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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Twitter Is Not The Future Of News

Partially crossposted here.

Isn’t anyone else a little skeptical? Can anyone point to a demonstrable instance where Twitter proved superior to CNN in breadth, timeliness, and accuracy of coverage? It takes you what, 5 seconds to go to CNN.com and see what’s up? Twitter? I don’t know; there are maybe three actual Iranians who’ve posted about this (Twitter’s blocked there, no?), and probably only two of them substantially and/or in English. The resulting noise makes it impossible to find what you want without spending hours on Twitter. It’s simply not efficient.
The problem with Twitter I found was that the more people became interested the higher the noise to signal ratio, which made following something like #IranElection rather frustrating, though still interesting. So, while Twitter is a great input device, there is noise, possibly incorrect/misleading tweets, and so cross checking and all that great journalistic stuff still needs to be done…. which some news outlets (like ABC) seem to be doing better and more quickly than CNN at this point
.Add to that innumerable language barriers, the fact that in many places of interest hardly anyone uses the internet (they’re still working up to CNN, guys), and the reluctance of the average Joe to invest time in reporting original news*, and you have reason to be extremely suspicious of claims that a proprietary blogging platform each of whose posts can be no longer than 140 characters is the future of news.

Remember how it used to be that blogs were the future of media? That posts written by average people on the ground would create a web of news and content that would replace traditional news? Hasn’t happened. In fact, for a trend so supposedly irreversible, one might reasonably expect at least a partial takeover of media, especially after 5 freaking years of blogging. Sure, you have lots of great opinion and analysis, but basically no original reporting unconnected with large organizations. These ridiculous, masturbatory “citizen journalism” fantasies aren’t reality in even the United States; how can we expect otherwise for Iran?

Now, maybe Twitter-like** news services are the future. If so, the following substantial requirements must be met:

1. Everyone must have a phone with constant internet access and picture and video capabilities.
2. Everyone must be eager to post to a server somewhere when something eventful happens.
3. Everyone must be around everyone; that is, the population must be dense enough that a car crash, for example, will be noticed immediately.

Once these are realized, we can begin to talk seriously about Twitter as the future of news. But nowhere on earth do they all currently obtain. Most countries don't even have step 1 met yet, and those that do, like Japan, don't have populations that meet 2. It is unclear whether 2 and 3 will ever apply anywhere. But even if they will, I still doubt Twitter-like news services will be able to replace traditional ones. What are today's important stories? They consist mostly of political analysis, not the reporting of events. Twitter may someday be used successfully to report, say, car accidents***, but North Korean provocations? I have my doubts. At this point, it's a safe bet that such predictions as these are little more than furious circle jerking around an object of some, but not unlimited, promise.

*Wikipedia is the counter-example. But Wikinews, the more accurate comparison, has gone absolutely nowhere. It seems there is a limit to our willingness to contribute free content, and that limit is on-the-ground, original reporting.
**Twitter is just a proprietary network of servers -- it is the concept that's valuable.
***Even these, though -- original reporting of even small events is hard to come by. Old News dominates here too.

1 comment:

  1. Arieh, you just wanted to mention circle jerks.

    ReplyDelete