Journalism used to be about looking out your window on the world and telling people what you saw and then getting out on the street as fast as possible to report on what others saw. Now, it also involves looking in the mirror and telling the world, here’s some miscellaneous information about fabulous me. I’m in New Hampshire! I’m watching Mitt Romney! His hair is frozen in place and so are my toes! More later!
No doubt that the medium enables and invites even the most serious content creators to post any random thought at any given moment. And some do. But in many cases the culprits are the same alleged “journalists” we would see on TV (if we still got our news there) chatting away and making small talk while serving up fluff instead of conducting any real reporting.
But take a look at the journalists who know how to use Twitter – Jennifer Preston of the New York Times or her colleague assistant managing editor Jim Roberts come to mind – and you find reporters who make great use of the medium. Both of those journalists use Twitter to keep followers informed of important stories, to share useful and valuable content, and to call attention to articles from writers other than themselves. I often find interesting and relevant content from sources other than the Times by following Preston.
As a voracious consumer of news I consider Twitter the greatest contributor to journalism since Edward R. Murrow. In an era when most news organizations can’t afford foreign bureaus, it provides access to instant updates and content that reporters like Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Shihab-Eldin and NPR’s Andy Carvin use to make them better reporters. It enables ordinary citizens in parts of the world most journalists can’t get to, to provide updates and alert news organizations to everything from disasters to injustices. And, in the hands of smart, social media-savvy journalists who understand that content has to go to the reader, not necessarily the other way around, it’s an invaluable means of educating and enlightening the community.
Joan Vennochi is right in criticizing reporters who abuse the medium with incessant personal updates. But it’s important we don’t confuse the medium with the messages we sometimes find there.