How Journalists Will Be Affected If Twitter Dies Under Elon Musk
Few will lose as journalists if Twitter dies, having grown to rely on its endless sources and instant updates despite the risks and distortions that come with it.
There has been heated talk about the speaker’s demise since billionaire Elon Musk took over last month and began laying off dozens of employees.
But many journalists “can’t walk,” said Nic Newman, of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “It’s actually the most important part of their job.”
Newman was working at the BBC when Twitter started making waves in 2008 and 2009.
“It was a new Rolodex, a new way to connect with people – fun with case studies and … experts,” he said.
But Twitter has also become a contender, replacing newsrooms as the source of breaking news for the public when it comes to terrorist attacks, natural disasters or any breaking story.
“Journalists have realized that they’re not always going to break the news and that their role is going to be different — more about fixing the situation and verifying those stories,” Newman said.
It also meant that journalists were tied to the announcements of politicians and celebrities – most famously the nightly and early morning tweets from Donald Trump that left hundreds of journalists speechless during his presidency.
Addiction has caused many problems.
New York Times writer Farhad Manjoo spoke for many in 2019 when he wrote that “Twitter is ruining American journalism” with the way it “draws journalists into the depths of tribal melodrama, short-circuiting our better feelings in favor of mob- and bot- driven groupthink.”
By rewarding powerful voices, the platform tends to eliminate the majority of people – both the middle class and the non-elite.
“The debates that happen on Twitter are very much the debates of high-ranking people,” said Newman. “It’s definitely been a problem in newsrooms.”
“Focusing only on Twitter tends to distort the way many people, including journalists, see the world,” agrees Mathew Ingram, a digital media expert at the Columbia Journalism Review.
Although he hopes they have grown up enough to face this distortion, journalists have experienced “a huge wave of disrespect and abuse”.
But for all the buzz about Musk’s volatile tenure, many believe the site will survive.
“For the record, I don’t think it’s likely that Twitter will be shut down anytime soon,” said Stephen Barnard, a sociologist at Butler University in the United States.
But he said journalists have good reason to fear its demise.
“They would lose access to a lot of very large, powerful and diverse social networks… (and) a great source of exposure and expertise,” Barnard said.
“There is no real heir to that position, so I’m not sure where they will go,” he added.
On the other hand, Ingram said, it may encourage a return to “more traditional methods of research and reporting”.
“Maybe that would be a good thing,” he added.