Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The end of Twitter as a source of news

Nothing in recent memory has made me feel better about newspapers than Twitter's reporting of Osama bin Laden's death.

Like much of the world, I learned of bin Laden's death on Twitter, and that initial excitement carried the thrill of a whispered rumor. But that's all it carried. It took me about thirty seconds to realize that nothing I wanted to know about his death — its consequences and ramifications, primarily, but also its circumstances and, secondarily, the reactions in the U.S. of people most affected by the 9/11 attacks — could or would ever be available on Twitter in a form useful to me.

For that I'll have to turn to newspapers, magazines (television, too, I suppose) and their online imitators. So, while social media may be a useful canary in a coal mine for news organizations and for the reading, listening and watching public, they're nothing more than starting points for news. If Twitter offers news, I want something else. I want the story.
***
I am reading or have just read two novels from the 1970s that turn at least in part on disillusionment with the degree to which life has become a big spectacle. One is J.G. Ballard's Crash, and the other is Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette, newly available in English translation  from New York Review of Books (and including a blurb from Philadelphia's own Duane Swierczynski).

I thought of both as I read an article in my newspaper about Twitter and bin Laden's death that quotes a social news editor of the Huffington Post thus:
“At one time, they all would have had to go the White House or ground zero or a baseball game. But now people could stay at their houses and be part of this outpouring of emotion and the conversation.”
Ballard would have shuddered — if he didn't laugh his ass off.
***
Just had a chat with two colleagues about the bogus Martin Luther King quotation. Back when Twitter was taken seriously, we would have had to exchange Tweets. But now we could gather together, for real, in person, and talk about how the entire world has been suckered by social media.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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11 Comments:

Anonymous Jim Benn said...

Very true, Peter. And the spontaneous nighttime gatherings of people in NYC and DC, and probably elsewhere, speak to the human need to come together non-electronically.

May 03, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Oh, I agree! How much faith can a person have in his fellow humans' good sense after watching the politicians going after each other.

And they have mostly gone to college.

May 03, 2011  
Anonymous Patrick said...

I would say that Twitter has a huge role in news. Used properly it's a great aggregator. Through links from twitter I read long form articles I'd never have seen without it.

May 03, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jim, I don't knock Twitter, shun it, or think it a force for evil. This post was uploaded to Twitter within minutes of its appearance here. But, like many other new communications technologies, it is wildly oversold by its hucksters, boosters, and acolytes. The quotation I cited was actually one of the milder examples.

May 03, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I'm not sure I'd trust a politician who felt compelled to resort to Twitter except as a pointer to other sources and media.

May 03, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Patrick, read my second and third paragraphs.I wrote that social media may be a starting point for news, but that for anything more, one needs to turn to newspapers, magazines, and their online versions. That's the point I think you're making.

I have a Twitter account, and I use it regularly. My problem is not with Twitter, bur rather with the boosters, many in the mainstream media, who overstate its importance.

May 03, 2011  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

That story about the incorrect quote also fits with Ballard, especially the fall-out and reactions from people.

Although it's almost impossible to imagine Ballard, "laughing his ass off," it's fun to try.

May 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Crash was my first experience reading Ballard. You think he'd go in more for a maniacal cackle? An explosion of breath out the side of his mouth that he'd have called a giggle? A leer, his forehead wearing a sheen of sweat?

May 04, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

When I see the criticisms of Twitter I am reminded of the nay-sayers who thought the invention of the railroad a demonic plot that could only lead to death and disaster.

Flaubert couldn't stop moaning about this new-fangled invention.

Presumably, like all systems, Twitter wil be absorbed into everday life in time?

I have friends who seem to think that moral supiority and, in some cases, eternal sanctity, may be linked to not being a Twitterer (or a Twit).

I heard the ghastly news about how Bin Laden met his end on TV.
Reporting was shot through with propaganda and I'm not even convinced that the story may not have been invented as some sort of distraction.
I don't tend to believe much I see on TV and Twitter is like the incessant sound of a global dreamtime that one is free to take or leave.

May 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The nay-sayers' opposite and equally cartoonish counterparts are the cheerleaders, who believe Steve Jobs when he says not only that he will change the world but has done so already, twice.

Twitter is, indeed, something like a global dreamtime, and some of those dreams are fevered, and some calculated.

My analogy for Twitter (in which, as I have already said, I have an account that I used regularly) is my local bar fifteen minutes before closing time on a Friday night. Amid the shouting and the drunken babble, if you concentrate hard and strain your ears, you just might be able to pick up a word, a phrase, or some other scrap of conversation that you might be able to use later.

May 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I just saw your second post. The chase I had in mind was not from "Moonraker," but rather from a movie that had Nicolas Cage in it.

May 13, 2011  

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