Has Twitter encouraged journalism?

A journalism student in Australia (@jadelemoigne) contacted me last week (through good old fashioned email) to ask questions about Twitter and whether it was encouraging journalism.

I thought I would also blog the answers I gave, since this is a good question.

Dear Jade,

First off – its very difficult to separate Twitter from the rest of social media – it’s just one piece of the whole new information ecology that is transforming the way we access information. In general terms this shift is making traditional institutionalised media (and with it the journalists they employed) less relevant and creating processes that allow individuals to share with each other the information they need about the world.

Therefore – within my answers you could effectively substitute the term social media for Twitter. That said…

Is Twitter encouraging journalism?

Depends what you mean by journalism. At one level Twitter / social media is making less relevant the type of journalism that traditional journalists used to do, but at another level it is making it possible for everyone to ‘do’ journalism.  So it is doing away with the journalism business but at the same time liberating journalism from the institutionalised prison that has contained it.  The same is happening with music – social media is killing the music business while liberating music – so there is much more music available and it is much easier for people to create and share music.  But there will never be a band as big (and enduring) as U2 ever again and record labels are finished – some might say that is a good thing

At the same time – the traditional media (journalists) are using Twitter as a source of information, but this is a relatively temporary phenomenon until people work out that they do not need the journalist to be the bit in the middle.   In many ways the only reason journalists are doing this is because Twitter is better at it than them.  Twitter has already replaced the traditional media as the place where news breaks.

Has it affected the media?

Yes!  The media is gathering around Twitter as a source (as mentioned – see also the whole #iranelection issue) but ultimately social media will replace much of the media as we know it.   People are already starting to ask Twitter questions and get answers back – in reality they are not asking Twitter a question but using Twitter as a way of accessing the collective knowledge of the connected crowd.

Twitter and social media has also affected the media in that it has really pissed them off.  They (especially individual journalists) are accustomed to commanding what I call the sanctity of publication. The fact that this advatage is now available to all (and therefore no longer an advantage) makes them mad – one of the reasons many journalists refuse to accept or acknowledge social media even if their boses running the newspapers or TV stations realise the trouble they are in.  The BBC is a case in point – the corporation as a whole is really on the social media case and way ahead of the rest of the media in adapting to it.   However, many of the individual BBC journalists – especially the famous high profile ones – haven’t got a clue as to what is going on and think it is all nonsense.

Do you think new media communication will eventually replace newspapers?

Yes – new media communucation is the same as social media. However, there will probably still be some print based information forms left – but these will look very different from a current newspaper (see this ) and people won’t use them the same way.

Why was Twitter invented? What is Twitters ‘point’?

I rather suspect that the founders of Twitter did not really imagine the ways in which Twitter would eventually be used. For example the basic premise – “what are you doing?” does not really account for much of current Twitter usage which is more based around “what do you want to say / share?”. Important things such as #tags were not in original Twitter which rather indicates that the founders did not see how Twitter could be used to create conversation spaces.  However, I would imagine they had it in their mind that Twitter could be a sort-of connected global message board – which essentially is what it has become.

At another level altogether, Twitter has become what I call the third wave of media – the first wave being information that was locked into a particular form of distribution (e.g. a newspaper article of TV/Radio bulletin), the second being information that had achieved a level of independence / separation from its means or place of distribution (e.g. a blog post that not only sits in a blog, but can live in an RSS reader or be linked into other blog posts etc, or a video in YouTube embeded in a blog post or distributed as a link in a tweet).  The third wave is information that exists purely in space rather than a place.  Tweets don’t live in Twitter.com – they live in whatever tool people use to access them – tweetdeck, twhilr, seesmic etc.   Or they live in #tag spaces – which only exist in search or through the act of people searching.  Information that is totally spearated from distribution where its meaning and context is determined purely through spatial relationships and the act of observation is a way-strange place that probably borrows as much from quantam physics as it does from conventional information theory. No-one has really got their heads round this yet. I am sure none of this ever occured to Evan Williams and Biz Stone when they set-up Twitter!

Does Twitter play an important role in the development of our society?

Well – if you take all the previous answers into account – yes. Although it is obviously social media as a whole which will change the nature of society. Twitter’s particular role within social media is to be the front-line tool through which an individual will access the wisdom of the connected crowd.

Hope this helps!

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