Commentary

Twitter Isn't Ruining Journalism, Journalists Are

Publishers need to be aware of what their editorial teams are posting on social media, especially since tweets, snaps and stories generally fall outside more rigorous in-house reviews.

Reckless behavior on social media can damage a publisher’s brand and doesn’t deserve any special journalistic privilege.

Farhad Manjoo, an opinion columnist for The New York Times, went so far as to implore journalists to “never tweet” because “Twitter is ruining American journalism.” He was writing in response to the news media’s rush to judgment after a video clip purporting to show a standoff between white high-school kids and an elderly Native American man at a protest march went viral.

“At first, the Twitter mob went after the kids from Covington Catholic High School. Then, as more details of the incident emerged, a mob went after the people who’d gone after the kids,” Manjoo wrote. “No one won; in the end the whole thing was little more than a divisive, partisan mess.”

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I agree that the incident was embarrassing for the news media, but that doesn’t mean Twitter is ruining journalism.

I’m a big fan of Twitter. The platform provides unfiltered access to many news makers, and it’s a good resource to monitor current trends. I first turn to Twitter to see what people are saying about news.

If Twitter didn’t exist, it would have to be invented. Even the NYT’s Manjoo acknowledges quitting the platform is impossible in today’s news business.

That’s not to say Twitter is without its flaws. Disinformation, anonymous trolls and automated bots proliferate on Twitter despite the company’s efforts to curb such activity. Twitter wants to be a “brand-safe” platform that’s free of hate speech, terrorist propaganda and child porn.

Speaking of objectionable content, it’s amazing how many journalists betray their personal biases about events and people in the news. In many cases, those tweets undermine standards of journalistic objectivity and lead readers to doubt a publication’s claims of editorial fairness.

That dynamic harms a publisher’s brand. Twitter isn’t as damaging to journalism as journalists are.

More than ever, social-media users need to find sources they can trust for reliable information. Like a loaded gun, Twitter needs to be handled with care and proper respect. It has tremendous power to weaponize information, but also to provide a public good.

3 comments about "Twitter Isn't Ruining Journalism, Journalists Are".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 1, 2019 at 9:01 a.m.

    Very true, Rob. But are they listening to advice like this?

  2. Will Stewart from SportsWar LLC, February 1, 2019 at 9:36 a.m.

    Short but excellent column, Rob.  As a side note, I have unfollowed many a journalist whose own tweets are unbiased, neutral, fair, etc. ..... but those same journalists go around liking tweets by partisan, biased political (and social) sources. They reveal their biases by clicking the Like button, and Twitter lets me know about it, so .... unfollow.

  3. Suzanne Sell from Independent, February 1, 2019 at 1:29 p.m.

    Media companies of all kinds are trying to connect with social media of all kinds, and are encouraging journalists to build a Twitter following. But these journalists seem to need some training in what's appropriate and what's not. Journalism professors and news directors, how are you dealing with this?

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