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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word wasn’t Twitter

Posted by Sam Golden on 6th August 2013

Last week I attended a discussion on how Twitter is changing journalists’ lives, or not as the case might be.

Journalists from some of the UK’s most-read news sources made up the panel; Kenny Campbell from The Metro, Peter Hoskins from Sky, Simon Goodley from The Guardian and Harry Wallop from The Daily Telegraph. Each was eager to talk about their experiences with the microblogging site.

Simon Goodley quickly identified himself as the token Luddite, while each of the other journalists were keen advocates of Twitter. It was good to see that not everyone was blinded by the blue bird’s light, but it was a shame Simon’s argument could essentially be summarised as ‘I’ve not really tried it that much but I get by without it.’

The session was full of anecdotes about making first contact with potential sources as well as finding information on local incidents using the search field.

Yet half way through the session déjà vu set in and I realised I’d been here before. The conversation around Twitter as a communication tool continues relentlessly, growing as fast as the platform itself, but it’s all getting a bit tired. I failed to see anything new being introduced into the conversation.

In essence Twitter is just another form of two-way communication, another channel to reach a specific audience. It can be used as a research tool or as a contact point, even a personal diary of your most inane thoughts.

As a journalist and a PR professional I use it on a daily basis. But I believe it is also over-evangelised by some. Some people are even claiming Twitter is already more important than a business plan or cell phone… I think it’s probably safe to say it isn’t.

Where I’d agree Twitter is revolutionary is its transparency in both contacts and content. There’s a possibility if you tweet Armando Iannucci (@Aiannucci) or Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) they will read your message and maybe even respond to it. You have to agree there’s something strangely empowering about that. Yet just as it’s likely more people would listen to Stephen Fry shouting on the street than me, there’s still an uneven balance of power and influence.

This transparency is the key element that I believe sets Twitter aside from email and even more traditional forms of communication like the cell phone. It’s not only that most interactions are transparent, but everybody’s contact details are transparent too.

This doesn’t mean it’s the zenith of communication, as some people seem to think. There are many people you’ll never reach on Twitter either because they’re hiding behind walls of PR people or because they’ve not got an account at all.

Another problem is the wordstorm of useless information that anything valuable is swathed in. Charlie Brooker wrote last week about the increasing amount of online noise that we’re all contributing to. This blog is contributing to it, your comments are contributing to it, and every inane tweet about your lunch is contributing to it. Not everyone needs to be talking all of the time, there are other things to do.

Massive thanks to business information group Precise for putting the event together. One thing I took away from the event (other than a free muffin) was this interesting piece of research from scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow who found that “while Twitter can sometimes break news before newswires, for major events there is little evidence that it can replace traditional news outlets.”

photo credit: Hil

Sam Golden