Twitter might be blamed for disrupting the reach of newspapers by diverting readers to other news outlets, but it would be difficult to say that Twitter is hurting journalism. News readership has declined somewhat over the past decade. But still, Scarborough Research reports that between 71% and 78% of adults read the newspaper in print or online every week. Given the news industry’s lack of comprehensive measures for old media and new media — it is not impossible to believe that the overall audience for print plus online is actually growing. And Twitter should be credited for some of that increase.
The story about technology and journalism has recently been dominated by how technology has taken away the money. The blamers cannot help but warn about how dark our future will be without adequate funding to pay for quality journalism and the blame is thick on those taking away the revenue.
The most notorious takers are those that killed the biggest cash machine for the newspapers - the classifieds. Craigslist and eBay and the help wanted sites (monster.com; careerbuilder.com) diverted classified advertising revenue away from news organizations some time ago. Twitter shouldn't be blamed for stealing the advertising money because it has only been very recently that Twitter has been getting any of it (about $900 million in the last 4 quarters), and it is hard to say specifically how the traditional news media is losing ad revenue to Twitter. The Newspaper Association of America reports US advertising revenues of $25 Billion for 2012 (last year reported), which is down from its peak of $46 Billion in 2003 and more or less equal to the run rate in the early ‘80s. But any causal link between Twitter and the decline is just too fuzzy to make a big deal about.
Twitter does require journalists to exercise some new muscles. Not everyone likes concrete measures or immediate feedback, particularly the unfavorable kind. Last week David Carr wrote a good piece about this in the NY Times: Risks Abound As Reporters Play in Traffic.
When Jack Doresy and Evan Williams founded Twitter in 2006 they did not set out to disrupt anything. They were hanging by their fingernails at their company Odeo and seemingly on a whim built a status update system patterned after AOL’s status updates - but for mobile users. Twitter had its Cinderella moment at the South by Southwest conference in 2007 and the rest as they say is well known by everyone.
Six years after its launch Twitter is an essential tool for journalists. Sean Evins (@evins) of the Twitter Government & Politics Team and Simon Rogers (@smfrogers), Twitter's Data Editor, declined to comment for this article, but the fact that Twitter has capable people in those roles is a leading indicator that Twitter is investing in making journalism better. In addition, the media section of the Twitter website has a good list of best practices for journalists that range from promoting content, to collecting feedback, and maximizing the impact of photos and videos.
Discovery of breaking news is certainly the killer app for Twitter and news junkies and casual readers alike know to turn to Twitter first when a plane be lost in the Indian Ocean or an earthquake hits Los Angeles.