A few weeks ago I made a visit to the New York Times newsroom. Walking past a cubicle, I was introduced to Bill Keller, the Editor-in-Chief. Upon learning I work at Twitter, he said back, “I’m actually writing a piece about Twitter right now.”
“Go easy on us,” I joked.
His piece, The Twitter Trap, came out yesterday.
Here is my response, which I wrote personally and not on behalf of Twitter.
I enjoyed the thoughtfulness in Bill Keller’s piece, The Twitter Trap. But more than that, I found parts of it to be distracting indications that the Editor is still debating what value social media brings to his disoriented industry.
For journalism and news, social media, especially Twitter, has turned traditional media consumers into real-time informants. Their conversations have become real-time data points. And as we saw two weeks ago on the night of Osama bin Laden’s death, Twitter is filling the gap of the traditional wires. It has become the unintentional platform that supports sources in breaking news and disaster settings.
While Keller no doubt has an awareness of what goes on in his newsroom, I wonder why he left this out. It was Twitter’s perceived shortcoming, complexity and context, that actually helped to power newsrooms the day after bin Laden’s death with stats and verification around how the conversation bubbled up – and how users, based on the luck of location and the curiosity of cause, became the newsrooms most valuable assets.
It became known that Twitter’s perceived weakness: context – might actually be its strength.
The thing I always come back to, in thinking about the future of journalism is its past. Journalism, as pointed out by PEW’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, is grounded in the concept that “democracy depends on citizens having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context.” In this moment, news organizations have the chance to learn from Twitter’s inimitable utility and with it renew their commitment to values of the old by accepting that they can work with tools of the new.
As Keller pointed out, Twitter is not just an ambient presence. It demands attention and response. And this is exactly why Twitter matters to the reconstruction of news.
All things considered, this seems like a reasonable price to pay.