Twitter looms large in the minds of journalists. Some of us live on the micro-blogging site: it is our industry’s collective water cooler. Others hate and fear the blue bird, confining themselves to Facebook or even email for social communication. All, however, feel compelled to file stories about what Twitter and Facebook mean for traditional media, in a relentless, mind-numbing, collective effort to convince readers that our business is its own top story.
So it is that today we read about an experiment called “Behind closed doors on the Net.” Starting on Feb. 1, five French-language broadcast journalists will get all of their information from Facebook or Twitter — no newspapers, magazines, television, or radio allowed. They will be allowed to click on links, but not surf freely across the web. The Toronto Star says that this will “test the limits of reporting solely with Facebook and Twitter.”
Of course, to call this reporting confuses consumption with production. Reading Twitter is not reporting any more than watching the Food Network is cooking. So let’s take the project for what it will actually measure (and to their credit, the experimenters seem to understand this much) — what news is like when it is consumed from social networking sites. As Radio-Canada’s Janic Tremblay told the Star, “We don’t know what to expect. There are people who just inform themselves with those 140 characters. What image do they get of news?”
Since Tremblay doesn’t quote any research about how people actually read Twitter, I’ll make my own evidence-free assertion: he’s wrong; nobody gets all of their news in 140-character increments. Most tweets contain links to actual news articles or video clips by folks (i.e., traditional journalists) like Tremblay. We follow sources that interest us, and then click links from their feeds. We Google something related to the story, get sucked into Wikipedia, and look up to find that the work day is over. Or we click, find a superficial criticism of the internet, and give up on newspapers for another day.