Putting the words Twitter and journalism into the same sentence seems to provoke a spasm from professional journalists.
At a “curated unconference” hosted by Reuters Thomson in London, the value of Twitter in journalism was once again under scrutiny.
The report in The Guardian suggests there was a deep-seated level of unease in talking about Twitter as journalism.
The head of the BBC’s global news division, Richard Sambrook, argued:
Twitter is good at gossip, promoting people’s interest, and entertaining, but it is also good in some news-related fields. It isn’t journalism, but it is good in transporting eyewitness pictures and live tweets, as it is in providing links to sites of interest.
And Jeremy Gaunt from Reuters also looked at Twitter from the perspective of a professional journalist:
Twitter is not an alternative to journalism. The role of the journalist changes from a gatekeeper of information to a gatewatcher. In case of an event or a catastrophe it might be his role to curate the live stream of Twitter and social media platforms. So he is still fact-checking.
While both of these are valid points, I would suggest that they miss the point. The argument “Twitter isn’t journalism” reminds me of the way journalists used to say “blogging isn’t journalism.”
The important point to note is that Twitter is a communications platform, much like the magazine is. A magazine may or may not be a platform for news and information. Similarly, Twitter is a platform on which journalism is taking place – it is just happening the way journalism has taken place in the past.
Twitter provides a platform for distributed journalism, where the value lies not in the individual tweet, but the combined and networked nature of the platform.
I have called this ambient journalism in an academic paper I presented at the Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff in September, and due to be published next year.
Rather than arguing about whether Twitter is or isn’t journalism, we should shift the conversation to understanding the journalism taking place on this platform and its relationship to established journalism norms and practices.
Let’s avoid a rerun of the “blogging isn’t journalism” debate.