Twitter Demise Rumors Greatly Exaggerated

An <a href="http://www.adotas.com/2009/08/twitter-we-barely-knew-you/analysis by Gartner</a> says Twitter is already on the way down the extinction slope. Maybe it's Gartner that's obsolete.

I was intrigued by the fact that the three comments provided by readers were all of the same basic tenor: Twitter changes the news most importantly. The idea that reporters have become essentially reviewers of the news (and, I'd add, filters — not always beneficially; see Fox News) and that Murdoch and others who want to own the content are dead but don't have sense enough to lie down yet is cogent. If you save a child's life in a fire and the police award you a medal and the local reporter interviews you and the police and writes a story, who actually made and owns the news? The one with the least valid claim is the newspaper that publishes the reporter's story, followed by the reporter (who at least can be argued to add some value), and then by you, the child you rescued, and the police, who combined to make the news happen.

Now, let's be clear here. The reporter and, through his employment agreement, the newspaper, own the story he gathers and writes. If five different media outlets cover the story, each owns its own version of the event reporting. But the news itself? That isn't owned by anyone. It happened. It's an event, not a product. So if your neighbor caught the actual rescue with his iPhone 3GS video camera, he may have the best story of all despite his not being "mainstream media." Notice that in all cases, the news makers don't own any of this. That's because they're the event, not the product.

So if Twitter has fundamentally changed the way we think about, gather and react to news — and it seems to me it's too early to declare that to be true but all indications certainly point in that direction — then it's demise is not only not imminent, it may be a harbinger of the world of news to come.

I still think there's a role in this for professional reporters and editors who can filter the news, pick out the reliable information from the propaganda and lies, combine multiple viewpoints into a single story, and write readable copy. But those people need to adjust their horizons about what their jobs are, how they do them, and how important their role in the whole process is. Twitter or its progeny will become the new instant-news outlet, putting more and more emphasis on professionals to provide commentary, context, analysis and thought. If they adjust to this new need, they can probably hang around another decade or so, but probably not longer. Somewhere out there, there's a 14-year-old beardless youth working on the tool that will render them obsolete as well.

The Times it is a-changin'.

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