news:rewired: Too much reliance on Twitter?

At an event Google held for the regional press last year, the issue of how to ‘sell’ Twitter to journalists who weren’t already signed up was raised.

James Anslow, from City University, was firmly of the opinion that you shouldn’t force someone on to Twitter, while Tim Bradshaw, a Twitter very early adopter and digital media correspondent at the Financial Times, believed strongly in likening Twitter to real life reporting.

To that end, his comparison of Twitter being like overhearing a conversation in the pub made a lot of sense – to hear the conversation, you have to be in the pub in the first place.

At news:rewired, there was a lot of referencing to the decision by Sky News to install Tweetdeck on the computers of all of its journalists. Reports on the scale of this vary – doesn’t say all its reporters, but The Next Web insists journalists have been ‘ordered’ to install it.

During the multimedia session at news:rewired, media consultant Justin Kings said he was very impressed by this move by an organisation like Sky News. And there’s no doubt about Sky’s excellent use of Twitter, right from the appointment of Ruth Barnett as “twitter correspondent.” The fact she has now moved to be a producer for Sky at Westminister suggests very clearly that she’s achieved her aim in making her post redundant once social media had become an established part of news gathering.

Sky says it now has 90 members of staff on Twitter, varying from presenters through to correspondents through to producers. That number suggests alot of staff switched on to social media, so should newsrooms everywhere follow suit and install Tweetdeck on the computers of all staff?

I’d argue not, for a simple reason: For Twitter to work as a journalistic tool, the journalists has to understand it and feel they’re getting something out of it.

To use Tim Bradshaw’s example again, if you went to a pub to pick up stories, you’d soon stop going if you didn’t get those stories.  Forcing a tool on to a journalist who doesn’t see the benefit in it is a wasted effort all round.

To use Tweetdeck, in theory, you at least need a Twitter account. A silent Twitter account, or one which says something like “Trying out this Twitter lark” some six months ago, sends a clear message to others on Twitter: this person never checks their account, or this person is here because they’ve been told to be here.

And then there’s always the danger of over-stating the value of Twitter. For many journalists, it is the first place to turn when a story breaks, or the place where the breaking story is posted. But it’s not the only place a story breaks, and the only way to maximise use of Twitter when a story breaks is be a regular user.  While Sky producers are right to point out that Twitter users are much more deeply engaged with the service than, say, Facebook users, the volume of Facebook users makes it, potentially, just as powerful a tool for the journalist hunting a story online.

Fleet Street Blues, talking about the sheer number of posts being written about news:rewired, stated:

The problem is the disconnect, the widening gap between the enlightened few plotting the future at City University, and the unenlightened many who have never used Twitter (no, really) and are still struggling to come to terms with filing stories to meet online deadlines. It’s all very well talking about building a social media strategy and the growing need for entrepreneurial journalism, but there are lots of journalists out there – good, hard news journalists with skills we as a profession don’t want to lose – who are being left behind.

Kevin Marsh, head of the BBC’s college of journalism, made a point that will warm the hearts of those journalists who feel they are being left behind: new multimedia skills aren’t replacing the skills journalists have always needed, such as the ability to find a story or tell a story.

Using social media for journalism is one such skill, but like every other journalistic tool, it has to be one the journalist appreciates the value of. To me, no-one benefits from being ‘told’ to do something because it’s new. And that’s where Sky have succeeded – they’ve demonstrated the value of something and now more people are using it. That, to me, is the way forward and the real story from Sky – that Twitter is so widely valued, not the fact that Tweetdeck is now being rolled out.

* There are two places I’d send a journalist looking for an understanding of Twitter. For in-depth, go to Mashable’s guide or for the overview in 15 slides, then Tim Bradshaw’s guide is an excellent starting point.


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