Monday, February 16, 2009

Let's burn a few social media straw men

Perhaps it's the insecurity born of being the new kid on the block, but social media experts are full of criticism of journalists for not understanding or embracing social media. Their critiques are almost exclusively built on straw men, and I figure it's just as well to identify these.

1) Journalists don't use Twitter.

That's odd, because I know a bunch of Twittering journalists. In my immediate experience, journalists have grabbed Twitter with enthusiasm. Some journalists do, some don't, but that's not surprising; Twitter is still a minority activity – a couple of million users out of a billion Internet users.

2) Journalists don't understand how to get stories from Twitter.

If it was true yesterday, it won't be true tomorrow. Journalists pick up story leads and tips wherever they happen. Just because they prefer selling their output to a paying customer such as a publisher, rather than spilling their livelihood in 160 characters for free, doesn't make the journalist clueless.

3) Journalism is old media

I know quite a few journalists who avoid the term “journalist”, because they've bought the new media fan's cry that journalism is old media. Actually, journalism is an activity. It's something that people do, and the activity is easily differentiated from both the medium (old or new media) and the business model. Avoiding a word because some idiot uses it as a term of abuse means you've accepted the other person's mindset; you're defining yourself in their terms, instead of your own.

Generally, those who say journalism==old media publishing reveal their own lack of understanding. The journalist can exist in a huge range of places that aren't in (say) News Corporation or Fox, and always have.

4)Twitter is the best / only place for contacts

It sounds so silly, put like that, but there are people who believe it. The best place to get a contact is wherever the story comes from. If your contact is on Twitter, that's the place; if your contact is in the pub, then the pub's the place. Anyone who can only interpret life in terms of one channel is, themselves, unidimensional.

5)Twitter is first

The first time I read a story outlining how Twitter outruns the old media straw man, I took the analysis as straight and thought “that's interesting”. The second time, I was watching Twitter unfold at the same time as the story. Since Twitter's stories came from other media (eg, RSS feeds, including 'old media' sites), the claim that it was outrunning its own primary sources is demonstrably nonsense.

As with all media, Twitter has the ability to be first. Any moderately real-time medium can be first; it depends on the channels and reporters (I don't restrict “reporter” to “professional journalist employed by major publisher”) that exist between the event and the reader.

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