Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why do journalists love twitter and hate blogging?


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On this week's Reliable Sources Howard Kurtz had a brief (i.e. typically superficial) discussion with Politico's Ben Smith on journalists, Twitter, and blogging.

Kurtz did not address a question that i've been pondering for some time: why did journalists flock to the new technology of Twitter when they spend years denouncing the slightly less new technology of weblogs? I find the question especially interesting because Twitter seems to have all the bad aspects of blogging and none of its strengths. Smith offers two reasons why he tweets so much despite being paid to blog: Twitter is faster and it is now the dominant medium of online political “conversation”.
KURTZ: We're back with Politico's Ben Smith. And Ben, you're a pretty prolific blogger, but you told "Adweek" that writing on Twitter, as so many of us in the news racket do, is sort of draining the life from the blog. Explain.

SMITH: Well, I mean, I love writing my blog, and plan to keep doing it. But in 2008, during the presidential election, the quickest way you could find out a new piece of information was often to hit "refresh" on my blog or on Mark Anvander's (ph) blog, or on somebody else's blog, because we were working kind of directly from, say, the event we were at. We were typing the notes up faster, we were getting information faster than anybody else, and putting it online. So, you know, it was incredibly intense, but incredibly fun, because you just had the sense people were hitting "refresh" on your blog to find out what had just happened and what was going to happen next.

KURTZ: And now?

SMITH: And now that is on Twitter, the sort of central conversation about what just happened, what's happening next, what did somebody say, what's the response? That's either being reported on Twitter or actually just being tweeted by the players themselves. And so I think --

KURTZ: So if the blog is where you earn your paycheck, and on Twitter you're basically giving it away for free to your 50,000 followers, why tweet so much?

SMITH: Well, I mean, because it's where the action is, because it's where -- you know, politics hopefully (ph) is this conversation, fundamentally. And Twitter isn't just this place where you're kind of having this conversation with your fellow reporters, or this sort of side conversation. It's become, I think, kind of the central conversation, and so you just sort of have to be there.

Speed is an established measure for score-keeping among journalists. I'm not sure that it means much to the “political conversation” in the country at large (See It's Only a Game). Nonetheless, I can see how a reporter can get caught up in the “urge to be first” among his peers. And by that standard, tweeting beats blogging hands down.

Not every reporter thinks Smith's game is worth playing. After he won a Pulitizer at the New York Times, David Halberstam left the paper to go to work for Harper's magazine. There, he was overworked, underpaid, and liberated.
The real tyranny of journalism has always been the lack of time and lack of space to break away from the pack. And then suddenly we were working for Harper's and we had six weeks on a piece! Six thousand words if need be! And emancipation from all those dopey rules which inhibit real reporting.
(Willie Morris, New York Days)

 I've argued before that the blogosphere (and enterprising, aspiring reporters) were wrong to take speed as the primary advantage blogs had over the MSM. (See here and here).

I wrote this about the decline of blogging and I think it helps explain why the MSM is happy to see the “conversation” shift to Twitter.

All in all, this is good news for the MSM. They may shrink in size and profitability, but they will still control the narrative. Both posts note that Twitter and Facebook have dented the growth in blog readership. Neither of these present the same challenge to the MSM as blogs. Snarky tweets about MoDo or Howard Kurtz are quick and easy but they don't change many minds. They are just background noise.

Blogs, especially the long-form blogging that Den Beste did or that Neo-neocon still does, has the potential to break the MSM's monopoly on "explanation space". That's what KC Johnson did in the Duke lacrosse case, what Powerline did in Rathergate, and what 2d Amendment bloggers have been doing for years.

Blogging was a direct attack on MSM hegemony at both the micro (fisking) and macro levels (explanation space). I just don't see Twitter as the same threat. It is a flood of unmemorable chatter that is easy to ignore. Blogging had the potential to break the power of the MSM guild. Bloggers, at their best, presented arguments. Arguments can both change minds on the immediate subject and undermine the credibilty of those establishment pundits who present weak cases on a regular basis. (Yes, i'm looking at you Brooks and Frum).

At a minimum, blogging brought a lot of outsiders to the pundit/editor game. Twitter seems more useful as a way for insiders like Kurtz to extent their brand and magnify their voice.

It is one of those quirks of history. One new thing is revolutionary. The next new thing consolidated the position of the powers that be.

UPDATE:  Don Surber (Thanks for the link!) has the line of the day:  "Just like Goliath preferred the Army of ADHD Kids over the Army of Davids."


crypticguise said...

The answer is simple, Twitter is GARBAGE. Blogging takes thought and an expression of ideas which can be challenged or affirmed.

Journalists really aren't that well informed or choose to ignore much of the FACTS that reject their purile liberal opinions.

The Ghost said...

This is more or less why I never got into Twitter. It seems mostly to be a PR tool. It's a way for famous people to interact with other famous people and journalists. But hey, if your one tweet in a million catches the eye of your betters, you could receive a retweet! Of course, this is based on the amusement or aggravation of the more accomplished personage, and it's unlikely that many of your eyeballs are going to become long term followers because your Twitter feed is mostly sandwich blogging to your friends.

The original vision of Twitter (microblogging via texts) has been mostly obviated by smartphones, and the current iteration is tawdry and useless unless you're selling something or enraptured by the thought that celebrities are humans.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you've been following any of the Daily Caller kerfluffle over their Tyson inspired hit piece of Sarah Palin, but one of their writers, Sean Medlock, who writes under the pen name Jim Treacher, has been frequenting many of the blogs that have been discussing this incident. His 'contributions' such as they are have been attempts to deny, or otherwise mitigate the damage to Daily Caller.

What I find intersting, and relevant to your essay, is that the vast majority of his comments, accross multiple blogs, have essentially taken the form of tweets. Numerous times other participants have attempted to draw him into offering some more complete thoughts or actual arguments, but unfailingly he has restricted himself to very brief quips and one liners.

Clearly it is intentional. You touch on some likely reasons. I suspect another is that it is a mechanism for limiting their exposure. The less said, the less there is to explain, and less that one must remain consistent with. Those free standing quips are often very context limited, leaving the author free to re-contextualize them as desired.

It's not just a lazy method of discourse, it is also often deeply dishonest.

www.pointsandfigures.com said...

I am not sure I agree with your premise that Twitter consolidates establishment power. Blogging takes work, thought. Twitter doesn't. Twitter is also readily consumed like a cupcake. Reading blogs is preparing and eating, and cleaning up after dinner.

Much easier for establishment to get followers, but they tend to use Twitter as a megaphone.

Get where you are going, but not sure I am with you.

Serket said...

I love blogging and hate Twitter, but that's mainly because I don't understand the culture of it or what the various symbols mean. There also seems to an expectation that you need to update your account more frequently than with a blog.

blue star said...

I have a Twitter account, but I've only sent out maybe three tweets in the six months I've had it. I just don't need to indulge my vanity in that way. In fact, I mostly just use it to keep up on blogs.

Also, you wrote, "Blogging had the potential to break the power of the MSM guild." Had?

craig said...

Blue star:

Yes, i'm pretty pessimistic about the blogging's potential right now. Readership is not growing (thanks partly to Facebook and Twitter). The bloggers linked in this post:
explain it in some detail.

KA said...

Twitter is a distribution channel for journalists and blogging is mostly unpaid content?

Johnny said...

Because "journalists" are holding dearly to the idea and image of being more than mere citizens, that of some celebrity. They are granted this image by MSM and the game of Politics itself, via connections and access, exclusive things. Twitter perpetuates celebrity very well, because Twitter, like MSM, is essentially one-way transmission of information: it's a broadcast. It is funny that Kurtz-and I don't know Kurtz from Joe the Plumber--should say Twitter is where the "conversation" is, because there are exactly zero conversations on Twitter, and you can check that stat back to day one. At most there is an exchange or two. Is that what passes for intercourse?

niltyson said...

I have Twitter account and its really helpful to me to increase my business. The real news was the tyranny of time constraints and lack of space to break the bag away.

Toronto IT Services

Tina said...

Good blog - I've bookmarked you and will spend some time looking through.

Are journalists who love twitter real journalists, or are they sloganists who are more concerned with the size of their audience than the intrinsic value of their work? Is Twitter really much different than the old scrolling java chats?

I've written about the evolution of internet media, and how supposed "new technologies"...aren't. On the internet just putting up a new html fence seems to set the world abuzzing.

Blogging isn't going anywhere, and neither is amateur journalism. Before blogs, it was mimeographed newsletters. Before those it was letters to the editor. Before that it was teens with toy printing presses in the AAPA.

All that will happen is the brand names of the tools will change, and different writers gain high profiles.

I will admit I would like to have a little tool to better display brief posts or quotes, but twitter isn't it. And at heart I am a long-form writer. Heck I've written 250 word sentences.

I'm a hobby blogger, but my little blog puts my unique PoV out there. And I continually run into more great blogs than I have time to read!

Unknown said...

You were added to my blogroll.

Linda Fox said...

Blogger, for professional journalists, has the downside that it was designed for interaction with the reader. It must be demoralizing to write a thoughtful, reasoned piece, then to have commenters destroy it within minutes of criticism. This isn't what used to happen in journalism - the comments previously had to go through an editor (AFTER being written on paper, and sent through the mail). As a result, reporters experienced little blowback, regardless of the inadequacy of their work.

In contrast, Twitter is a little like those offhand remarks we all make in passing. Takes little time, generally not long-lasting in impact, and favors the facile, snide bon mot.

AND, a whole lot easier than actual writing.