Oh, the times they are a-changin’. Student journalists often forget what the world was like before Twitter and social media. In ‘the olden times’, there were no retweets, notifications or blue ticks. It was a time when an algorithm was just something mathematicians had to worry about. Sounds like a blast.

In March 2006, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sent the world’s first tweet. Who knew we would be in for such a wild ride? In many ways, Twitter has radically transformed the age-old craft of journalism. The College Tribune spoke to six top journalists about Twitter’s impact, and how Dorsey could make his platform a little less… difficult.

Social Media, Twitter and Journalism

How do you feel about breaking stories on Twitter first?

For Paul O’Donoghue, Reporter at NewstalkFM, reporters should publish on their company’s website first. “Any delay whereby you’re posting for social media is time a competitor could likely get something up.” He supports breaking stories on Twitter in advance of evening broadcasts as a television reporter, but only once their news desk receives the scoop.

Amy Molloy, Public Affairs Correspondent at Independent.ie, disagrees with breaking stories on personal Twitter accounts. “I find it frustrating when I see colleagues tweeting a story before filing it, as they are essentially giving their work away for free. They give all the news in a Twitter thread, which may be good for boosting their followers, but it’s not good for boosting a struggling industry.”

“Driving traffic back to the Irish Examiner website is the primary objective,” said Daniel McConnell, the newspaper’s Political Editor. “It is a constant balance to know whether to break a line on Twitter or do you wait to write the story up and then send a tweet with a link to the story online.”

Cianan Brennan, Journalist at The Irish Examiner, doesn’t like giving away his hard-worked stories for free. “I’d sooner talk about a story on Twitter rather than break it.” At live events and briefings, Brennan prefers to live tweet “both to inform people and to use as a timestamp reference for compiling a piece.”  If the news isn’t broken straight away, “you’ll be late to the show.” Although, he’s not the biggest fan of this, Brennan said it’s “simply the way of the world now.”

“Breaking stories on Twitter helps journalists build their reputation and their brand,” said Gabija Gataveckaite, Staff Reporter at Independent.ie. For her, this is “often to the detriment of media organisations.” If a journalist live-tweets key information, “few will bother to read the article that you write after it’s over. Effectively, journalists shoot themselves in the foot.” Gataveckaite sees news breaking on Twitter as “inevitable” and believes if journalists continue to give away scoops for free, they’re “killing off all forms of media”.

“Fundamentally,” said Stephen McDermott, Journalist at TheJournal.ie, “it boils down to the fact that Jack Dorsey doesn’t pay journalists’ wages.” Although conceding that live-tweeting can be informative, he believes breaking big stories before they’ve been published by the journalists’ organisation, “corrodes journalism’s business model.”

Have social media tools benefitted journalists?

For O’Donoghue, one of Twitter’s perks is that it “allows you to build up a name for yourself, which is especially important for young journalists.” He also sees the benefit in “immediate feedback” on articles online. “I think the biggest drawback is the fact that it can be a time sink, especially if it starts to significantly take time away from your normal work. But I think once you’re disciplined with your time, it can be a useful tool.”

McConnell uses Twitter to track the Examiner’s competitors, keep an eye on politicians, and “generally see what’s going on.” He pays particular praise to WhatsApp, which has become “an indispensable tool” for his team on a daily basis.

Social media has become a “great way to build relationships with sources,” according to Molloy. She believes journalists have a “greater connection with the public now thanks to the likes of Twitter and Facebook.”

“When someone breaks a story on a platform like Twitter,” said McDermott, “you can get on top of it much more quickly.” For example, “when Golfgate happened, there were statements from some of those who attended on Twitter, saving you having to chase them down.” However, he said it’s “no secret” that social media is “damaging traditional media by undercutting its advertising revenues.”

“Good journalism costs money to produce,” said Gataveckaite, “and readers should be paying for it.”

If you could change something about how users communicate on Twitter, what would it be, and how could it improve discourse?

The “endless bots” on Twitter makes for “a horrific experience” for journalists and politicians, said Gataveckaite. “The constant steady stream of misinformation and disinformation makes our job a lot more difficult. I believe that social media platforms should take more accountability for the hate speech on their platforms, as well as fake news.”

“The biggest negative about social media,” explains McConnell, “is the abuse you get, particularly on Twitter.” Following an increase in abuse in recent months, the Examiner has implemented “internal procedures to protect our staff against some of that abuse.” He wants social media companies to tackle this issue, saying although there is “much to be gained out of social media,” Twitter is a “dangerously fraught place” and at times a “sewer.”

Echo chambers have become enemy number one on Twitter, and with algorithms circulating similar opinions in circles, it can be difficult to encounter contrasting perspectives. O’Donoghue wants Twitter to tackle this issue. “It would be great if the Twitter algorithm could occasionally show you reputable articles it thinks you would disagree with as ‘suggested tweets’.”

“If I had a magic wand,” said McDermott, “it would be to strengthen the links between profiles and the individuals behind them. Twitter in particular is a hotbed of toxicity because of the anonymity afforded to its users. I think forcing users to have pictures of themselves and a system like banks and betting companies use, where money laundering is prevented by having users upload photographic IDs to prove that it’s actually them using their account – could be useful in addressing this.”

Brennan would also remove anonymity from the platform. “If someone is anonymous on Twitter it is never, ever for a good reason. If you have an opinion or something to say then own it, put your name to it, [that] would be my view.” He also wants zero tolerance for abuse on the platform. “Any abuse whatsoever, someone should be gone. Look at how much easier a place Twitter is now that Trump is gone. Imagine what it would have been like if they’d acted more quickly than the last two weeks of his presidency!”

And there we have it: lots of pros and cons, plenty of material to rant about online, and an industry hurtling towards disaster – one tweet at a time.

Care to retweet this article?

Conor Capplis – Senior Reporter