If time is money, then why are so many people tweeting?

In the process of sifting through the noise out there, searching, in spite of Google, for “best practices” in the j-world, the phrase “social media” comes up often. That’s odd, because the current practice of journalism has not shown improvement from what I can see, and in too many cases, are backsliding into a reliance on dry government, crime and punishment stories to fill their ever-diminishing news holes.

The only depth reporting I see is done by a very few number of veteran beat reporters (David Pugliese, Ian MacLeod at the Citizen and nobody at the Sun) who, they’ll tell you, could quite comfortably work stories just as easily and efficiently without the ever-growing mounds of SM and gadgetry they feel they must accumulate to do the job properly in 2011 and beyond.

I have yet to hear from anyone who has exposed a scandal or changed a public policy because of a Tweet or a blog.

On the other hand, I definitely have heard of wrong information being tweeted by respected journalists,  leading to grossly inaccurate stories. Think Gordon Lightfoot and Pat Burns premature deaths to name just two Canadian examples. More broadly, there isn’t a day that goes by when a piece about somebody floating a hoax that results in a headline over a story proven to be false by the time the paper hits the street.

SunMedia’s David Akin lives and dies by Tweeting and blogging. There’s lots of reasons for that, but he regards his frantic activity as a job security exercise, or did when I heard him speak at the CAJ in Montreal last May. It had less to do with filing stories in the public interest. He wanted to be seen as being on top and ahead of any technological wave that his employers are trying desperately to monetize.

It worked. He’s a prominent commentator on Sun TV now and is doing very well for himself. Nothing wrong with that.

But has David’s dedication to SM resulted in his being a better reporter? I don’t think so, and I doubt if he thinks so. But if his journalism hasn’t improved, his career has prospered. He has impressed the suits.

During a new media panel we hosted in 2010 at Algonquin College, I was surprised to learn that Julie, Tom and Peter VanDusen do not use social media at all. It was a waste of their time, they agreed, and time is a commodity few have in sufficient supply to expend.

Not many journalists, fearing for their jobs, have the courage to say that. Fewer still admit their frustration at the “new normal” workflow of tweeting three or four times a day on an update of their story.

Up to now, I, and I suspect many journalists, have been working hard, almost obsessively, in staying on top of all of these trends, fearing to be labelled a Luddite. But someone needs to state the obvious: The energy expended in finding magic bullets to solve the news business’ ailments has not provided a return on investment.

And so, in spite of hours in front of a screen, I am losing interest in the big labs in the States like Nieman and Poynter who are playing in very expensive sandboxes with some cool tools, because little of it is sticking, and paying.

I’m more interested in finding what is working in the here and now, and if there are largely easily-applied tools to enhance that, let’s do it. I’m interested in having a square understanding of what is working for all concerned, from publisher to ad director to editor to reporter to circulation manager and web designer. And then relay it to anyone who is interested.

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1 comment
  1. I hear you Joe. Most journalistic twitter feeds I subscribe to are re-tweets of links to stories already posted or published. Twitter is transforming journalists into promoters, marketers and re-distributors. Not much wrong with that, attracting audiences and readerships, but I don’t think we ever expected SM tools to make us into better journalists. At the end of the day we still have to put in face time and get the story and relevant context directly from sources.

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