Journalism, Social Media, Top Stories

Journalism’s Death by a Thousand Tweets

Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the Internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for—directly or indirectly—by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get… well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.
~Evan Williams, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter

Imagine you want to create a digital platform that will both destroy—or, at the very least, seriously enfeeble—the journalism profession, and simultaneously make you a vast amount of money. How should you do it?

Well, first you should ensure that the primary goal of your platform has absolutely nothing to do with the stated goals of the journalism profession. More specifically, the aim of your platform should not be to hold the powerful to account or, more broadly, to report on stories that are in the public interest. Rather, the platform’s main objective should ideally be the opposite of this: It should be to service the aims of powerful and private interests. The most obvious way to do this—whilst simultaneously making a lot of money—would be to sell millions and millions (and millions) of dollars’ worth of advertisements on behalf of these interests.

Then you should try to get as many journalists to use your platform as much as possible. (After all, what better way to destroy journalism than to get the vast majority of journalists to compulsively use a platform the aims of which are antithetical to those of their own profession?) The most straightforward way to do this would be to design a digital platform that is highly addictive (or, to use a less medically-loaded and industry-friendly term, “habit-forming”). To ensure that this platform is sufficiently habit-forming, it should conform to what author Nir Eyal has called the “hooking model,” to which every other major digital platform, consciously or unconsciously, scrupulously adheres. In particular, this platform should encourage or even require some kind of investment by its users (in the form of, for instance, content creation or profile curation). This habit-forming quality will have the further, collateral benefit of encouraging non-journalists to use it too—this is a very good thing, as it will allow you to sell targeted ads to them as well, and (hence) allow you to make even more money than you otherwise would. More importantly, it should feature variable rewards as one of the defining characteristics of its users’ platform experience (in the form of, say, a “newsfeed”).

Perhaps the most necessary feature, however, is also the most subtle: This new platform should offer a veneer of journalistic utility. More specifically, it should allow articles, videos, and opinions to be shared between journalists and non-journalists; it should facilitate the uptake and spread of “breaking news”; and it should be able to claim, with at least some initial plausibility, that it permits or even encourages a “conversation” to occur among its users on “newsworthy” subject matters. If, however, the platform is to remain strictly at odds with the aims of the journalism profession, every conceivable step must be taken to mitigate the possibility of genuine conversation or meaningful, journalistically relevant user interaction taking place.

In particular—and to give some possible examples—users should only be exposed to opinions, articles, and facts to which they want to be exposed; the rapid dissemination of “breaking news” should be encouraged, ideally without the requirement (or even the possibility) of context, fact-checking, assessment of genuine newsworthiness, or indeed any kind of editorial curation whatsoever; conversations should be fully surveilled, sometimes censored, and encouraged to take place in full view of everyone, thus limiting the possibility of the private exploration of alternative, non-mainstream viewpoints; empathy, sympathy, and face-to-face engagement should be actively discouraged, if not rendered impossible by the platform’s design interface, while hatred, tribalism, and outrage should be fostered and encouraged (this will have the added benefit of maximising user engagement, thus allowing you to sell your users even more ads); and, perhaps most importantly, the “conversations” themselves should be severely circumscribed, so as to prevent the possibility of genuine nuance and deep reflection taking place (by, for example, limiting the number of characters you’re allowed to type). Such a veneer will allow you to rebut accusations that your platform is perniciously habit-forming and seriously deleterious to the health of the individual, the journalism profession, and wider society.

As the reader will undoubtedly already have guessed, such a platform—or at least something very close to it—already exists: It is called Twitter. Publicly launched in July 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams, Twitter is now an astronomically profitable, multibillion-dollar multinational corporation. Described in its Wikipedia entry as a “microblogging and social networking service,” Twitter is in fact an advertising company—a truth revealed not only by the fact that a whopping 86.5 percent of the company’s revenue last year came from advertising (the rest came from data licensing and other sources), but also by the fact that the advertising industry itself openly admits this (“Is Twitter the best online advertising platform? Sometimes!”). (By contrast, the New York Times collects 64.3 percent of its total revenue through subscriptions, not ads.) At present, the platform comprises some 330 million monthly active users spread across 178 different countries, who in total send out a remarkable half-a-billion tweets every day. This includes some 64.2 million US users—or roughly one-in-five Americans—71 percent of whom use the platform to consume or share news.

While Twitter’s global impact and reach is undoubtedly enormous, its impact on the journalism profession has been seismic. At present, almost a quarter (24.6 percent) of Twitter’s authenticated users are journalists or news organisations; journalists are also the platform’s most active users by profession (as measured by follower ratios and number of tweets). More than a quarter (27 percent) of journalists turn to Twitter as their first source of news, and 83 percent regard it as their most valuable social media platform. A staggering 96 percent of journalists use the platform on a weekly basis, and 90 percent claim that they wish to maintain or increase their engagement with Twitter in the near future. Indeed, such has been the outsized influence of journalists on the platform that they were singled out for special mention and thanks in a series of tweets by the company’s billionaire CEO, Jack Dorsey, on Twitter’s ninth birthday:

Of course, Twitter wasn’t designed to destroy journalism. In fact, it’s not exactly clear what it was originally designed to do, or even, for that matter, what it is supposed to do (besides turn enormous profits by selling targeted ads to its users). Originally designed as an SMS-based platform—hence the original 140-character limit, since increased to 280 characters—with the mundane (and arguably inane) purpose of allowing “groups of friends [to] keep tabs on what each other were doing based on their status updates,” the very word “twitter,” according to a 2009 Los Angeles Times blog interview with Dorsey, was chosen as the name of the platform because of its then-dictionary dual definition as (i) “a short burst of inconsequential information” and (ii) “chirps from birds”—which, according to Dorsey, was “exactly what the product was.”

Dorsey, however, is a man prone to defining the nature and purpose of his platform in numerous, not obviously consistent ways. For instance, in the second part of the LA Times interview, Dorsey responds to the question “How do you think of Twitter? Is it a service, a medium, a piece of software, what?” with this:

I feel that it’s something new. I think it’s a new way to communicate. It has a new take on the address book. It’s a new way to interact with people. And at the same time, it does a very good job of exposing what’s happening in the world right now: You can see what’s… trending globally, you can limit that locally and figure out what’s trending within a five-mile radius of you, or you can use it socially and figure out what’s trending within your own social network. That’s where the newness is. I just haven’t seen anything like that before.

When I think of Twitter, I think of—it’s really hard to define because we’re still coming up with the vocabulary—but I think it’s defined a new behavior that’s very different than what we’ve seen before. So yeah: new medium.

These days, however, the platform’s goals are much more succinctly described, and significantly more lofty. Now, Dorsey claims (repeatedly) that “our purpose is to serve the public conversation,” a phrase that has been echoed by co-founder Biz Stone and others, as well as by the company’s own blog (sometimes with a “healthy” qualifier thrown in for good measure). Moreover, this emphasis on the importance of “conversation,” and Twitter’s role as a facilitator of it, is also commonly employed by journalists who defend the extensive use of the platform by members of their own profession. Indeed, Twitter’s own website explicitly encourages journalists to “join the conversation” (as well as enjoining them, among other things, to simply “have fun!”).

But the claim that Twitter “serves” or even facilitates “conversation” is, to put it politely, exceedingly difficult to support. Plainly this stated objective is secondary to Twitter’s primary goal as a business, which is to make money by selling targeted ads to its users on behalf of its major corporate clients (as well as to obtain better data on its users to more efficiently target them with ads). In the first quarter of this year, Twitter’s main advertising clients by number of impressions were, in order, the well-known corporate conversationalists Nestlé, Verizon, Disney, The Kraft Heinz Company, Unilever, Kellogg Company, GlaxoSmithKline, The PennyHoarder.com, Comcast Corporation, and CVS. Even as a secondary goal, Twitter cannot coherently be said to “foster conversation.” The word “conversation” is commonly understood to mean face-to-face, open-ended, uncensored, private, empathetic discussions that, ideally, take place in a medium or environment conducive to the goals of exploring ideas and attaining mutual understanding. On the contrary, Twitter’s “conversations” are faceless, screen-mediated, often censored, surveilled, circumscribed, and take place in an addictive (okay, habit-inducing) medium, the raison d’être of which is to get participants to consume commercial goods on behalf of that medium’s multinational corporate clients.

Other reasons adduced for using Twitter are similarly vacuous. The journalist Jeff Jarvis has made the astonishing claim that refusing to use Twitter (or other social platforms like Facebook) is a reflection of one’s (journalistic) privilege and harmful to historically disenfranchised communities. To illustrate this dubious point, Jarvis offers the following example:

If you are an African American who is shopping or barbecuing or eating lunch or going into your own home when a white person calls the police on you, you do not have a newsroom of journalists who look like you who will tell your story because they, too, have lived it. The outlet you have is a hashtag on Twitter. These stories are now, finally, making it into mainstream media only because #livingwhileblack exists as a tool for those forever unrepresented and unserved by mass media. When journalists delete, dismiss, or disengage from Twitter or Facebook or YouTube or Instagram or Reddit or blogs, they turn their backs on people who finally—like the journalists—have a printing press to call their own.

Leaving aside the salient question of whether this kind of “journalism” is actually as valuable as Jarvis maintains, his argument is—to be blunt—bullshit for at least three additional reasons. First, it assumes that, without Twitter, African Americans (and other historically disenfranchised groups) would have no outlets to express their grievances in a free society. (How, if at all, does Jarvis think African Americans were able—often successfully—to express their grievances prior to Twitter’s miraculous creation in 2006?) Second, it suggests that, by virtue of the fact that members of such disenfranchised groups are able to post on a particular social platform, the platform therefore belongs to them (“a printing press to call their own”), rather than to the people to whom the platform actually belongs, namely, the platform’s actual (largely corporate) shareholders. Third, the implications of Jarvis’s argument are absurd: Are we to understand that a journalist who exposes, say, racism in the US prison and judicial system but who is not on Twitter has “turned his back” on African Americans, but a journalist who writes clickbait articles about ephemera and uses Twitter has not?

In the same piece, Jarvis responds to a much-discussed New York Times op-ed by Farhad Manjoo which argues, persuasively, that “Twitter is ruining American journalism.” Jarvis writes:

No, journalists are responsible for the state of American journalism. They have no one to blame but themselves when they jump on a story too soon with unconfirmed information and rash conclusions, when they insist on joining in with their own needless and repetitive hot takes, when they match snark for snark. When I’m a jerk on Twitter it’s because I’m being a jerk, not because Twitter made me one.

This is, of course, a variation on the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument, and it is as intellectually and morally craven. Twitter is not designed to help or in any way benefit the journalism profession, it is instead a platform primarily contrived to obtain data from and sell ads to its users on behalf of its corporate clients; serious analysis and discussion are rendered impossible by the platform’s design and arbitrary circumscriptions; billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of work-hours by some of the world’s most intelligent people are spent designing such an interface and optimising it for these corporate incentives; and all of this is, according to Jarvis, entirely irrelevant. Twitter, its employees, and its corporate clients: none of them are to blame. Only you are.

What is encouraging, however, is that a growing number of journalists are becoming sceptical—even overtly hostile—to the role Twitter plays in the journalism profession. In addition to the New York Times’s Manjoo, these include CNN’s Brian Stelter (“Sometimes the insanity on Twitter makes my brain hurt… But I almost never think about leaving. Until now”); Slate’s Ashley Feinberg (“Twitter is obviously a nightmare. For journalism and everything else, really”); the New Yorker’s George Packer (“Every time I hear about Twitter I want to yell Stop… Twitter is crack for media addicts”); the Week’s Damon Linker (“The single best thing for both politics and journalism would be for Twitter to go out of business tomorrow”); and the Washington Post’s David Von Drehle (“Twitter is the crystal meth of newsrooms—a drug that insinuates itself into our vulnerabilities only to leave us toothless and disgraced”).

These journalists tend to mention some of the more conspicuous—and undoubtedly serious—problems often associated with Twitter: the anger, the hostility, the tribalism, the addictiveness, the associated shortening of attention spans, the unrelenting vacuousness and overall, unmerciful inanity. None of them, however, mentions what is, upon reflection, surely the most pressing, underlying structural issue: that journalism as a profession now largely takes place by virtue of—and is, in fact, almost entirely mediated and governed by—a largely unaccountable corporate advertising and surveillance behemoth, the goals and values of which are antithetical to journalism, traditionally understood. All of which raises an obvious question: Why are journalists so enamoured of Twitter?

In his highly illuminating Washington Post column, Von Drehle suggests three possible answers. The first, he writes, is that “many journalists are surprisingly shy,” and Twitter permits them to source quotes “without the need for uncomfortable personal interactions.” The second is that Twitter allows journalists to quickly and cheaply churn out a lot of quick and easy content, which is extremely beneficial in an age in which “many journalists are these days under intense pressure to produce quick ‘takes’ on the news to drive website traffic.” And the third reason is that journalists have a “smart-aleck gene,” and that “a perfect cynical comment or comeback can be savored and shared by thousands” on Twitter, whereas “pre-Twitter, the same gem might have found only a paltry few listeners to enjoy it.” (In an excellent essay entitled “Why Journalists Love Twitter” in Current Affairs, Emily Robinson suggests a further, related reason—that journalists are “prone to clubby insularity,” and that “Twitter provides new ways for them to confirm their preexisting worldviews,” as well as “receive instantaneous praise from their own followers.”) All of this sounds eminently plausible, but the question itself may proceed from flawed premises. Perhaps journalists don’t in fact like using Twitter any more than the average person, and their heavy use of the platform is simply a reflection of professional pressure coupled with its highly addictive nature.

Regardless of the reasons, journalists on Twitter would do well to remind themselves of a few basic truths. First, social media companies in general, and Twitter in particular, have had a deeply pernicious impact on their chosen profession (and not only by virtue of the fact that such companies are sucking up the vast majority of current advertising revenue at the expense of newsrooms). Second, that journalism as a profession existed, often highly successfully, well before the advent of such companies. (Including, by the way, journalism of the interminably high-octane 24-hour “breaking news” variety.) Third, there is nothing inevitable about journalists having to live and work on a platform that is, in every conceivable respect, at odds with the implicit and explicit goals of their chosen profession. In short, the prescription journalists need to follow is, I think, a simple one: For the good of their profession, their mental health, and indeed wider society, they should all get off Twitter now. And they should never, ever come back.

 

Thomas Moller-Nielsen is a writer with a PhD in philosophy. He is currently based in Moscow. You can reach him by email at thomasmollernielsen89@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. A nice succinct summary of where journalism came from and its current trajectory.

    Yes - Journalists are destroying themselves.

    Craven sellouts to the corporate career and desperation to be a celebrity has left no future except in the entertainment industry (Which is increasingly looking to CGI instead of real people - so no future there either except the very small number of privileged few).

    It was a great thing about 15 years ago (?) to be able to see the NYT online - very exotic from the other side of the world. Had heard so much about its quality, depth and integrity of its writers who were so unafraid to take on whoever the bad people were and to fight the good fight on behalf of the common good (for all people - not just the current in fashion focus group).

    So sad to see it turn itself into such a characture of itself. Now is just a joke poking at majorities for superficial causes that don’t serve the common good. The causes they support don’t even seem to support the minority group they are defending/supporting/speaking on behalf of (BLM, Woke crap, Antifa, Nelson Mandela, The Liverpool Football Team, Kneeling Kapernick, long list of others that are irrelevant). Just full of opinion and few facts. Writers like Paul Krugman were there to explain economics to ignoramuses like me. Did a great job a few decades ago to simplify complex issues and explain impacts to all readers. Now all we get are rants against Republicans from the guy. Stopped reading years ago. Expect its even worse now. What a waste and how childish these used to be intellectuals now are. How the mighty have fallen and all that.

    In the end the journalist profession seems to have become the thing it says it despised. Intolerant, ignorant, self serving, servile, selfish, self centred and desperate to have power.

    Great article.
    Sad outcome.
    Life moves on - viva la revolution?

  2. Absolutely correct.

    The whole media landscape, the entire public discourse and debate, would be immeasurably improved if everyone deleted Twitter, Facebook, TikTok (and no doubt a hatful of other platforms that I’m too disinterested and luddite to have encountered.)

    The vast majority of pointless “scandals”, ugly hate stories, “cancellations” and offence archaeology that fills all media channels began life on one of these platforms.

    I don’t read Twitter, I never have and never will open an account. Yet its daily tide of misery and bile is wholly familiar to me - Why? Because all those journalists who spend their days denigrating it, can’t seem to help themselves from reporting on its every ebb and flow.

    Perhaps if every journalist who purports to hate Twitter stopped reading it - and certainly stopped writing about it - the problem would diminish.

  3. We tend to forget Big Tech is big business. It is capitalism at its finest, or worst, depending on how you look at it. Big tech is not really looking out for “social justice” or the underdog, even though it presents itself that way. Big Tech is in control right now. The left wingers in the media and academia who use the tech platforms are like useful idiots. Enormous wealth and privilege are amassed in Silicon Valley, as California ever more resembles a feudal society where elite households are staffed with dozens of illegal immigrants paid well below market wages. The techopolies are reluctant hire Americans who are savvy and know how to demand higher salaries and benefits, so, they seek to import labor from abroad where the workers are far less aware of their value, far less able to negotiate better deals, subject to the mercey of their employers who control their immigration status.

  4. The one good thing I can say about Twitter is it’s been a valuable resource for an average person like myself to find alternative view points and those who are every bit as savvy as the intellectual elites and expose serious flaws in their ideologies. The “IDW” is that what they’re called? I don’t agree with all of them or every word they say, but at least it’s a group who has the power to push back. It’s been an interesting little war to follow. It has lead me to reading articles by radical feminists along with reading and watching talks by their nemesis Jordan Peterson and everyone/everything in between. I value ALL SOURCES of information and every angle. It’s not easy sifting and researching sometimes. I’m fortunate enough to have the time to do so. It’s part of my job as a parent so I can teach my offspring how to navigate this treacherous world. Personally I hate all social media and what it has done to our culture. It’s vapid. It is what it is.

  5. The other thing to bear in mind is that journalists are ensuring their own profession’s demise. It’s not just about quality, although this a sufficiently alarming concern. It’s also about ad revenue. Twitter and Facebook are the competition- and competition which renders the alternative obsolescent. Imagine you’re an advertiser and you have a choice between an outlet which allows you to reach a segment of the population, of whom only 2% are the target demo, or another venue which specifically micro-targets your potential customers. It’s natural selection in the digital age…

    Of course, the state of education in the digital age doesn’t help. The progressive education system’s decision to value skills over knowledge has been disastrous. The poorly conceived notion that ‘kids can just Google it’ commits a fallacy of the highest order- because any search engine is only as valuable as the person asking the question- and in the digital age the individual with the best and broadest knowledge is able to use this incredibly powerful tool like a surgeon, compared to the broad mass of the proletariat (including the highly educated these days, unfortunately)- most of whom can barely eat with a fork.

    Let’s consider a relatively simple question like “How racist is America?”. Now, at the most facile level, someone might formulate this question as stated, and come up with a survey of opinion, which tells them that 56% of Americans believe that America is institutionally racist. They might also find the odd surveys that tell them that many people believe race relations have gotten worse under Trump. But this means NOTHING- because opinions are like arseholes- everybody has got one! What these surveys actually tell us is how successful the media has been at driving certain narratives.

    A better way to look at it would be ask- what are people’s views on interracial marriage? Or, are disparities in hiring by race driven by race, or class? Perhaps a better way of looking at it, is discrimination in hiring driven by the out-group hostility of traditional thinking on racism, or the more nebulous concept of in-group preference, which might mean the shared belief systems of socio-economic class, or could even mean will this person mind whether I’m obsessed by my local baseball team?

    The evidence tends to suggest that in-group preference is a far greater factor, than the conventional thinking on racism. The one exception is in customer-facing roles, where the irrational belief that a sizeable portion of the American public are covertly racist has quite harmful consequences. Simply put, professional managers and HR departments somehow tend to overlook their noble aims (and the universal human belief that each person believes that they are somehow morally superior to everyone else), and adopt a pragmatic approach- they hire people with a view to matching the demographics of the local area, which, of course, only serves to reinforce racial disparities because of disparate buying power within racially divergent communities.

    But it is specifically when one searches for ‘out-group hostility in America Trump’ and is also savvy enough to use the image search on Google that one finds some really interesting data on the way that political polarisation over time has influenced racial attitudes. And it’s dangerous:

    Now, this is a largely liberal viewpoint, based upon alarms over rising racism. I’m sure that if we searched for liberal attitudes towards the white working class, Midwesterners, white Christians and White heterosexual males, we would see similar levels of growing antipathy towards out-groups.

    This in-group preference survey should be rerun to see whether accompanying photos of obviously LGBT, young and cosmopolitan whites elicit more favourable responses amongst the white liberal contingent. My point would be that political polarisation is driving us apart (which is obvious to everyone), to the extent that the more extreme ends of the political spectrum are actually beginning to see the constituent groups of each main political party as the enemy. Glass houses spring to mind, here.

    Other research suggest that most Americans are more concerned over fear that their family members will marry into the opposing party, than to a different race. The underlying political tension might also explain why many districts and constituencies have chosen to be so unnecessarily vindictive to faith groups which might well be willing to compromise, by say, choosing to worship in an open space, if actually asked, rather than told.

    But above all else, there seems to a divergence in thinking over what racism really is. To some it is simply the belief that other groups are inherently inferior, to others it is any evidence of disparity by group. Both are insanely simplistic and stupid polar opposites. A more nuanced approach might be to ask whether in-group preference can exclude people, and in fairness demand that people of differing viewpoints are also given full access to opportunity? Both can have positive results within the workplace. A recent Quillette article highlighted that some people believe that supporting the wrong party should be a firing offence, while a recent article by Cato showed that 62% of Americans are afraid to express their opinions openly.

    All of this should demonstrate how knowledge is probably more important in a digital age, than skills that don’t have a defined and specific vocational use. In addition, research shows that people who already possess broad swathes of knowledge, even if it is relatively trivial and fact-based, are better able to greedily assimilate new knowledge, as well as ensure that it is inherently more valuable than knowledge most Americans are capable of accessing.

    And this draws us full circle. Because whether it’s laziness, poor education, or more likely, being subject to the prevailing groupthink- facile platforms like Twitter or Facebook are unlikely to source valuable information- even for those who use them as a professional tool. On the subject of racism, if one uses the old formulation of racism, then the evidence- as Steven Pinker has accurately claimed- is that only 5% to 10% of Americans hold racist views- but only if you use the old formulation, and don’t account for preference as a form of discrimination. This way of looking at things, might not only help us to find more effective solutions to systemic or institutional racism, but also bring the country together to heal.

    The other research that desperately needs to be done, is to examine how much animus is driven by race and how much is driven by culture. Research of this sort might help us to mend internal divisions in productive ways, as well as serve as a warning to increasing levels of mass migration. One approach which might actually tend to help sooth the fears over immigration, would be to adopt a public policy which prevents the formation of self-segregating communities which are less likely to integrate well, and as a result, find themselves subject to poverty and an intergenerational dearth of opportunity, as well as increase cross-cultural local tensions, as existing communities are displaced. Sweden should serve as an ample example here.

    Above all, we need to start thinking about ways to bring our Western societies together, regardless of whatever happens in the political sphere. Central to this understanding, is the realisation that the more aggressive form of multiculturalism, which sneers and denigrates the host culture, actually tends to increase racism rather than reduce it- or at least according to eminent social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. But here again, there is contention- because again, what do we mean by racism? Above all, we need good data on whether celebrating cultural differences actually improves or harms economic outcomes. Because, with the exception of food, music and media, I rather suspect that harm is the inevitable answer- to what extent does difference cause exclusion, regardless of our best intentions?

  6. The one good thing about twitter is that left-wing pseudo-intellectuals on it are forced to speak in short bursts, instead of the tomes of nonsense they prefer.

  7. Author:

    You have missed a very important point.

    Twitter has caused a convergence of journalism.

    Public trust has been greatly eroded in the media. Why? Liberal outlets (which are most outlets) and conservative outlets each converge immediately on narratives that are so lock-step in interpretation that they reek of collusion.

    The colluding is accidentally happening on Twitter, where fast responses are valued, and only reflexive interpretations of events, not time consuming journalism, can occur, prior to writing the stories.

  8. Journalism is not a victim of Twitter but rather a victim of its own idealism. Not content to report the news, journalism wanted to remake the world in its own image.

    In the 1990’s journalism went from reporting the news to covering up news unfavorable to its view point. Newsweek and Monica Lewinski being just one apt example. This unwillingness to tell the whole story led to the advent of FOX News and other alternative media.

    Most media still persist in showing little interest to news unfavorable to its view point. This is not journalism. It is favoritism.

  9. A second observation I have related to this article is how the media is increasingly controlled by a handful of corporations and, in conjunction with Big Tech, we have seen an astonishing change in the way news gets reported in just a generation. I used to ridicule the idea of media bias and “the liberal media” on what I presumed was the rock solid theory that no matter what happened, the free market of ideas would sort everything out and the truth would be impossible to suppress. I think many thought the Internet would mean that this would hold even more true, and that with the unlimited numbers of micro bloggers and new media sites we would have an explosion of differing viewpoints. The worry was once “where would one find the truth out of such an assortment”? What we now have instead is conformity and near unanimity of opinion the likes of which I personally never imagined. This is the free market at work but in a way I did not foresee. We have big global corporations hiring those who will stick more or less to the views of the corporations. Look at Amazon and Jeff Bezos. Bezos is rarely taken to task in the media. His values are the prevailing values of all media and academia and they dovetail perfectly. The media now actually defend Bezos and portray him as some sort of hero, similar to all the tech oligarchs. It is not hard to see why this happens. If you want to become famous and earn money, you follow the globalist line of thinking. It helps all the more if these are firmly held convictions, and they most often are — these people are not lying, they are fighting the good fight in their self-perceptions. But it also means that anyone who has a different take on things, for instance, those with a more anti-globalization point of view, get weeded out early, fired or never hired to begin with. What results is the myopic echo chamber we have now which is increasingly divorced from reality.

  10. I find myself in the rare position of agreeing with the central premise of the essay. While really not enjoying the essay that much. I dislike Twitter, do not use it, and do not care to. Nevertheless feel the author consistently weakened the central message by demeaning Twitter with a lot of assumptions I feel are unfounded or nonsensical.

    For example:

    Twitter is in fact an advertising company—a truth revealed not only by the fact that a whopping 86.5 percent of the company’s revenue last year came from advertising

    This makes a company an “advertising company”? Are other media companies that make money via advertising also labeled the same? Granted the NYT sits behind a paywall so can be used as an easy comparison, but what about Quillette? Did Ms. Lehmann create a “Donations company”?

    And why is this breathlessly announced as “A truth revealed”? Twitter’s business model is not a secret.

    Of course, Twitter wasn’t designed to destroy journalism. In fact, it’s not exactly clear what it was originally designed to do, or even, for that matter, what it is supposed to do

    Its not a registered non-profit, so my guess would be its designed to make money.

    (besides turn enormous profits by selling targeted ads to its users)

    Oh, I see you know that.

    So where did the proceeding question come from? Additionally, “Profits” (enormous or otherwise) are not a Bad Thing. Not even if they come from advertising. The reigning assumption in this section seems to be that both “profits” and “advertising” are bad things which Twitter should be shamed for engaging in.

    I do not agree.

    But the claim that Twitter “serves” or even facilitates “conversation” is, to put it politely, exceedingly difficult to support. Plainly this stated objective is secondary to Twitter’s primary goal as a business, which is to make money

    The deuce you say!!!

    by selling targeted ads to its users on behalf of its major corporate clients

    Do minor individuals generally purchase advertising? Again we see “advertising”, “corporate” (major corps even!), “make money”, all being said as if they were bad things.

    .

    The essay is littered with these. Despite the fact I completely agree with Twitters role in damaging journalism, the entire essay rests upon the outrage that the CEO would dare try and suggest that Twitter is a good corporate citizen trying to “facilitate conversations”. Of course its nonsense. Nearly every company that says things like this are speaking nonsense.

    They are forced to make these pronouncements because making money by providing a service that people wish to use is now treated like a bad thing.

    In other words, its treated precisely the way that its treated in this essay.

  11. Great article. Captures the issue surrounding journalism and its almost self-destructive relationship with Twitter. I couldn’t agree more with the summary.

    One sidebar I wanted to mention as someone who works in tech: despite what people may think, Twitter actually isn’t very profitable. In fact, its stock performance since it went IPO has been abysmal relative to its peers. It’s current stock price is actually below its IPO price from eleven years ago.

    I think the primary reason for Twitter’s lackluster financial performance is due to the fact that it made itself an outrage engine. As a result, most companies are hesitant to advertise on that platform for fear of any potential backlash. From the perspective of the tech company I work for, Twitter actually costs us money in the sense that we need to employ individuals who monitor our primary Twitter accounts to deal with the outrage or rants that might manifest. Twitter essentially gave a voice to that crazy person on the street corner with the sign that reads ‘The End is Near!’. It is little more than a pulpit for narcissists and the outrage mob.

    Now with regards to journalists (and I use that term loosely), their adherence to Twitter has basically made them a laughing stock. Any credibility that modern day journalism may have had was shattered by the continued predilection of news outlets to mine Twitter daily for the next outrage story to satisfy a particular clickbait article. The end result is now, its just becoming noise. Most regular people shun Twitter in favor of alternatives (like Instagram) for fear of catching the ire of some blue-haired activist looking to cancel someone.

    So how will this play out? My suspicion is twofold:

    1. Twitter will eventually go the way of the dinosaur. There is adequate backlash to cancel culture and the outrage mob now, that people gravitate away from Twitter. I myself have never used it, but I have nieces and nephews that used to. They all say the same thing; they consider it passe now and prefer to use Instagram or Snapchat.
    2. Many modern journalistic outfits will also fall on hard times and eventually falter and die. The two I can think of at the top of the list will be Buzzfeed and Huffpost. Both of them heavily invested in clickbait articles and cancel culture and now both will suffer the downsides. Vice and Vox are also on tenuous ground.

    Ultimately, the free market will eventually correct things as it always does. Twitter has a negative connotation around it and there is enough scrutiny on much of social media that parents are taking a more active role in monitoring what their children do online. Couple this with the lack of proper advertising revenue from large scale corporations that prefer not to do business with Twitter and I see that platform eventually going the way of MySpace in the next decade.

  12. The fundamental premise of this article is completely wrong. As Mythfortune pointed out as well, almost all journalistic enterprises make their money selling advertising and they always have. Newspapers, tv news programs, radio news programs, they all make their money selling ads. So the idea that somehow selling ads is the problem with Twitter is stupid at face value and completely undermines any intelligent analysis the article attempts to offer.

    The one good point the article makes is the section with quotes from journalists about Twitter (e.g. “Twitter is the crystal meth of newsrooms—a drug that insinuates itself into our vulnerabilities only to leave us toothless and disgraced”). Partly, a couple of the quotes were great, but they seem to have caught on to the real problem with Twitter. Assuming Twitter is like meth, a drug that one can get addicted to with disastrous consequences, it would make sense to outlaw it’s usage. But what if Twitter is like Tequila? No one is calling for a second round of prohibition. We know alcoholism exists, we know drunk people do many stupid things and can destroy their lives and others in the process. But alcohol is legal and minimally regulated. One could argue that with libel and slander laws, decorum rules and minimum age requirements on accounts, Twitter is already equivalently regulated.

    So, while it got poo-pooed as the “intellectually craven” guns don’t kill people argument, what other argument is there? Twitter is inherently evil, Dorsey has secret Jedi mind powers that have bewitched the entire country and it’s not any one’s fault? What level of irresponsibility and infantility are we ascribing to people that they can’t control themselves and what they write on Twitter? The fact that it is far too often used for “water cooler” conversations made public by people who choose to make them public isn’t Twitter’s fault. Somehow, journalism survived tabloids and the entire enterprise didn’t devolve into fake pictures of space alien-human hybrid babies. If the quality of journalism has declined noticeably, it might help to look more broadly for why that’s happened.

  13. When I got to the end of the article I had two converging thoughts:

    1. I agree with the author. Journalism is suffering mightily under the weight of Twitter and even more so under the weight of its own pretensions. Journalists have never been more shrill and certain of themselves as “though-leaders” than they are now.
    2. I’m not sure why I should care. Seeing the decline of “journalism” is about as relevant to me as the decline of “the priesthood” or any other network of professionals. I am increasingly uninterested in the constant hand-wringing that has become standard these days.

    I understand how we are supposed to lament a lack of “journalistic integrity” but I am not convinced that this integrity ever truly existed in the first place. It may be that Twitter is not destroying “journalism” but is merely reshaping the landscape and destroying some of the journalistic powerhouses like the NYT. If that is so, then more power to them. It’s about time. And there is always chaos when the status quo ante is upended like this.

    So it is possible that the real problem here is not “Journalism’s Death by a Thousand Tweets” but rather,
    “Journalism Died a Long Time Ago and No One Noticed Until Now… When it was on Twitter”
    or maybe even
    “Twitter has Killed Journalism’s Pretensions of Integrity and Impartiality”,
    or how about
    “Twitter is an Existential Challenge to the Journalistic Monopoly on Information and Truth

  14. My point is that it would be incredibly easy for a person to exploit a refugee with no status.

    I was a refugee with no status in Austria for like 7 months. It wasn’t easy, let alone incredibly easy, to exploit me or my fellow refugees. Admittedly we worked under the table for 50 schillings/hour (around $5 in those days), but it suited us fine: no administration, no taxes, cash on the barrel.

Continue the discussion in Quillette Circle

65 more replies

Participants

Comments have moved to our forum

82 Comments

  1. Pingback: Every Loathsome Government | Chamblee54

  2. Pingback: Shock Value – Trance Blackman

Comments are closed.