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The downside of Twitter journalism

Posted by: | December 6, 2009 | No Comment |

NOTE: This post isn’t directly related to the class readings, but I thought it would be nice to end the semester with an issue in journalism today.

Many journalists in 2009 have a good grasp of new media techniques they can use to increase their online readership. Many beat reporters have blogs to publish insider information that otherwise would not crack the small word limits of printed articles. Many reporters host online chat sessions to answer readers’ questions directly. Other journalists link their Twitter accounts to their cell phones and post 140-character updates from wherever they happen to be located.

Professor Steve Klein does not hesitate when it comes to whipping out his iPhone to show students its usefulness in helping him stay updated on today’s news. The staunchest advocate of Twitter, TweetDeck (a personal feed organizer) and Lance Armstrong‘s Tweeting ability, Professor Klein can rattle off a list of these products’ benefits in a heartbeat.

----- TweetDeck -----

----- TweetDeck -----

But on Friday, Oct. 23, at a new media panel discussion at Mason, an anti-Twitter argument manifested itself in the form of a professor from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

The Liberty professor argued that the lines between tabloid journalism and news are increasingly being blurred by Twitter, a web site that encourages users to obtain “followers” to view their profiles. Professor Klein and former student Forrest Kobayashi, a USA Today intern, both provided examples of how Twitter is bettering their lives.

Professor Klein found out about the death of Walter Cronkite by checking his Twitter account. This news appeared on Twitter about seven minutes faster than it appeared on any wire news service, according to Professor Klein.

According to Kobayashi. 19 percent of Internet users in the U.S. use Twitter.

One point made in this session threw ice water on the bright Twitter praise-fest.

“We have a lot of information, but judgment is not included.”

I cannot remember who said this, but the rest of the discussion centered around this statement.

Treating Twitter like a legitimate news source because of a few breaking stories equals classifying TMZ as a news agency because it broke two or three celebrity stories. Random updates from non-newsmakers remain the site’s biggest offering. And are the country’s main news organizations dominated by Shaquille O’Neal and Ashton Kutcher?

The consensus among the experts at the session: Twitter is here to stay, but instructors must teach good judgment in journalism schools.

Some other notes and quotes from the session:

  • One of the panelists compared Twitter to “junk food.”
  • Professor Steve Farnsworth said today’s journalistic environment does not lend itself well to educating good news consumers. “It is very hard for people to be responsible citizens in this environment,” were his exact words.
  • “There will be a very distinct for good journalists,” Kobayashi said. “Quality content will be highly sought after.”
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