Archiving Twitter Tweets: Dumbing Down Journalism
At the risk of compounding the senior generation's reputation for old fogyness, here's a warning about the latest virus of so-called social networking that is infecting American journalism.
Announcement of the scheme came the other day in
Twitter, according to Williams, chirps that it transmits more than 50 million such mini-messages a day from more than 105 million registered users. Personal messages won't be archived, according to the Library, which will focus on tweets that have "scholarly and research implications."
The tweet, which seems too often to be an unedited burp from the mouth of a diner overfed with trivia, strikes me as a poor cousin of the blog, that unlimited and too often also unedited vomiting of opinion, diatribe, rumor or just plain bigotry and hate.
The magazine Wired quoted one
As simple social networking, the twitter phenomenon may be as amusing and as harmless as chatter over your back fence. But when it is received and treated as a serious part of the national information flow not subject to standards of truth, accuracy and fairness, it can indeed become a poisonous virus.
News of the
The posting was subsequently deleted and the blogger said he had merely been repeating a rumor. The editor of the CBSNews.com reported later that on checking "we determined it was nothing but pure and irresponsible speculation on the blogger's part."
If all this were only back-fence gossip, it would be one thing. It's another matter when, whether in a tweet or a Web log, it enters into the bloodstream of journalism in the guise of factual reporting or responsible opinion and analysis, not subject to any vetting or editing process.
What is the difference between a blog and writing an opinion newspaper column like this one, anyway? They both often express the writer's personal opinion on an issue or an individual of current news interest. In my case, the column is regularly reviewed by a professional editor at the syndicate that distributes it before release, subject to the editor's satisfaction on veracity.
Many bloggers at major news organizations or Web sites are similarly vetted but not all, and many are afforded a much looser leash, as are many of their electronic counterparts on radio and cable television. When rumor, prospective slander, libel or just plain inaccuracy get through, the credibility of all journalism suffers.
No lament from an old print practitioner is going to slay the tweeting and the blogging. But an occasional alert to the reader of the erosive quality of careless, sloppy, distorted or even dishonest writing seems warranted if the expanding fraternity of news-deliverers is to retain its long-earned reputation for truth-in-packaging.
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(c) 2010 Jules Witcover