Why Twitter Matters to Journalism

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

A University of Tampa student recently asked for my input regarding the use of Twitter in the journalism world. She reached out to me for comment, but didn’t end up writing the story.  So, for what it’s worth, I’m posting her questions and my answers here. Feel free to disagree with, or expand on, my points. You can follow me on Twitter @MallaryTenore.

1. What do you think are the main advantages of using Twitter to report news?

Dissemination of news. I use Twitter in place of an RSS reader because I find it to be a quality tool for assembling news. Twitter is a great resource for reporters because it is a way to stay on top of breaking news, solicit feedback and cultivate sources. Some reporters I know, for instance, will pose a reporting-related question to people on Twitter in hopes that they can get a lead or a source from it. Twitter is also great because it allows for a diversity of voices. Depending on who you’re following, you can get a wide variety of news that you might not otherwise find out about if you’re just looking at the same Web sites every day.

2. What are the disadvantages, and what changes would you like to see made?

I think that while Twitter can be extremely beneficial in the reporting process, it can also give us “an easy way out.” Reporters, for instance, may just turn to Twitter as a resource and then stop that. When it comes to finding sources, Twitter is a good starting point. The real reporting comes afterward, in the follow-up phone calls and interviews that result from what the reporter found out on Twitter. Another disadvantage is that sometimes the silly language of Twitter — tweet, twoosh, twitteria — can give people the wrong impression of the site and lead them to believe that it shouldn’t be taken seriously as a tool for journalists. Another disadvantage is that many people think that just because they can use Twitter, they should. It’s just like any other medium; sometimes it works better for certain stories than others. (Example: Rocky Mountain News journalist tweeting a funeral.)



3. Do you believe Twitter has enhanced or diminished the quality of journalism?

I wouldn’t say that Twitter has necessarily enhanced the quality of journalism, but I would say it has enhanced the ways that journalists are able to communicate information and the speed at which they can communicate it. Now journalists can tweet during court hearings and sports games (depending on restrictions), and other live events. Twitter can make news seem more immediate and more personal, especially when reporters build a big base of followers and then use their voice and storytelling style to connect with them. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times does a good job of this.

4. Is this trend on the rise or flaming out?

I would say that in the past year or so, Twitter has become increasingly popular, especially among younger and mobile Internet users. When I first wrote about Twitter back in September 2007, very few news organizations were using it, and I got a lot of comments from readers who said they thought the site was dumb, irrelevant and “ridiculous.” Now, people seem to embrace it. Facebook is even copying many of Twitter’s features. Now, for instance, you can @reply someone in a Facebook status update. Will Twitter continue to thrive as a leading social media platform moving forward? Probably. But I have no doubt that other sites like it will soon emerge.

Helpful Twitter resources from Poynter.org (@poynter), the site I write/edit for:

Related Poynter/News University (@NewsUniversity) resources:

What should I add to this blog entry? How are you using Twitter as a journalist?