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Is Twitter the future of journalism? #smwldn

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 15th February 2012

At the weekend I wrote a blog post reflecting on last week’s leaks from Sky and the BBC about how their journalists could (or could not) use social channels like Twitter.

I quoted Paul Dacre, Mail Editor and his recent comment from the Leveson Inquiry:

“If the mainstream media are unable to address news stories that are freely available elsewhere, we will look increasingly irrelevant”

And the other night, I found myself in Farringdon at the kick-off of Social Media Week London 2012. It was a room full of journalists talking about Twitter.

A PR’s dream position you might think. Well, perhaps, but actually I found the whole thing slightly depressing; for traditional media that is. There were some pretty well-regarded luminaries on the panel including social chaps from Channel 4 and The Guardian. But the best speaker by far was Andrew Walker from Tweetminster.

Andrew’s contribution was great because he shared some really interesting data that Tweetminster has collected about the differences in influence between traditional media and ‘new media’ (i.e. non-professional journalists).

I found the rest of the evening depressing because the general gist of things seemed to be, “yeah Twitter is great, we love Tweetdeck, but there will always be a place for traditional journalism so we’ll generally just carry on doing what we’re doing…”

Did they not listen to Walker’s stats (which I won’t quote exactly here because I’ll probably get them wrong), the main thread of which was that traditional media is massively slow at adopting new content forms compared to citizen journalists. The vast bulk of traditional media output is still written articles whereas non-professionals are embracing video and other more interactive forms.

All this means is that, despite the massive amount of content that is spewed out by traditional media sources on a minute-by-minute basis, URLs from citizen journalists are relatively more influential and more likely to be shared. Bombshell!

It’s all about value, duh!

And this brings me back to a point I’ve made ad nauseum in the past. Traditional publishers need to find where they can add value. Because churning out the same story about Whitney Houston that every other media outlet has also churned out (and that was broken on Twitter an hour before any traditional source picked it up anyway) is not going to bring commercial success.

So if I think about how I use traditional media. Generally, not for breaking news. I get that on social channels. But frequently I’ll then go to news sites to get the context behind it. That should mean the behind the scenes video or interactive timelines or infographics showing additional background information presented in an easy-to-understand way. It could also mean investigative stories that correct some of the inaccuracies that are often shared on social media.

(Although on this last point, I do think some of the complaints about dangerous, unchecked rumours being shared on Twitter are over the top and that, increasingly, tweeters are wise to this and are beginning to self-regulate.)

I appreciate I’m not necessarily representative of the general populus. But I still think we need professional journalists to add well-researched context. And in many cases, they should work alongside citizen journalists – a point that Paul Lewis made.

The problem for the media is more than just journalists having Tweetdeck on their desktops, as Paul Dacre clearly accepts (and as all good PRs that are furiously creating content for brands rather than solely relying on traditional media sources know).

picture credit

Danny Whatmough