standing on its own. IMeanwhile, a news story can stand on its own as a piece of journalism.

  4. Krista says:

    This is a very interesting debate indeed– much like the discussion if bloggers can be considered journalists without credentials or formal journalism training. I tend to agree with the other comments here that Twitter is a tool for journalism, adding to the immediacy of reporting the news, but not offering much as far as depth or context. Tweets can also be erroneous or spur rumors, as anyone with access can tweet as they please, regardless of any journalistic integrity or ethics. However, Twitter has become a source for breaking news and story ideas for news organizations (as Katie Couric mentioned in her interview), so I see it as a symbiotic relationship as well.

  5. IMO, journalists need to use every media channel, where their readers are. I don’t think every twitter feeds are journalism. But, I think twitter is journalism, IF it is used as a medium by journalists with their (right) professionalism. On the other hand, mass media (TV, Radio, newspaper, …) can be “Non” journalism, if it doesn’t carry proper professionalism.

  6. Twitter is a channel just like any other, so it is a fantastic conduit with which to share news, communicate with sources, do research, and monitor a situation or topic. For practical reasons though, Twitter lends itself better to reporting than actual “journalism,” the latter requiring a little more volume than 140 characters. And no, let’s not call it micro-journalism. 😉

  7. Carmen Hill says:

    “Is Twitter Journalism?” is definitely the wrong question. It’s like asking, Is tabloid-size paper journalism? Is TV journalism? Is radio journalism? Twitter is a platform for sharing information. Its strength is immediacy and eyes/ears on the ground…everywhere at any time. 140 characters can’t tell the whole story, just as a 1:30 TV news package can’t tell the whole story. For context, detail and perspective you go somewhere else.

  8. David Suszek says:

    Twitter is a platform to deliver “scoops”. As such, it is the equivalent of the paper boy shouting “Wuxtry! Wuxtry! Read all about it!”

    As already pointed out, journalism is a more in-depth set of activities.

    • Rob Anderson says:

      So, just so I understand the points being made by those who are arguing that no form of tweeting can be considered journalism: The bigger argument being made is really that live reporting of any kind is not and should not be considered “journalism”? In other words, if a reporter tweets what he has just learned and what he is witnessing = not journalism. If same reporter stares into camera and tells me what he/she has just learned and witnessed = journalism?

  9. Colin Wu says:

    The value that journalists add is the context, fact-checking and depth they bring to the story. Twitter, IMHO, is merely another source of news and should be monitored (like the police radio?) to see what is breaking or trending. Twitter is merely a tool for data dissemination, like email or phone.

    To the question “Can tweets be considered journalism?” I would answer “mostly no”. As someone else commented here, they are headlines at best. But more often they are quick interpretations and feelings of what is happening in the tweeter’s immediate vicinity. It’s a micro- (maybe even nano-) view of what is happening within direct sight or hearing coloured by the tweeter’s immediate emotions and/or perceptions. Hardly what I would call objective.

    • Joel Krugler says:

      “Headlines” as a metaphor for the role of tweets in reporting isn’t terrible, but misses it’s major role as a live reporting of events. Coloured by emotions and tweeter’s perceptions? Ah, I guess newspapers and broadcast medium are famously immune to such slanting of the news. Hardly! Objectivity in “news” tweets is not inherently better or worse than in any other medium – it’s determined by the REPORTER, not by the channel.

      Another key point, I think: Tweets can and do deliver links to more extended material – which can clearly provide the added depth which you feel is missing.

  10. BBrian – you put up a good argument, and I agree with a lot of what you have to say, but I can’t help thinking that there’s a real difference between ‘journalism’ and ‘publishing’. Surely Twitter’s primary use as a reporting mechanism marks it out as something belonging, more often than not, to the latter camp? Breaking news isn’t necessarily journalism. It becomes that once the facts have been checked out and validated (hence the important time lag). I would argue that it’s gossip, rumour, conjecture or hearsay up until that point. Equally, linking back isn’t journalism unless you are the author of the original article. I’d also be inclined to put most columnists in a similar ‘non-journalism’ boat given that their opinions, anecdotes and recollections don’t always correlate to real journalism. For evidence of this, consider the number of ‘celebrity’ columnists with no journalistic background or training. It’s interesting that editors are rarely willing to expose them to the hotbed of the newsroom. I’m not a journalist with an axe to grind – far from it. I just think the basic act of generating content and broadcasting it needs to be separated from a true classification of journalism.

  11. Interesting and provocative question. Fact of the matter is, more people rely on the Internet for their news than newspapers, thus forcing the definition of journalism to evolve beyond traditional mediums (TV, Newspaper, Magazine, Radio) to now include most non-traditional platforms (social media, blogs, microblogs). We’re also now witnessing the era of “citizen journalism” as yet another branch of accepted media, especially as it pertains to eyewitness accounts and breaking news. The real question is how should news organizations best utilize this medium. Twitter as a platform is all about relevance and “real-time” information. I’ve witnessed several established traditional news organizations with a presence on Twitter forgo the newsroom rule of thumb of fact-checking in an effort to be first to market and feed the appetite of the masses of a breaking news story (eg. China Earthquake, Haiti Earthquake, Michael Jackson dying). If what’s being tweeted about is based on 1/2 truths and supposition in the quest to beat out the TMZ’s of the world, then we have a much bigger problem.

  12. mark ivey says:

    1) Twitter is a channel or platform, nothing more or less
    2) Twitter is not journalism (or micro journalism), much as some want to believe it is. Journalism has been diluted down with social media but it’s a professional practice, complete with best practices.
    3) Tweeters tweeting are “publishing” not performing “acts of journalism” (no more than I am conducting a medical practice or “acts of medicine” when I give my kids cold medicine.

  13. Journalism is:

    a: the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media
    b: the public press
    c : an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium
    d : writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine
    e : writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation
    f : writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest

    if twitter content falls in to any of these categories, we can correctly assume tweets are a form of journalism. I would argue that tweets can fall in to:
    f, e, and b; albeit in abridged, 140 character form. yes, twitter is a medium for and tweets are indeed a form of journalism.

  14. robingandhi says:

    It’s already been pointed out, but Twitter is simply a conversation channel. While the arguments for Twitter as a form of journalism are valid to an extent, I think the point of the question was to ask whether Twitter will become the new form of journalism. Twitter helps to supplement the story, giving immediate facts, scoops and ideas, but it is hard to see how a tweet (or for that matter 1,000 tweets) can replace any sense of traditional journalism.

  15. Aaron Lee says:

    I can write, does it make me a writer? Possibly not.
    If twitter was journalism, we’re all journalist.

    Wikipedia definition of journalism: Journalism is the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues, and trends to a broad audience

    Journalism like what the article says, is an action. Twitter is just a channel like newspapers etc…

  16. Roberta Guise says:

    As others have said, Twitter is a communication platform, as is a TV or radio station a communication platform. The context in which the tweets are tweeted, the nature of the message and who is tweeting — these are just three elements that I believe define whether tweeting is journalism.

  17. I completely agree with you Brian. Twitter has reach and connects to the common man as well as journalists and writers. Therein lies the power. More information that has not been picked over. Raw data that can quickly spread. Be interpreted and followed up on in all kinds of ways. Twitter is breaking up all the conventional stranglehold the old mediums have gotten tangled in. New voices are being heard. Funny how all the new channels in our world are taking us back to the good old ways, apprenticeships for journalists and writers is a brilliant idea. Using Twitter succinctly demands a level of skill that would raise the bar on journalism, not only in style, but in content.

  18. news is spread but twitter is not the perfect tool for ” journalism” . Hard to express all the plot in mere 140 charercters. A great debate on a undebatable topic. it is very good . thanks for posting

  19. Yasir says:

    The Danger is rumors, false, biased and emotionally charged tweets have an equal chance of being spread as quickly during the information divide. Its is highly likely that a false, negative report will get picked up and blown out of proportion, distorting the truth forever.

  20. Twitter helps reporters give a 360-degree view of an event that’s unfolding in time. War reporters, for example, can only report their vantage point whether it’s embedded with a unit, back at HQ or on the ground with civilians. With Twitter they can contribute their reports to the larger pool of reports about the event. By retweeting and using a common hashtag, the cumulative tweets (reports) from professional reporters, bloggers, and regular people witnessing the event create a complete picture of the event. Even if some of these tweets are inaccurate, they are corrected/corroborated (hopefully) in real time as the event unfolds. It’s akin to having a team of reporters work a story, share a byline, but it’s in real time. This is the beauty of what Andy Carvin (and others) have been doing. It’s the beauty of using hashtags. Let’s remember that many professional reporters and bloggers are tweeting in addition to writing long form reports for traditional media outlets (check out @arabist for one such example), so it’s not as if Twitter has replaced anything. It has just augmented existing forms of journalism.

  21. Sukhpreet_89 says:

    Twitter is a communication platform and can be used to share news, information, communicate with one another and create relationships. Journalism is also about sharing news and information however personally I do not believe Twitter is journalism as the information provided on Twitter may not be accurate and maybe rumours or somebodies point of view.
    I believe Twitter is a powerful tool and can be used by journalists to promote their stories or to attract attention as well as communicating with sources or organisations.

  22. Twitter is a medium, and whether it can make for a journalistic vehicle depends on who’s using it.

  23. Bensmith says:

    Twiiter definitely isn’t journalism. But I’m not sure anyone’s told journalists that

  24. A reader says:

    Twitter is just a continuous flow of news. If it’s journalism, that comes from the behavior of the reader. What makes the reader? Normally, it will seek its information according to its tastes, like his bread, in its preferred bakery. With Twitter, the reader is selecting ingredients (flour, salt, water) and works itself his bread. A new form of journalism? I cannot answer. I like the good bread, quite simply. A reader.

  25. Laured2 says:

    Who cares?

  26. Twitter is a platform – a tool. Journalists use pens, keyboards, voices to broadcast on platforms – newspapers, magazines, television, blogs, and Twitter.
    Just as my television can broadcast both news journalism and entertainment? So can Twitter.

    • briansolis says:

      Hi Lucretia, I’m trying to steer the conversation away from BusinessWeek’s framing and more toward what’s discussed at the beginning of the post…Can Tweets represent acts of journalism? And, as such are they protected by shield law?

      Know of any media law experts? Would love to hear from them!

    • Prt Inc Mail says:

      Hi Brian, regarding Tweets as acts of journalism protected by shield law, a great case study would be Octavia Nasr, formerly the Middle East expert at CNN, terminated for a tweet that was not ‘politically correct’ enough in their opinion.

  27. hardaway says:

    I think I will answer the question you asked. Why is the shield law appropriate? On Twitter, the tweeter is the source. What source is there to protect? Isn’t that what the shield law is all about? There. I’ve answered your question with three more questions. This is much more subtle than is it a platform and is it journalism

  28. I can’t help but notice at least one journalism “purist” reacting here. As a former journalist, I still read traditional journalism — both online and in print. But I also follow people on Twitter like Nicholas Kristof, both “to get to the journalism” (his work in the NYTimes when he posts links) and to see or participate in “the immediate conversation.” And “the conversation” is clearly a part of today’s journalism. You don’t have to wait for the presses to roll, you don’t always have to wait for the copy editors to weigh in, it’s about as immediate as you can get, and it’s the future. It is a tool and a platform. But I also think it’s a new form of journalism, a news feed, if handled well by bona fide journalists (another word that needs to be redefined). Just like bad journalists and good journalists, there are credible and non-credible sources on Twitter.

  29. Samuelxcharles says:

    It depends on how you define “journalism.” Webster says, “(a:) the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media, (b:) the public press.

    Twitter is a method of transferring information, just as paper or a radio or television broadcast are. If the content of a “tweet” contains “news” why would it not be journalism under Webster’s second definition? For some people, 140 characters meets — perhaps even exceeds — their need for depth in a news story.

  30. kate says:

    Best way to break news first and fast.

  31. Michael says:

    Twitter is not journalism, Twitter is like paper. If journalists use Twitter within their profession, it is journalism. Simple but true. I define Twitter as: Social News Messaging. Messaging is the style (it ist NOT one tweet that makes the story!), social can be just friends or a whole society.

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