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Management Today editor Matthew Gwyther is the latest print media veteran to stick the boot into Twitter, labelling it “a tedious fad we would do well to pull the G20 riot policeplug on”.

He lambasts the “news editors at the national newspapers” for wading into Twitter without adequate resources “to do it properly”, while accusing them of being “desperate to keep up with the Joneses”.

“The result is an unwholesome mess - a garbled Babel of nonsense that leaves you screaming for a return to the times when we could read all about it the day afterwards over our Cornflakes on a page of newsprint.”

Word to Matthew: you can read it afterwards! You don't have to tune in to Twitter! It will all become clear the next day.

But there’s a place for Twitter – and a place for real time reporting too...

In fact, Twitter is actually a godsend to media organisations, but it is worth considering what pushed Matthew to write such invective. 

Matthew’s column was a response to the coverage of the G20 protests. The media organisations attempted to convey a sense of being right in the middle of things, which Matthew defines as “mindless dumbing down in the search for ‘authenticity’ in the form of immediacy”

Partly he’s right. Some things just don’t work so well on Twitter, which is obviously limited by 140 characters and is no place to tell a story. It is however a great place to spread stories, pictures, video, and to interact. And it is pretty instantaneous, for good or ill.

And partly he’s wrong, because the problem of real time reporting is that often there is no news to speak of! Nothing necessarily happens. It’s all a bit mushy until the cold light of day, when reporters can make better sense of things. There are quality control issues. And in that respect, tomorrow’s newspaper articles may well provide a better round up of the ‘action’. 

That said, I prefer to watch a football match in real time than to read about it the next day. I prefer to see a gig than to read a review telling me how amazing (or rubbish) it was. And I quite like following real time ‘news’ events like the G20 protests. 

It seems to me that Matthew’s problem with Twitter is really just a problem with immediacy, and real time reporting. Twitter has its limitations, but covering live events on any platform is problematic.

Consider Sky News, which I had on in the background during the protests. For hours it beamed in live images from the City onto my TV. Occasionally it looked like a riot would actually happen, but for 99% of the time it was just a bunch of chanting interspersed with some pushing and shoving from about 0.01% of the crowd (which the cameras focused on, hoping against hope, that something newsworthy might happen). 

And as for the quality control… ‘lo-fi’ doesn’t even begin to describe many of the images that Sky News broadcast. It was as if the cameramen were using first generation cameraphones. The picture quality truly sucked, but you forgive the drop in standards. 

Why? Because there’s always a trade off to be had when you’re watching events unfold in real time, before reporters figure out where the news is, and before commentators can make sense of that news. 

Matthew is clearly no fan of Twitter (“With luck Twitter’s days will soon be numbered” – not likely) but in this instance I don’t think he should blame the platform. Maybe the execution, but as I mentioned, you can say the same thing about the ‘award winning’ Sky News team, or any other real time reporting.

Twitter is extremely useful for media organisations, for brands, and for people. It is my RSS reader, social bookmarking tool and watercooler. It is a highly efficient filter, for links and opinion. News may not break on Twitter (apart from the odd earthquake) but you certainly hear about things early on Twitter, if you tune into the right people.

[Image by Stuff and Nonsense on Flickr, various rights reserved]

Chris Lake

Published 3 April, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (1)


Rachel Burkot

I think Twitter is a platform for real-time reporting. Furthermore, it is a platform for involved conversation. Not only is Twitter immediate - constant updates lead the service to actively utilize real-time reports - but it is a two-way connection between the news industry and ordinary people. It is an "in" for the common person as far as news and the media are concerned. It has a great amount of potential here.

over 7 years ago

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