A media friend and/or foe

The old adage suggests being talked about, no matter in what context, is infinitely preferable to being ignored. If this is the case then both Twitter and the Daily Mail should be very happy indeed.

The Mail’s little pop at Twitter earlier in the week is still bouncing round assorted discussions on the web, including a fake Daily Mail Twitter feed being created as a by-product.

Chris Applegate is the latest to add his thoughts on the We Are Social blog, with a prediction that not only is Twitter close to reaching tipping point, but also postulating that the likes of the Mail are coming up with negative stories about the site as they see it as a threat:

“Celebrities no longer need the intermediary of celeb magazines and gossip columns, and the Mail is among those newspapers who rely heavily on such content. Hence the hostility to Twitter. Twitter either has reached or is about to reach (a matter of recent debate between Vikki Chowney and myself) its tipping point in the UK. Just like other forms of social media in the past – such as blogs, Facebook or Wikipedia – the mainstream media are now moving on from treating it as a distraction to treating it as a threat. With outright hostility now the flavour of the day, are we beginning to see the endgame being played out? People are more likely to use online rather than newspapers in the UK and now even in the US for their news, and with the double whammy of newspaper sales declining and a recession reducing ad revenues, expect them to put up a fight to the bitter end.”

It’s certainly a school of thought, especially when you get a service like @BreakingNewsOnline building its reputation and speed entirely through Twitter. As TechCrunch notes, its now practically a newswire.

However, a small bit of facetiousness from me aside, I’m not quite sure things are quite that clear cut, both for Twitter as a threat and a tool to hasten the demise of the newspaper.

Firstly, it’s impossible to tell whether the Mail sees it as a threat, or just something that doesn’t fit in with their editorial policy and is fair game (well, Jonathan Ross does use it). I suspect probably a touch of both.

As for the celebrity aspect, again there is that level of threat to those aspects of the print media that rely on celebrity content to fill pages (although I suspect the Mail would still do reasonably well sales-wise if celeb content was to vanish overnight). The celebs are, after all talking directly to the great unwashed. Or getting somebody to do the talking for them.

But that’s still a sanitised level of communication (not that there’s anything wrong with this). Yes, it’s direct and yes, it’s a Very Good Thing that so many celebs are happy to hop onto Twitter and interact. But scandal and gossip and unflattering pictures of famous people doing silly things still sell, and you’re less likely to find that on Twitter. That aspect of the paper is, I think, safe for the time being.

Twitter has also shown its usefulness as a newsgathering source. With each new piece of breaking news, Twitter takes it up another notch. Today, I knew Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was being impeached just by glancing at the TwitScoop widget in netvibes.

I won’t go over old ground covered many times before on here, but using the search functions available for Twitter and cross-referencing with other tools, it’s possible for a journalist to get a pretty accurate picture of a breaking news event via the microblogging site.

What’s more, if the journalist is on Twitter, it’s a chance to get eyewitness accounts for your copy without having to go through more time-consuming processes. We already see news stories take quotes from Facebook and MySpace pages as a matter of course. Twitter can’t be that far away. Again, in the case of Jonathan Ross, 140 characters from him constitutes a news story. Again, there’s enough material for newspapers to work with and sell with Twitter.

And then there’s actually getting down to the nitty gritty of Twitter and sharing and interacting. Steve Davies’ list of journalists and PR people on Twitter has now got individual media organisations publishing their own lists of employees who use the site, primarily to enhance communications between, well, journalists / PRs and everybody else. But also in the interests of transparency and putting human faces to what often are quite large organisations.

Ben Ayers has done a list of ITV staff on Twitter, while Shane Richmond has done the same for the Telegraph. I’m sure the Guardian have done one as well, although I can’t find the link.

So beyond the banal, the daily musings, and the celebrity Tweets, it’s clear these ‘old’ media organisations (of which I am a part of one: ITV) see value in bringing the conversation onto Twitter. For my work, certainly, it’s a vital tool.

It’s also worth noting that Twitter is a tool, a conversation process, a means to and end, not an end in itself. It still has a relatively blank slate in terms of what to do with it. People make their own definitions and uses. There’s no one definition beyond microblogging yet, because so many of us use it for different things. This will come with time.

The breaking news and the celebrity Twitterers do indeed perhaps make it a potential threat to traditional media, but it also offers chances for traditional media to enhance their own output. It co-exists rather than threaten.

Newly-redundant journalists taking their skills online? Now that’s far much more of a threat.

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