A group of journalists has agreed to “prove” how useless Twitter and Facebook are by reporting only news they receive through those services for five days. But this is a farce that only proves these journalists don’t understand the role social media plays in the news.

Why do so many journalists and traditional media outlets see social media services like Twitter and Facebook as a threat? Maybe it’s a result of too many breathless headlines about how they’re going to replace traditional journalism (headlines that mostly appear in traditional media outlets, but don’t get me started on that).

Now a group of journalists has apparently agreed to “prove” how useless these tools are by locking themselves in a farmhouse for five days and reporting only news they receive through Twitter and Facebook.

To make matters worse, the journalists in question won’t be able to use the web to follow any of the links they get through Twitter or Facebook, or verify any of the news that’s reported — they will apparently have to write based on just the information coming in through those two networks. This is like giving a journalist a phone and telling them they can only report information from incoming calls, but no dialing of their own.

The point, it seems, is to show that the information that comes through social media like Twitter is unreliable. But is that really a big news flash at this point? There are also plenty of missing details: Will these journalists be following and “friending” traditional media outlets like the New York Times or the Washington Post, or will they just be randomly surveying Twitter trending topics and Facebook pages?

The reality is that no single source is ever enough, whether it’s Twitter or a phone call from a source at City Hall. Social media hasn’t changed that. And the most important aspect of new media is that it is (to use an overused word) an ecosystem. News can begin on Twitter, make its way through Facebook and other networks to blogs and then meet up and merge with reports from the traditional media.

Haiti is a perfect example: Twitter users on the ground after the earthquake became the eyes and ears of the world, and allowed people to experience firsthand what was happening. Then traditional media followed — many of whom in turn used Twitter and Facebook to tell their stories. These social media networks are just tools, like telephones and notepads and tape recorders.

Put simply, the French project is a farce and a sideshow. All it risks “proving” is that some journalists — and their masters (the experiment is being sponsored by the French public broadcasting association) — are as clueless as anyone else about Twitter or Facebook and how those services can benefit journalism. The fact is that journalism has always been a complex system with multiple inputs and multiple sources, and social media just adds to that. Excluding all but one or two of those sources proves nothing.

Thumbnail and post image courtesy of Arbroath

This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.

  1. I quite agree; this proves nothing other than that the journalists in question think nothing of rigging their research in order to prove their existing opinion. This rather undermines their ability to judge the reliability of any journalistic source, as they themselves are untrustworthy.

  2. Let’s see what they come up with then assess the value of their work.

  3. @scottrcrawford Friday, January 22, 2010

    making mud pies.

  4. While ‘ecosystem’ is over used, it also speaks to the dymanics of the medium more generally. So the very fact that they are locking themselves anywhere, and only allowing access from incoming links actually proves very little.

    Actually I shouldn’t say that because it does prove a few things:

    1. They don’t understand the services
    2. They don’t get the importance of the underlying dynamics of how they work
    3. They have no insight into how people use them as a news source

    They might however, understand basic advertising and marketing and are simply pulling this as some old school publicity stunt.

  5. I contend that most content — music, television, news — will ultimately be located through social channels. So, why can’t I launch a music file through that channel? Why does it need a directory — iTunes?

    The problem will be monetizing it. Just as Apple gets the channels to move into the garden of Eden, the landscape shifts. $.02…

  6. This will work, finging more information and faster than any newpaper.

  7. Same old same old. History repeats itself. The same kind of bull went on when Radio came along and then TV. As traditional media business models soften and revenues drop, you’ll see more and more of these kind of attacks. WSJ back in October claimed Email was dead – uh ya.

    It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Traditional media is terrified by the idea that they now have to be accountable for the pablum they spew. No longer can they simply push out the spin and force feed it to the drooling masses. They simply can’t compete as an industry with interactive media and as individual professionals they just can’t take being challenged at every turn by a public which is becoming far more savvy than at any time in our past.

    The CBC is one of the worst offenders in this regard. As they flitter away public money to prop up and incestuous empire which for decades has funneled our tax dollars into the pockets of their old boy empire.

    Bye guys…don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  8. Well put Mathew. Appears to be a clear case of missing the woods for the trees. Social media, like any other medium has its limitations. Such ‘experiments’ only highlight to show the attitude of traditional media players that refuse to realize and accept that their readers are probably as much, if not more, aware of a story, and are intelligent enough to separate the news from the noise. No wonder traditional media is facing some of its darkest days!

  9. It will prove that the journalists using social media know more than the knob who wrote this post.

    1. Having trouble finding work in print are we?

  10. Sherrilynne Starkie Friday, January 22, 2010

    Seems like a waste of time to me. Twitter works well virally, but it’s also a fantastic two-way communications tool. Why are they ignoring the @ and DM functions? This undermines the experiment.

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