Can you commit journalism via Twitter?

Today on Twitter Tips, Jason Preston asks:

“Journalism requires that stories been constructed, facts be tied together, narratives presented, and context created. In short, journalism is the big picture.

“No one would argue that you can get the pig picture in 140 characters. But what about aggregate tweets? One person over a long time, or many people over a large subject?

“Is Twitter a viable, standalone medium for journalism?”

I think this quesion misses the mark regarding the nature of journalism. It confuses the package with the process. That’s understandable, because in the history of mainstream news, journalists and news organizations have often taken a “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” approach to revealing their own processes. When all the public sees is the product, it’s easy to assume that’s all there is to journalism.

Here’s the comment I left on his post:

Hmmmm…. I do journalism, and I know a lot of journalists, and I’ve seen what Twitter can do. It seems to me that any medium — from Twitter to broadcast news to smoke signals — has potential journalistic uses.

Journalism is a process, not just a product. For many professional journalists and other people who commit acts of journalism, Twitter is already an important part of their journalistic process (i.e., connecting with communities and sources, and gathering information). And it can also be part of the product (i.e., live coverage of events or breaking news, or updates to ongoing stories or issues)

So yes, Twitter CAN be a real news platform. As well as lots of other things. Just like a newspaper can be the Washington Post, the National Enquirer, or a free shopper’s guide. It all depends on what you choose to make of it.

And also: These days, almost no news medium is “standalone.” Every news org has a web presence, and many have a presence in social media, and also in embeddable media.

…That’s my take. What’s yours? Please comment below — or send a Twitter reply to @agahran

One thought on “Can you commit journalism via Twitter?

  1. It’s too early to provide an answer that is anything more than opinion.

    Preston points to “recent trends in publishing and digital tools” as the reasons for questioning the definition of the words journalist, reporter, and “newsman.”

    1. Should we reconsider the very definition of any word based on “RECENT trends?” In Twitter’s case, can a single tool — not even three years old — change so as to redefine three words.

    2. If we assume that we SHOULD re-examine words as tools emerge, when do we stop? Since tools are constantly evolving, are definitions now moving targets?

    3. Does it matter? Michelle Golden, a non-journalist Twitter newbie recently listed “invaluable on emerging news” as one the benefits of using Twitter ( As an example, she pointed to the Orange County Register’s recent use of the tool during the Southern California fires. Call it journalism. Call it news. Call it programming. The non-journalist Twitter newbie called it “invaluable” and said that it relieved her worries “in a way nothing else did.” And that is all that matters. Full disclosure: I work for the Register and helped create that Twitter page. Golden describes herself as the president of a marketing firm. To the best of my knowledge, her company does not work with the Register, and her blog post was completely unsolicited.

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