Exchange: How Twitter is transforming journalists' working lives - or not

Our latest Exchange debate questioned whether Twitter has changed the working lives of journalists.

The ever-growing presence of social networks such as Twitter has not only changed the way we consume news but also how news itself is gathered and shared.  At this morning's Exchange we asked a panel of senior journalists to explain how Twitter is transforming journalists' working lives - or not.

The panel included Metro Editor Kenny Campbell, Harry Wallop, Feature Writer, The Daily Telegraph, Peter Hoskins, Senior News Producer, Sky News and Simon Goodley, Senior Business Reporter, The Guardian.

The lively debate, chaired by Helen Dunne, Editor, CorpComms magazine, opened with the panel tackling the question: Are journalists dependent on Twitter for sources? There was wide agreement that traditional methods for finding contacts are still used, particularly for regional stories, but that Twitter can greatly speed up the process of finding people that "fit the bill". Twitter was described as a great first point of contact and also extremely useful for vox pops, although one panel member did warn that when using sources from Twitter, journalists should bear in mind that it is not representative of the vast majority of the British public and their own readership.

In terms of breaking news, the vast speed and reach of Twitter was described as terrifying. It was agreed that Twitter is vital for keeping journalists ahead of the newswires and that the speed at which news breaks on it is a constant reminder that journalists are no longer capable of being first to the story every time. With news breaking so fast on Twitter the issue of fact checking was also raised. It was agreed that in the long term journalists have to fact check in order to protect reputation but in order to keep up with the pace of Twitter, this can be difficult - the general advice from the panel was to never tweet anything that you don't know to be absolute truth.

The debate then moved on to how Twitter affects the bottom line. One panel member said that although they have no plans to retire from its financial contribution, Twitter and other social networks such as Facebook of course drive revenue as part of advertising deals. Twitter also drives website traffic and it was pointed out that the main issue with increased traffic is working out how to monetise it.

So has Twitter transformed the working lives of our panel members? On the whole it was clear that it has had a great impact although one, who described himself as the "token Luddite", stated that Twitter hasn't changed his working life at all.  He still goes out to meet people in the traditional way in order to identify information not already in the public domain. This was contested with the point that although Twitter isn't the be all and end all, it's another tool that, as a journalist, you'd be crazy not to use. This was built on by another, saying that that as a journalist today, Twitter is an important way of building your own audience and profile away from your newspaper and advised that journalists need to become a certain kind of brand online in order to flourish.

The discussion closed with questions from the floor. One which sparked a great deal of interest asked how the panel thought PR's can best utilise Twitter to interact with journalists. The consensus amongst the panel was that PR's should never be boring. Don't just tweet press releases, be witty, create a personality and engage with your audience was the advice given.  In terms of PR's using Twitter to contact journalists, it was suggested that the old rules should still apply and that Twitter shouldn't be used as a new spamming tool.

Another member of the audience questioned the value of traditional media merely repeating what's on Twitter and suggested that if the media has a future, it has to be telling people things they don't know already. The panel agreed, stating that although Twitter can be useful in newsgathering, a journalist's role is to add context, background, analysis and perspective.

You can read the full write up in the next edition of CorpComms magazine.

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