Last night, I saw my friend and colleague Jen Thomas at the market. We got to talking about Twitter.
“These days, I get most of my news from Twitter,” Jen said. I nodded; in fact, I’d said the same thing to another friend a couple of days earlier. Twitter is what connects me with the stories that interest me–news, features, politics, sports, ephemera–professionally and personally. No medium is more responsive to what’s going on in the world. Yesterday, within minutes of reviewing a press release a client had written, I saw the story tweeted by a local media outlet. Minutes from “here’s a story” to reporting the story–it was literally that fast.
This both excites and troubles me. As a marketer, I’m thrilled to know I can get a message to my audience faster and easier than ever before. I can email my story to all the appropriate media outlets and not have to wait for the evening news or tomorrow’s paper to spread the word. In fact, if I have a big enough Twitter and Facebook following, I need those media outlets far less than I used to. I can take my story directly to my public without relying on newspapers and radio and TV stations to distribute it for me. If the news outlets follow me on Twitter, I may not even have to email them the story.
As a consumer of news, I’m worried. The fact that marketers can distribute their “news” directly, without any critical
editorial judgment, means we’re more susceptible than ever to spin, exaggeration, and outright misinformation. When “reliable” news outlets tweet press releases within minutes of receiving them, they’re not exercising much editorial judgment, either: there’s no fact checking, no verifying sources, no dissenting or nuanced point of view.
And journalism is far from the only discipline in which professionalism is suffering in the Internet Age. As cameras capable of taking high-quality photos have become cheaper and simpler, it’s easier for any old schlub to take pretty-good pictures. I could call myself a professional photographer, in that I have been paid to take pictures for clients–a fact of which I am not proud. Trust me: in one way, I am absolutely no threat to any of the amazing photographers I’ve had the pleasure of working with for the past 30 years. In another way, I’m their worst nightmare: an amateur with a camera whose pictures are good enough for the Internet.
We can say the same about video and audio production–and, closer to home, writing. Video on the Internet doesn’t have to be great–just good enough. MP3s don’t sound great, anyway. As for writing, fast takes precedence over good. I see writers I’ve declined to interview for jobs because their writing wasn’t good enough tweeting away for other organizations. The quality of the writing matters far less than the need to just get something into the world.
Because in the world of Twitter, your writing is here and gone. The Twitter feed never stops. Last hour’s tweets are already buried so far down in the feed that few people will ever see them. Tweeting four times sloppily is, in some ways, more effective than tweeting once carefully. Today in the news and PR businesses, if you have to make a choice between fast and good, fast wins.
But what if you tweeted four times carefully? What if you produced excellent content–and adapted your communication style to the pace of social media?
Because in reality, I don’t get my news from Twitter. Twitter is only the connector. Twitter connects me with stories from NPR.org and NYTimes.com and my favorite bloggers. Which means that, in the end, good content still wins.
Finally, an anecdote: back when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, I had an idea for what I thought was a funny comedy bit. It was a news report on American news reporting jobs going to Mexico. The premise was that local news organizations were finding it cheaper to hire Mexican newscasters; after all, it didn’t matter where the talking heads sat. You just fed them the stories and saved all sorts of money on the production. I thought it was funny.
Today, it’s funny because it’s true.