Jerame Davis

The New York Times hates Twitter and Facebook so you should too

Filed By Jerame Davis | March 01, 2009 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Geeks, Media
Tags: CNN, David Gregory, Facebook, MSNBC, New Media, New York Times, Rick Sanchez, social media, Twitter

I am perpetually amused by the folks in traditional (mainstream, old guard, whatever you want to call it) media who bash on new media. First it was the blogs and how they're destroying society - until they embraced them and corporatized them, of course. Now, the current target of the mainstream media's ire seems to be Twitter and to a smaller extent MySpace and Facebook.

This New York Times article is a treatise on the vanity and bad journalism creeping into TV news and how Twitter and other social media have no utility but are just other means of feeding the cult of personality.

Left alone in a cage with a mountain of cocaine, a lab rat will gorge itself to death. Caught up in a housing bubble, bankers will keep selling mortgage-backed securities -- and amassing bonuses -- until credit markets seize, companies collapse, and millions of investors lose their jobs and homes.

And news anchors and television personalities who have their own shows, Web sites, blogs and pages on and will send Twitter messages until the last follower falls into a coma.

Seriously? We're now comparing new media to lab rats with mountains of cocaine? I find the hyperbole utterly ironic. I mean, the author is lamenting the fall of proper, traditional journalism by, well, employing the same techniques she is lambasting in the article.

Those who say Twitter is a harmless pastime, which skeptics are free to ignore, are ignoring the corrosive secondary effects. We already live in an era of me-first journalism, autobiographical blogs and first-person reportage. Even daytime cable news is clotted with Lou Dobbsian anchors who ooze self-regard and intemperate opinion.

While I agree with the author that there has been journalistic decline in television news, it isn't caused by social media tools like Twitter. TV news has been trending toward sensationalism for years. Ever hear the phrase, "If it bleeds, it leads"? That little nugget of wisdom has been around longer than the Internet itself.

TV news stopped being "journalism" long ago. It's info-tainment, not journalism. It's a profit-center, not a service. It's about ratings, not the news. So why blame services like Twitter (or MySpace or Facebook) for a problem that existed before they were a twinkle in their creator's eye?

In 2007, newspaper revenues showed the biggest decline since 1950 - the first year the Newspaper Association of America started tracking data. Online revenues were up, but only represented 7.5% of the total ad revenue for newspapers.

The NAA hasn't released the 2008 numbers yet, but I'm willing to bet they aren't any better. Just look at the recent news. The San Francisco Chronicle is on the verge of bankruptcy. The Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's oldest newspaper, just published its last issue on Friday. You don't need revenue data to see what's happening all over the country.

This is more about traditional media's fight for relevance in the new media age. Few of them make as much money as they spend online. Most print media is seeing declining subscriptions and ad revenue. The New York Times isn't immune from this turn of events and they need a whipping boy.

Rather than castigating new media and those who use it, The New York Times could learn a thing or two from the likes of CNN's Rick Sanchez or MSNBC's David Gregory. Sanchez went from last in the cable news ratings game to first by using social media to interact with his viewers. I haven't seen the numbers for Gregory, but I'd imagine he's also seen a bump from his prolific use of social media.

People want to be engaged, they want to know what's going on behind the scenes. They want to interact with these stories, not just wait to be fed the news. Sure, it's different for print than for TV, but that doesn't mean it won't work. In fact, I'd say that social media tools like Twitter are better suited for use with print media. They are, after all, text based services too.

But rather than embrace this brave, new world it seems the Times would rather rage against the machine. This has been the same stance most newspapers and magazines have taken. That strategy isn't working, so maybe it's time to look at what does work.

Reporters don't have to give up journalistic integrity to interact with the audience and social media won't be its downfall either. There are many ways to use these tools that don't impugn the probity of the profession.

Start a dialogue with your readers. Let them in on the ins and outs of what it takes to be a proper journalist. Most people have no idea how much work it takes to write a story for a newspaper.

  • What's the process? Tell us about it.

  • What did you do to research it? I'm sure there are plenty of interesting bits to tell there.

  • What was cut from the print edition? Point out the extra information that didn't make it.

There are all sorts of ways to maintain professionalism and still use these gizmos and widgets that seem to perplex the old guard. We still need proper journalists. We still need well-funded and far-reaching news gathering organizations... But we don't need as many as we used to.

If you want to come out on top and survive the coming carnage, new media is your lifeline. Trashing it and comparing it to a mound of cocaine or the bonuses of greedy financiers is folly and will only hasten the slide into irrelevance.

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I think the people who write traditional media get it, and are really wiling to switch rather than fight, but those who run the businesses of traditional media don't get it. They are desperate and think that they can fight their way out of the inevitable future. They don't see the possibilities for moving into new media without tanking their businesses. It has been interesting to watch the torturous changes that have pushed and shoved the online New York Times into its current shape. They made many errors but they are determined to get it right. I'd love to be a fly on the conference room wall when all this is discussed by their brass. They don't understand that their biggest asset is the collective strength of their writers.

Also, let's try to imagine how difficult it would be to take your current business model and dismantle the office space, the printing aspects, the delivery aspects and the traditional print advertising. Of course they're scared. That is all they know. What I am waiting for - and this I believe will happen - is a mutiny of a large chunk of their team that will form its own "new media" venture. Sort of like a Protestant revolution....

Oh, I know it's difficult - but my argument is that fighting it only makes it harder in the end. I don't think print is dying tomorrow, so the dismantling can be slow and less painful than an outright upheaval like we're starting to see.

I think, no matter what, the NYT is going to make it, they just may not come out on top - especially if they continue to have this attitude about new media.

There could be a mutiny among their team, but I'm not so sure. I think the most likely is they start defecting.

Still, the big problem is money. No one has figured out how to make money online except Google and they're not trying to support a news apparatus.

The free ride cannot last forever. The problem is, where do you start? Online advertising isn't enough. It's not as effective as print or TV unless it's so obnoxious, people go to other sites that are less intrusive.

The Times has already experimented with paid content and that was a dismal failure as well. Some folks are talking about micro-payments - and there is some merit to this - but I'm not sure how you decide to charge. And someone's always going to be there to rewrite your news and distribute it for less, thereby undercutting the model.

This is not an easy problem to fix by any means, but there trying to fight new media by discounting it sure isn't going to pay off. I don't pretend to have the answers...I just think the Times is shooting itself in the foot by playing this game.

If I remember my history correctly, printing presses weren't too popular with the scholarly priests content with the scroll either.

Oh, I see that my comment didn't take. I don't have the energy to write it all again, so I'll do the short version.

David Gregory hates bloggers. And, back when the traditional media all hated on bloggers, who they just thought were unemployed dudes in bathrobes, the NY Times was developing a fleet of them. Now it has one of the best set of blogs on the net.

It might have something to do with the fact that Gregory is a pretty terrible journalist - insidery, gossipy, and sycophantic - who thinks that his main job is to photocopy what people in power say instead of analyzing it or seeing if there's any truth to it. Who can forget him dancing with Karl Rove? I'm sure he would have loved to have sent an IM/Tweet to everyone out there about what a neat guy Rove is for putting that rap together.

Just sayin' that this might be a different dynamic other than the "New tech is scary" thing that definitely does happen in traditional media sources. But the Times was pretty good about getting on the blog wagon before every newspaper was doing it, so I wonder about this one.

This is what happens when I write the same comment twice, I lose my disclaimer that Twitter's a great supplement to what one does off-Twitter, getting news out quickly and being accessible in places where computers aren't practical or forbidden.

But I do think the fact that better sources of journalism, like the Times, prefer blogs, which lift all space restrictions that necessarily accompany and restrict both newspapers and TV, while folks like David Gregory feel that their entire thoughts can be summed up in 140 characters. I'll take him at his word on that.

And, yes, David Gregory is one of my triggers, much like "George Will." :)

OK, I'm off to write a tweet, as the kids don't say nowadays.

My point isn't to hold Gregory up as a good journalist - he isn't. He's terrible and so is Rick Sanchez. My point is that they've take a mediocre (at best) product and made it into gold using social media.

I don't like Gregory at all. I was watching MTP last night before bed and I wanted to throw something at the TV until I just finally turned it off.

I also agree that Twitter isn't a place for summing up complex thoughts. That would be a totally worthless use for Twitter. You're more on target when you talk about getting the word out quickly.

Look how we use Twitter here at Bilerico - we don't try to boil down our posts into Tweet-sized bytes. We put up the title and a link to the post.

Twitter is a good for live coverage of events because you don't need anything more than a cell phone - which you can take into almost any venue and event these days. And with some Twitter apps for your phone, you can post pics with almost no effort.

But please don't take my praise of their use of social media as praise for the journalistic integrity of Gregory or Sanchez. By no means are these guys good "journalists". They're just the trail-blazers into social media. Others will do it better and with more integrity...Unless, it seems, said journalist works for the Times.

Well anyway, when ya'll put up the audio of Rea Carey's shout out to Bilerico, you'll see that some people get it and are eager to have bloggers like moi as "guests" at their events. The media-pass I was given was worth many hundreds of dollars. In return for which i didn't go to bed until I had filed my report. I went to smaller events and women's events that I would ordinarily not attend, and, of course, I had some great things to say about the event and the organizers that might have otherwise taken second place to fawning on the shirtless beauty around me.

We've already posted the Rea Carey shout out...Didn't you see it?

I'm glad you had fun at Winter Party. I want to see pictures!!

This may be a sign that after turning 30, I am quickly becoming a luddite, but anytime I hear anyone talk about twitter, I have the huge urge to yell at them, "shut the tweet up."

I've signed up personally to it, and the whole concept just irritates me. Maybe its helpful for an organization or website like Bilerico, but quite frankly, there are no tweets I need to send out to people of importance. Unless people want to know when I take a shower, watch gossip girl, or other boring topics- I have no need for it personally.

I feel like I'm grandpa simpson. But anything that has Congress jumping up so quickly to join a bandwagon that they are tweeting at Obama's speech makes me want to vomit.

Now get the hell off my lawn, you damn kids.

While Twitter isn't for everybody, I think there is a lot of utility in it. There is certainly noise on Twitter, but if you think Twitter is just for talking about your cat, you definitely sound like the luddites who poo-pooed blogs for the same reason.

You have to follow quality people. Twitter is part entertainment and part informational. You can use one, the other, or both - it's up to you.

Since you're more of the organizational sort, I think you have every reason to be using Twitter. It's another way to reach the masses and if it brings you one donor or one new member or one new website reader, what has it cost you to obtain them? A free account and a few seconds of time (per update, of course).

Further, you may not want to Tweet about your shower or what you're having for dinner, but what about the cool stuff you get to do for your job at PAW? It helps build your brand. It helps build interest in what PAW does.

Twitter is a tool. It's only useful if you 1) know how to use it and 2) use it effectively. It's not a miracle. It's not the end-all-beat-all of online communications.

But it is popular. It is useful. And it's amazingly versatile. What more could you ask for?

Seriously, Jeremy, you should figure it out. Imagine what Pride At Work could do with it.

I've found that while the TBP account has hundreds of followers, I have more personally. Why? People want to know about the personal moments and not just what I put on the blog. So, what does the ED of PAW do in his time off? Watch Gossip Girl? I didn't know. What's your favorite episode? Why? The conversations will start from folks following you - who will want to know more about you so they'll visit the PAW site.

You gotta feed the beast, my friend. Especially in this awful economy, anything that can bring up PAW's profile is worthy. :)

Is it a coincidence that Republicans, who think in bumper stickers, have seized on Twitter as their medium of choice?

Facebook, in reaction to longer-winded media like blogs, has (was it recently, or is it only recently that I've noticed it?) added notes, where you can write more long-form things.

The thing that makes old media worthwhile is fact checking. As the case of George Will showed us spectacuarly not long ago, they've given up that advantage. I trust Lindsey Beyerstein and the TPM muckrakers way more than I trust the sloppy work at the WaPo.

Chris Matthews is an example of someone whose shows are better turned into tweets, which we can skip through at our leisure instead of wasting our time enduring it in real time.

Jerame, just to tweak Bil's nose, I'll add you to the people I follow on Twitter.

You know, when #snOMG hit this past winter, the Cincinnati Twitterati interacted with, primarily, @wlwt, one of the local news stations who gave the Tweeter a little more license to interact with its commentators. Honestly, I don't think I could have named a single other news station until very recently except for WLWT - Channel 5.

Not sayin' much, just sayin'.