Twitter and Journalistic Decline

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Disclosure: I am a former military journalist – awarded journalist, I may add. I worked about 10 years as a reporter, redactor, and editor for various printed publications, radio stations and television. I consider blogging and certain uses of social media a form of journalism, and I expect a lot from online publications like CNN, NBC, CNET, etc. The following is my personal opinion about a piece I read on CNN today.

“A plane carrying California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made an emergency landing Friday evening after the cockpit filled with smoke, his office said in a statement.”

The first paragraph could fool you: you might be tempted to believe that CNN’s Amanda O’Donnell actually covered the news about this unfortunate incident. This is not the case. The reporter is focused more on Schwarzenegger’s Twitter activities after the event:

“California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called his plane’s emergency landing “a little adventure” on Twitter.”

The article goes on explaining how Schwarzenegger confirmed the incident with a tweet and a photo of the jet on the tarmac. Some arbitrary mentions about the pilot and the fact that no one was injured follow and the author concludes her article with:

Twitter is a social networking site that allows users to update what they are doing using 140 characters or less.

This is an article that contains a little bit more than 170 words, and about 1000 characters including spaces: 7-8 tweets would be enough to publish the news out-there.

Why am I criticizing the article? Well, there is something more to the news than Arnold tweeting about the “little adventure.” When something like this happens, any self-respecting journalist would at least attempt to do more than relating news received via Associated Press (where the AP coverage is at least more professional, focusing on the incident rather than on Arnold’s tweets). Reuters has covered the incident too, with no mention of a tweet.

In Amanda O’Donnell’s defense: none of the publications reporting the news did more than “reporting” or paraphrasing press releases. But, what really should raise questions is the title O’Donnell considers appropriate for the news: Schwarzenegger tweets about jet’s emergency landing.

Is tweeting really more important than some people who were close to a very unfortunate accident? Are we really so blinded by the Twitter social media phenomenon that we forget what matters in life?

I suppose it all boils down to what is important for people. Herein resides the biggest problem with Twitter. The effect of “limiting” ourselves and everyone else to “Arnold Almost Died Last Night, but Tweeted Details”, leaves us gathered, waiting, anticipating and in the end wanting for substance.

There is nothing wrong with people enjoying Twitter or any other medium of communication, but when the means outweighs the ends, in this case, something is going terribly wrong. I know many will not see this, in light of their fascination with lifestreaming, but consider this; “If the lives we are streaming, have become so mundane and jaded with regard to depth of living, import and unlimited expression – how can immersing ourselves in Twitter be of any use?”

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Comments

  1. says

    The headline caught my attention, singling it out from the others reporting the same thing. Having a quote from Arnie, albeit in a tweet, is somehow more personal and more immediate than a pre-planned media quote by his spokesman so I can see the reason for using it in the article. I am not sure it was wise though, in that readers would be leaving the CNN site in droves, heading off to Twitter to see if Arnie had said more, rather than continuing to read more CNN news.

    Twitter often breaks the news before other media; people on the spot tweet about what is happening and their reactions. This is not mundane. It can make you feel closer to what is going on. There may not be any eloquently fashioned sentences involved but facts are given and feelings expressed and shared.

  2. Mihaela Lica says

    Sometimes, good business is detrimental for certain values. To be honest I also use headlines that bring traffic, I do SEO for all the sites, for the same reasons, but I think there should be a point where we draw the line… As I said, this is only my opinion. :)

  3. says

    I guess I look at it a little differently from my non-journalistic background.

    The media is first and foremost a business. Their job is not so much to produce “hard news” as it is to produce content people want to consume. Without people consuming their content they can’t stay in business. The current state of the newspaper industry is proof of that.

    Twitter is a hot topic right now, especially in the US. On Oprah, the cover of Time Magazine, etc. Mentioning it gets people’s attention. And that’s just good business sense in my mind.

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