How has Twitter changed news Coverage?

  • Twitter is a popular tool for many journalists, giving them more power over what they publish and who reads it, though at the same time making their jobs more 24/7, says Alecia Swasy, a professor of journalism and the Tom and June Netzel Sleeman Scholar in Business Journalism at Illinois.Photo by L.

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  • Twitter is playing a big role in the news these days. Presidential candidates get coverage trading barbs through Twitter. Citizens’ tweets from the scene of a protest or natural disaster can inform and even sway the coverage. News outlets often tweet first, then post online, then print. Alecia Swasy, a professor of business journalism at the University of Illinois, has made a study of Twitter’s effect on the news and reporting, based in part on 50 interviews at metro newspapers in Atlanta, Dallas, Denver and St. Petersburg, Florida. A former business editor and reporter at The Wall Street Journal, Swasy will present some of her research next week (Oct. 28-30) at a University of Oxford conference on news media culture. She also wrote a five-part online series of articles last fall and is working on a book. She spoke with News Bureau social sciences editor Craig Chamberlain.What are the most obvious ways in which Twitter has changed what gets covered and how?Twitter’s biggest impact on news coverage is reporters make minute-by-minute decisions on what they publish and who reads it, versus the old days when a small group of editors held that power over what went into the next day’s paper. Twitter also gives newspapers more immediacy. When a gunman started shooting at a Colorado movie theater, the Denver Post’s first 24 hours of coverage was broken solely on social media platforms like Twitter because the print edition was already on the delivery trucks.Twitter also gives journalists a chance to expand their traditional jobs. One Atlanta editor who enjoyed figure skating as a hobby gained 500 new followers for the Journal-Constitution when she tweeted about the sport, something the paper’s sports section had ignored.How is this illustrated in the presidential campaign? How does the coverage there demonstrate both the influence of Twitter and news media efforts to push back against it?Twitter is having an impact because it gives journalists and candidates immediate feedback from the once-passive audience. Look at Donald Trump’s tweets and retweets insulting Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly after the first presidential debate. His Twitter activity influenced the media agenda for much of August, with stories on his boorish behavior outnumbering articles on his opponents.But the leading legacy newspapers – The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal – still showed journalism at its best. Those three papers put the outbursts into the context of deeper debate coverage, such as one story about Trump’s 20-plus years of misogynistic remarks about women. And another story noted how none of the Republican candidates uttered more than a few words about poverty in America.Why has Twitter become so popular with many reporters? And how has it changed their jobs, for good and ill?Twitter provides an information distillery for journalists and all consumers because you can tailor what you follow instead of weeding through a thicket of news each day. Journalists like to know that someone is reading their work, and Twitter provides the instant gratification of building a following around the globe. Reporters can decide who sees their work, which takes it well beyond subscribers and geographically limiting circulation boundaries.Journalists are building their own brand names separate from their employers, which is increasingly important because they will likely work for several news organizations in the course of their careers. For many journalists, Twitter has led to book contracts and freelance gigs because more people are seeing their work.One good and bad aspect of Twitter is it’s always on. Those who are really good at building that following feel they now have to work 24/7 to keep supplying their loyal audience with more information.What’s the evidence that skillful use of Twitter makes any difference in newspapers’ bottom line?For the most part, Twitter is responsible for increasing traffic to the four newspapers’ websites. Much of the evidence of improving customer loyalty and building relationships with readers was anecdotal and seen as a good investment in the future.But Twitter is actually selling newspapers for the Tampa Bay Times. Each Sunday when someone tweets about the coupons or deals in that day’s newspaper, single-copy sales of the paper go up 2 to 7 percent. That’s a significant bump that costs relatively no money. 


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