ABJ Reflective Blog

17 May

I have had a twitter account for a couple of years now, but only started using it in earnest in February when it was added as an assessment item for my advanced broadcast journalism unit. Before, I used it mainly as a ‘news feed’ and didn’t interact with other users. I would only check in once or twice a week, and as I didn’t have a ‘smart phone’ it wasn’t much use to me as a mobile news service. At the start of the semester, I had twenty followers, most of whom were ‘bots’, compared to my 165 real followers now.

What a difference a few months have made. Now, like ABC’s Mark Scott, Twitter is one of the first things I check when I wake in the morning. Placed between emails and Facebook on my electronic priority list, I check it via my new iphone or computer every couple of hours. I’ve also enabled ‘push notifications’ that alerts me every time I get a ‘mention’ or direct message. This allows me to respond in real time, just like I would to a traditional text message or phonecall.

Following the rest of my classmates on twitter created an instant community of people I knew in real life who I could exchange ideas with and learn from. I found this crossed over into the ‘real world’ and let me learn more about my classmates who I may have never spoken to in person in the previous two years of my degree. Uniting under the ‘hashtag’ #abj, it became easy to follow each other and tweet about our assessments. This progressed to other hashtags for different units, online journalism became #oj or #juice, sports journalism became #sj and investigative became #ij.

This is an apparent benefit of Twitter, creating a virtual community of people with similar interests and beliefs and enhanced my learning immensly. Having direct access to our tutors, lectures and team mates streamlined the often slow academic communication process.

I also had the benefit of being able to see how twitter was utilised in one of the fastest moving news environments for my job at the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Whilst my current ‘social media policy’ forbids me from ‘live tweeting’ press conferences, I was able to ‘follow’ other journalists and get a head start on stories I otherwise wouldn’t have known about until I got the release half an hour later. Journalism isn’t usually known for having a team like nature, but utilising twitter has promoted information exchange within the press gallery and beyond.

In addition to information exchange, twitter has enabled me to personally connect with other journalists that I usually wouldn’t come into contact with. From discussing Lord of the Rings with James Massola, to asking Mark Colvin if he would like to be in Egypt during their social revolution, I have been able to have conversations that I only could have dreamed of having last year.

I have found Twitter is an easy ‘icebreaker’ topic to bring up when meeting other journalists for the first time, and a way to delve into deeper conversations instead of the usual ‘who do you work for?’. I have found that you either love it or you hate it. A self confessed ‘dinosaur’ of the Press Gallery said that he thought it was a fad which wouldn’t be around in five years. He didn’t see the point of tweeting something, if he had a yarn to tell he’d much rather write an article about it. He also drew a link between tweeting and the ‘dumbing down’ of journalism, which he says is lacking the depth and analysis it used to have.

Others have made a career out of it. Latika Bourke was head-hunted by the ABC after following her twitter feed which live-tweeted press conferences she was at. Bourke is a prolific tweeter and is now ABC’s first social media reporter. She said in an interview with Mia Freedman that twitter has drastically changed the political news cycle, and maybe it’s too fast now.

Logically, if you speed up the news cycle, you will loose accuracy and depth of detail. Whilst the news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke to the world via Twitter, the tweets only contained the bare minimum information. The detailed account came after Obama’s speech and that information couldn’t be contained in just one tweet. Journalist either had to ‘live tweet’ the speech or post a link to another lengthy article somewhere else on the web.

Journalists who are quick to jump the gun are usually found typing retraction tweets a few days later. Continuing with the Osama theme, many journalists tweeted that Osama used his wife as a human shield moments before he was shot in Pakistan. The official story from the U.S military revealed a few days later that in-fact his wife had rushed at the soldiers, trying to attack them. Those that had tweeted it then had to decide whether to tweet to correct it, or let it slide. I imagine these ‘facts’ wouldn’t be published by a newspaper or put in a news bulletin without thorough fact checking more than ‘I saw it on twitter’.

I can certainly see the benefits of Twitter, and intend to keep using it, but I’m more than a little reluctant to sing its praises too loudly. I think quality journalism needs depth, clarity and facts that have been checked and explained; characteristics that are often left by the way side in breaking news on Twitter.

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