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Experiment: Journalists’ Reliance on Twitter “May” Lead to Pack Journalism

The odd thing is that Twitter ‘s importance may actually be on the wane

A 2018 study tracked the importance that journalists ascribe to what they hear on Twitter and the results are not good. A political communications prof and a journalism prof did an experiment to test the question:

Shannon McGregor of The University of Utah and Logan Molyneux of Temple University performed an experiment involving about two hundred journalists—some who use Twitter heavily and some who use it only moderately. Some of the subjects saw only headlines from the Associated Press website, while others were also randomly shown tweets that contained AP headlines, but had been manipulated to look like anonymous tweets. The researchers then asked the journalists to rate the newsworthiness of the tweets. The result? Journalists who said they spend a lot of time on Twitter and rely on it for their work ranked the anonymous tweets as high or higher than the AP stories (this effect declined the longer a journalist had been working in the industry).

Mathew Ingram, “Do journalists pay too much attention to Twitter?” at Columbia Journalism Review

Does it affect news coverage otherwise?

The study notes a study of tweets posted by Russian agents working for the notorious “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency found more than 30 news outlets—including NPR, The Washington Post, and BuzzFeed—had embedded tweets from fake accounts in their news stories.

Mathew Ingram, “Do journalists pay too much attention to Twitter?” at Columbia Journalism Review

The study is behind a paywall but here’s an excerpt from the Abstract:

Our results also indicate that the routinization of Twitter into news production affects news judgment – for journalists who incorporate Twitter into their reporting routines, and those with fewer years of experience, Twitter has become so normalized that tweets were deemed equally newsworthy as headlines appearing to be from the AP wire. This may have negative implications, such as pack journalism, but we also see positives, as Twitter may conduit a wider array of voices into the mainstream news agenda. Twitter plays a key role in journalistic practices including, as we demonstrate here, influencing journalists’ news judgment. Twitter’s growing centrality in the news process warrants greater scrutiny from journalists and scholars.

– Shannon C MacGregor, Logan Molyneux First Published October 5, 2018 Twitter’s influence on news judgment: An experiment among journalists, Journalism https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884918802975

Given that mass layoffs have dogged the field in recent years, many journalists may not be around long enough to learn from experience about the dangers of joining a Twitter mob. Those who have been working longest in the industry may have been there before Twitter and may be more accustomed to traditional newsgathering.

The odd thing is that Twitter ‘s importance may actually be on the wane:

Twitter notched a small win last quarter, adding users for the first time in a year. The addition sees Twitter grow to 330 million monthly users, from 321 million last quarter, the company announced in an earnings release this morning. But that figure is still lower than its peak, of 336 million this same quarter last year.

Those losses are why Twitter decided last quarter that it would stop disclosing its monthly user count, so today’s earnings release is the last time we’re going to get an updated figure for the foreseeable future.

In its place, Twitter would prefer we look to a new metric: daily users…

That’s a better trend for Twitter, but the number is comparatively tiny. Facebook had 1.5 billion daily users as of the end of last year, having added 28 million in the fourth quarter alone.

Jacob Kastrenakes, “Twitter’s final monthly user count shows a company still struggling to grow” at The Verge

A key problem, according to one commentator, is that mainstream media did not really have a clear enough perception of how their world was changing to adapt quickly when the very idea of mass digital media was young. It was not for lack of resources:

If only news organizations had innovated and invented to disrupt the disruptors. As the internet giants of today began to grow and build businesses—based on distributing others’ content, shaving off their share of the advertising revenue—news outlets never invented a solution that would keep the dollars in their own accounts. In fact, this itself would have been extremely logical as the news and media owners had billions of dollars, name brands with huge audiences, libraries of content, existing distribution channels and expertise in communications. Except many of them just didn’t do it. They didn’t do it when search engines hit the scene. They didn’t do it when Craigslist cropped up. They’re doing it now in many ways, but would anyone really criticize my pessimism for wondering aloud if, in most cases, it’s too little too late?

David Doty, “Mar 7, 2019, 03:30pmViews: 760 The Secular Decline In News Journalism: Can Only The News Industry Save Itself?” at Forbes

In other words, they may have been relying on their legendary status and did not reckon with the danger of becoming, over time, just a legend, relying on less trustworthy sources in newer media just to understand the times.

See also: Did Big Social Media kill traditional media? Did video kill the radio star? In some ways, traditional media have co-operated with their own demise. The problems created by new media monopolies won’t be resolved by propping up traditional media, any more than modern traffic congestion would be resolved by the horse-drawn wagon.

How did Twitter become a virus of the mind?


A scientist’s nightmare: Doxxed on Twitter The surprisingly good news is that online riots may be hurting the Twitter brand

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Experiment: Journalists’ Reliance on Twitter “May” Lead to Pack Journalism