My husband and his friends have fairly regular political debates and I usually duck and cover. I avoid those “conversations” at all costs.
But. He was telling me about a recent discussion in his group, similar to one that’s been playing out all over the world recently, and I just cannot stay out of it.
If I hear one more seemingly intelligent person say that Twitter is going to replace newspapers, I will … well, I don’t know what I’ll do, but it won’t be pleasant.
I have nothing against social media. I have a Twitter account and I’m on Facebook, too. I think both are great for keeping up with what’s going on with friends and acquaintances and I think it’s a fantastic way to get information out in a hurry to a lot of people who are in no way connected. Through social media posts, I’ve gotten hooked up with sales and been invited to parties; I’ve congratulated friends on their weddings and “met” their new babies and comforted them through hard times; I’ve connected with people who share my interests in books and movies and current events through social media posts. Heck, you may even have come across this post through a link on a social media site.
But no one will ever convince me that I can get the same news in a 140-character update that I can in a newspaper article. And you won’t convince me that you can, either.
I’m not sure what goes into the thought processes of folks making the argument that that kind of thing is possible – maybe they’ll enlighten me – but I’m guessing it’s either that they think we can get important news blurbs from random Twitterers, making official news reporting obsolete, or just that we can get quick access to news links through Twitter.
As for the former, there have indeed been situations in which people who are witnessing or who are involved in disasters, crimes, etc. have updated their Twitter accounts from their cell phones so we get little snapshots – sometimes invaluable snapshots, in cases where it’s difficult or impossible for others to get to the scene – of what’s unfolding from their unique perspectives at precisely the moment they’re experiencing it. I don’t underestimate the value of those, but again – they’re just snapshots. Plus, I know firsthand the adrenaline rush that can come from being in the middle of a dramatic event – it can skew perspective and allow for misinterpretation and misinformation. Pairing those Tweets with actual on-the-ground reporting that puts everything together in a coherent, comprehensive story would give a much clearer picture of what’s really happening than any of us could get by depending solely on what someone like @aubiejones sees from his vantage point. It’s not that @aubiejones isn’t capable of telling us the news as he sees it, it’s just that what he sees isn’t going to be all there is to it, see?
As I understand it, news reporters from various agencies have Tweeted from the events they were covering – sending out little sound bytes before hitting their laptops or returning to their newsrooms to write their real stories. Also as I understand it, most found that only a few followers were interested enough to keep up. That isn’t exactly a vote in favor of Twitter as a legitimate news source in my book.
And it goes without saying that there are plenty of Twitter users who may not be of the same caliber as @aubiejones. There are plenty of Twitter users who have their own agendas, who are simply interested in promoting their own projects and products and opinions and aren’t the slightest bit interested in whether you’re looking to them for unbiased information. There are probably even more Twitter users who just are not interested in sharing anything important or accurate.
Did you ever play the game Gossip when you were a kid? You know, where you whisper in someone’s ear and they whisper what they think they heard in their neighbor’s ear and so on and so on? And then when it gets to the end, it’s a mere shadow of what you said and everyone has a good laugh and says, ‘Hey, that was fun. Let’s play again!’ Imagine how dangerous and unreliable that kind of game would be if it was your only way of getting news about the world around you. Scary, huh?
As for the latter, a link does not create itself, dummy. A link is (usually) the result of some hard-working journalists who have done their best in the time they’re allowed to pull together all the information they can find on a topic and get it to you as fast as they can. And in more than 140 characters, I can assure you.
Oh, yeah, there are problems in the newspaper industry. Big problems, not the least of which is that it too often depends on paper to get information to readers rather than allowing them access with a few keyboard punches. But the idea that Twitter can give you anything close to the same level of coverage that newspapers can is easily summed up in the space of a Tweet: RIDICULOUS.