In this evolving world of digital media, Twitter has surfaced as the most revolutionary tool for journalists. This social network fosters an online environment that encourages reporters, in all avenues of media, to create their own distinct, personal brand. Indeed, “Twitter and social media represent a new, powerful platform to broadcast news, crowd source leads and stories, and expand the media’s role and earned relevance in the new age of media” (Schultz 95). However, this branding effect results in a separation between journalists and the news outlets they work for, creating the possibility of a reduced influence with the traditional news outlet, and allowing journalists to publish without editorial oversight.
For journalists, Twitter is foremost an outlet for personal interaction and a media platform that is favorable for promoting and managing a manicured self-image. At it’s core, it’s changing the way audiences interact with traditional media. Among all the social media networks, reporters prefer Twitter for social media reporting, above Facebook and blogging (103). “The collision of journalism and technology is having major consequences for three constituencies: journalists, newsmakers and the audience” (96). Some widely known journalists now have Twitter followings that are almost as large as the circulation of their newspapers or viewership of their TV shows (106). In 2011, even before Twitter exploded with users, reporter Laura Kuenssberg left her job as BBC head political correspondent to take a position with a rival network, ITV News. When she left BBC, Kuenssberg took with her 60,000 followers on Twitter (95). Popular reporters are able to amass a huge number of followers. For example, Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski has more than 97,000 followers and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has nearly 1.5 million followers. Historically with traditional media, the only name recognition reporters had was at the top of their story with the byline. But now, aided by the spread of Twitter, reporters can directly connect readers with stories, and even add commentary, through a simple tweet.
When big news is revealed, I believe there’s less of a fervor surrounding which outlet broke the story and more interest in the reporter that wrote the article. Look to Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian as an example. He became widely known after The Guardian published reports unveiling confidential actions of the U.S. mass surveillance programs, based on documents disclosed by Edward Snowden. Since the story broke, Greenwald has been at the forefront of the discussion on the ethics of the decision, often utilizing Twitter to make his points. Social media enables Greenwald to be in the spotlight, advancing his image and highlighting his work. Journalists no longer need the audience to pick up a newspaper or turn on a TV channel for their work to be read. Now, with Twitter, journalists are able to publicize their stories themselves, even before the story comes out the next day. Social media is making the traditional news distribution model obsolete.
Twitter has become instrumental in reporting news as it develops, furthering empowering journalists. It’s not enough for the audience to read about an event the day after happened, they want to know live developments as they come in. Twitter is particularly advantageous for spreading information during mass tragedies. In 2011, journalists Paul Lewis with The Guardian and Ravi Somalya with The New York Times were the most frequently mentioned international journalists on Twitter during the UK riots. They actively tweeted during four days the riots went on, and discovered that Twitter is a valuable tool for crisis communication (Vis). Information was shared, revealed and discussion via computer screens across the globe.
More recently, The Denver Post won a Pulitzer for its breaking news coverage on the Aurora theater shooting. Judges cited The Denver Post’s use of “journalistic tools, from Twitter and Facebook to video and written reports, both to capture a breaking story and to provide context”. Denver Post reports used the hashtag “#theatershooting” to spread and share what was happening on the scene. In the newspaper’s application for the Pulitzer, it said the people who follow @denverpost and our reporters and editors knew what we knew — immediately” (Post). Twitter eliminates the need for the restrictive editing process of a traditional outlet, news is delivered directly from journalist to reader, without the middleman process of editing.
Yet the removal of the careful editing system outlets employ creates the possibility of unfiltered content from journalists that is untrue, and even dangerous. The mistakes journalists have made on Twitter are countless: factual errors, poor grammar, misinterpreted information. But a select few wrong tweets have received a lot of attention. For example, which is one among many, a reporter for a North Carolina TV station falsely accused New York Yankees players Robinson Cano of failing a performance-enhancing drug test. Dan Tordjman, the reporter, tweeted that he expected Major League Baseball to suspend Cano. He later publicly apologized and Charlotte’s WSOC-TV donated money to the Robinson Cano Foundation (Marchand).
Information verification is a challenge on social media, especially with the rapid fire style of Twitter, where reporters feel an urgent need to be the first to release information. Journalists can now operate outside of the vacuum of a newsroom, on social networks where there is no limit to what they can say. Yes, outlets can write and enforce social media policies, but it’s ultimately up to the journalist to tweet whatever comes to mind. It’s difficult to enforce a blanket policy when journalists are now empowered in so many ways on social media. This newfound independence creates the possibility that big name journalists can exist entirely without a larger publication to stand behind. The future of the media lies in the hands of individual journalists, who hold the ability to directly shape content and coverage, rather than the media corporations.
Andrew Marchand. “Reporter Apologizes for False tweet.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 05 Oct. 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2013.
The Denver Post. “Aurora Theater Shootings. #theatershooting.” N.p., n.d. Web.
Schultz, Brad. “Name Brand: The Rise of the Independent Reporter through Social Media.” (2012): n. pag. Web.
Vis, Farida. “Twitter as a Reporting Tool for Breaking News.” (2012): n. pag. Print.