I’m friends with Twitter. I signed up for the website in March 2009 and I’ll admit I wasn’t sold on it at first. A lot of times, I wasn’t sure what to say. A few friends and I were talking about Twitter tonight and some of us said we felt pressure to be overly witty or intelligent in 140 characters – not always an easy task. Not all of us are Ashton Kutcher.
But after almost two years of tweeting, Twitter has forged a soft spot in my heart and a place in my daily media diet. Here’s what I’ve learned in two tweet-filled years.
1) Twitter is the best way to hear about breaking news when it happens. I’ve started to look at journalism as a narrative and a craft. But long before that, breaking news drew me to journalism. I like the excitement, the rush, the story. As soon as something happens – as soon as someone dies, as soon as a hockey player on my favourite team is traded, as soon as someone makes an announcement – I hear about it on Twitter, long before it hits Facebook or 24-hour news networks. As we discussed in class, that information isn’t always accurate. Some of it is biased.
2) It’s easy to become overwhelmed in an information saturated world. With Twitter, I can pick what I want to see. I can learn a little about a lot. Twitter gives me instant access to live coverage of events, eyewitness reports from across the world, commentary, wit, entertainment and news headlines. I don’t have to look for it. I don’t have to read a whole story on it – I just have to read 140 characters. It’s perfect for the (student) journalist who doesn’t have time to go in-depth on every story of the day.
3) Journalists should use Twitter for a couple of reasons. Twitter can help you become concise. I signed up for Twitter when I first started doing journalism. I think Twitter helped me learn how to condense my thoughts. But Twitter shouldn’t be the only place journalists look for news nor should it be the only place they’re regularly exercising their concise writing! Twitter can also be a place to look for story ideas. By searching a hashtag or following a list of people from a certain place, you can see what people are talking about. If they’re talking about it, maybe we should be talking about it too. But, it’s important to keep in mind that the people who use Twitter in New Brunswick tend to be media literate, young professionals (or young girls obsessed with Justin Bieber). Because of that, Twitter shouldn’t be used by young journalists as an alternative to going out and talking to people from a wide range of backgrounds and ages.
4) To deal with the problem in point number 1, news outlets should look at Twitter as a platform totally different from their website. Most news outlets will have reporters tweeting what they’re doing/seeing/writing about and they’ll use the outlet’s official feed to post links to stories that have been recently posted on their website. Perhaps Twitter should be the place for breaking news and we should take that information with a grain of salt. The story posted later on the news outlet’s website should be accurate and factual because there’s time for verification.
5) Twitter is what you make it. As Jacques said in class, if you’re following 10 people, you’re not going to get much out of it. You probably won’t if you’re not following a lot of humans either. If you spend enough time on it, you learn how it works and you learn how to tell who is using the tool for self-promotion and who is a legitimate source.
I guess some of those points ended up turning into observations more than statements of what I’ve learned. Although I love Twitter, I still struggle with how exactly I want to use it. I struggle with how much of my tweets should be filled with me talking about journalism and how much should be me trying to be witty or talking about my thoughts. Is an employer going to hold it against me for telling the world I had the attention span of an excited puppy last week? How much of myself should exist in the online world?
I leave you with an example of a post re-tweeted (people often do this because they think it’s funny, interesting or they agree with it) by Mayor Brad Woodside to let you decide how much of yourself should be on Twitter: