Friday is usually conducive to a more relaxed state of mind, so we hope as you’re reading this you’re at ease, enjoying casual wear or some other end-of-the-week perk. Why? Because we’re going to talk about Twitter.
TWITTER! The name alone is enough to make many of you twitch, start sucking your thumbs, or fall to the floor in the fetal position and pray that we were just kidding when we said TWITTER! WE’RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT TWITTER! And that’s precisely why we have to have this discussion. For many, Twitter is like an uncontrollable giant, taking over things we never gave it permission to take over. Like our minds. Or journalism.
Understandably, heaps of you are in a monumental tizzy over the microblogging phenomenon--especially those employed by what’s left of the printed press industry. It’s natural to want someone to blame, but are you pointing your finger in the right direction? Are you really?
Let's start on one end of the spectrum with a quote from Bob Woodward, an American journalist: "Social media? It's noise. Twitter? Facebook? It's all a diversion. Good reporting is always going to be about hard work; about waking up every morning with the thought: What are the bastards hiding today?"
We're inclined to agree in part. Journalism is hard work, but the thing about micro journalism (can we call it micro journalism? What about micro journo? Microjourno? ) is that it leaves no room for anyone to hide anything anywhere. Nowadays stories get plugged into the ‘net .001 seconds after they’ve happened because people have eyes, ears, cell phones and Twitter accounts. That magic combination has arguably changed the question: What are the bastards hiding today? To: What’s trending on Twitter?
Twitter Me This
Take for example the Hudson river plane crash and Janis Krums, the bystander who set the ‘net ablaze when he tweeted a photo of the crash merely 10 minutes after it had happened. That’s great, right? Because seriously, if you were on that plane and the person who dropped you off at the airport turned right back around because they saw a Tweet on their cell phone that your plane had just CRASHED INTO THE RIVER, we’re pretty sure it’d be much better than having to wait until your own cell phone dried out so you could call them yourself.
The point is that the immediacy of information is awesome, and that awesomeness should be seen as a big fat inlet to many grand slam articles from professional journalists. As TechCrunch columnist Paul Carr puts it, “While bloggers can own the first five minutes of any breaking story - a plane crash, a fire, a burglary - it’s always going to be the professional reporters who own the next five days, or five weeks.”
Twitter? A diversion? Nay, it’s an amplifier.
Ye Ol’ Printing Press
For the loads of you still fuming and fantasizing about plucking Twitter bald for replacing your precious print media, get with the program. Answer this: Right this second, how are you reading this article? In your local newspaper? No! You’re on your laptop! Or desktop! Or mobile! Or you’re peering over some dude’s shoulder in a coffee shop as he stares at his own electronic device! (Please stop.)
Kids, it’s 2009. Print has been on its way out for a long time now.
Yes, smeared ink and the delicious smell of freshly bound dead trees will be sorely missed, but the need for trustworthy journalists certainly isn’t going anywhere. Don’t panic just because a brick fell on our heads, rejoice for the fact that we’re adapting, and we’re adapting fast. Says Ross Mayfield, chairman, president and co-founder of Socialtext: “Many people didn't see the rise of Twitter coming. It was too simple. Too constrained. Too public. Twitter grew from 9.8 million in February to 19.1 million unique visitors in March 2009.”
In other words, this is a fast moving train, and no amount of crying or whining or protesting is going to get it to stop. No matter what happens, the children of today will look back at our current technology and they will laugh. It’s the way it’s always been; it’s the way it will always be.
As for the present: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter—they’ve transformed our expectations, not canceled them out. As Mayfield says, “[…] answering the question ‘What are you doing?’ in 140 characters or less is far from the only use of microblogging.” And he’s right. Today microblogging allows us to map the spread of diseases, to share our experiences, to increase our awareness of both the good and bad happening not only in our backyards, but also in backyards across oceans and valleys as well. Microblogging connects us with the rest of the world more closely than we’ve ever been before, and it does it in real-time.
“You really have to hand it to Twitter's founders,” continued Mayfield. “Not just for enabling a side project to flourish because they saw the vision. But for building and sustaining a community, even post-Oprah.”
And so we raise our glasses to Twitter and the entire concept of microblogging for taking on the weight of the Who, What, When and Where. But the last part, the soul of any report, that’s left up to our dear ol’ journalists.
Waking up in the morning and wondering what the bastards tweeting about today isn’t a bad deal, friends. It cuts a lot of work out of the process. And even though Trending Topics get us going, they’re certainly not enough (or even worthwhile). Proof can be found by the truckload: We’re still waiting for more information on why Air France Flight 447 went down; So many people were searching for the reasoning behind Michael Jackson’s death that the Internet broke for an excruciating millisecond; You say Swine Flu is killing a bunch of people? We want to know why. Paula Abdul not returning to American Idol next season? WHY OH WHY?
Also—and this is the most important part—it’s apparent that as more and more unprofessional and sometimes biased regular Joes hop up on their electronic soapboxes and vomit their unverified reports into the interweb, so increases the need for professional journalists to set the record straight. Electronically. On the Internet. Without paper.
So to every jilted journalist still working with paper: pack up your ink and tree choppers, bust out your computers, load your Twitter account right up and get your hands dirty without leaving your bedroom. Let’s keep the good name of journalism alive, generation Z style.