Social Media Archive

Why the Mainstream Media Hates Twitter, and Why They’re Wrong

Quite a few folks in the mainstream media have a big problem with Twitter. This mostly revolves around the fact that the formerly small social networking application such as has grown way beyond its initial concept and is effectively doing a great deal of the media’s work for them, without the encumbrance of a lot of rules or editing.

That idea, which has actually been coming for a long time and has been showing its roots ever since the internet became a widespread phenomenon, has led to Twitter being demonized when, in fact, it just seems like the traditional press is again one step behind today’s realities.

I was thinking about that the other day as I read a local sportswriter’s column, all about venality and how the small comments of even fringe athletes and sports figures have become big news in the world of tweets. He was lamenting this fact with an article filled to the brim with wonderment that folks would actually be so shallow as to pay attention to what “unimportant” people post, especially without worrying about the filter that usually accompanies a person’s quotes in a mainstream media article.

Of course, the irony of a print reporter spending his entire weekly column blasting Twitter as irrelevant was not lost on me. In fact, you can search the net (a previous “fad” that turned out to be not so temporary) and find plenty of reporters and commentators from established news sources who spend entire articles talking about how they proudly ignore Twitter. Oh. Really?

Those who dismiss Twitter as a “gimmick” or something we’ll all “get over” miss the entire point. Whether the specific Twitter application sticks around or not, the fact is the way people gather information has changed, and it’s changed for the better. In the process, that seems to have pointed out some uncomfortable truths in our society that many would prefer to have remained hidden.

For instance, a lot of comments are made today about the death of civility. The recent anger of the right against the president is often cited. Instead of looking at the source, however, people seem to want to blame the messenger. Just last week, Obama himself subtly criticized the “24-hour news cycle” and the internet because it’s so easy to be rude and get attention. The idea is that we’re supposed to believe information overload and easy access to a bullhorn is making people rude and angry.

Well, now. I taught history a long time and I know for a fact none of our current generations invented rudeness. To stay with the example of politics, today’s climate is not all that different from many political eras before our time. In the 1960s, television and radio (and even music) revolutionized the way America reacted to politics and world events. The core anger and unrest, however, has happened many times before. Read the Declaration of Independence or Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty” speech. Angry documents, from a time when political enemies were often literally tarred and feathered.

Actually, we live in a particularly civilized age, one that features inclusion and tolerance among the world’s people at historic highs. Yes, there are barbaric things going on in the world, and, yes, there is hate and anger out there everywhere. But that’s the way it has always been, even more than it is now.

The difference? Awareness. Therein lies the problem mainstream media has with something as simple and “inconsequential” as Twitter. We don’t have to depend on traditional outlets (or times of the day, or TV editors) anymore to find out what is going on and what people are saying about it

With the filters of “journalistic integrity” somewhat removed from the way we receive information, we get more truth than ever before. Not all of it is pretty. Not all of it is meaningful. But it is more real than ever.

Would the right’s seething hatred for Obama be a better thing if we were mostly unaware of it? Of course not, in fact, I’d argue it would be a far more dangerous pattern if it simmered under the surface. Would people be less rude or less angry if we didn’t have the internet? Unlikely. Crime, murder, drugs, prejudice, corruption-all things that flourished long before you could search them as terms.

I think it came as a little shock when Twitter went down recently and the government was concerned. Mainstream journalists didn’t like that, and I understand. Nobody wants to be made irrelevant. And they don’t have to be. News outlets, the ones that consider themselves “real” news outlets, have been playing catch-up to the internet for a long time, trying to find a way to grab hold, and make money, and control. It’s unnecessary. There is plenty of room for both methods to existing.

What there is no room for is elitism in the face of technology. What the internet, the ultimate grassroots campaign, has proven is that you can’t wish the modern world away. We are going to be tweeting, or whatever it ends up being called, from here on out because, in the end, the old journalistic slogan is just as accurate as ever: people are suckers for the truth. Like it or not, Twitter is a platform for reality, and there is nothing virtual about it.

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