Brian Moritz asks a question you face in almost every newsroom addressing the challenges of digital journalism: How do you “convert” the curmudgeons?
There are some reporters (mainly older vets, but a surprising number of young ones, too) who just do not like Twitter. At all. Think it’s a waste, that it’s ruining our craft. Won’t even give it the time of day. How do you convert these people? How do you get them to the point where they are willing to even honestly give Twitter a chance?
I have two responses: one optimistic and helpful and one dismissive.
First, the helpful, optimistic response: I believe we all learn and grow at different rates and in different ways.
If a good journalist is still resisting Twitter use, I would try to identify the reason. If the reason is that he or she doesn’t understand how Twitter can make you a better journalist, I show how you use Twitter’s advanced search tool to find eyewitnesses to breaking news events. I’m not saying this converts everyone (nothing does), but it’s hard to dismiss Twitter as useless when you see concrete examples of its value.
Sometimes the resistance is based in fear that an old-school journo can’t learn this new skill. In that case, some instruction helps people see how useful it really is and how easy it is to use. I would share my Twitter tips for journalists or try some personal coaching or a workshop (or all three). Twitter (as Brian knows) is easy to use and easy to learn. You can overcome this fear pretty quickly if you can just help the reluctant journalist get started.
Sometimes the resistance might be based in being overworked and feeling you don’t have time to learn Twitter or make good use of it. Here you need to show how quickly you can use Twitter, how it saves you time searching for sources, how you can use Twitter lists and tools such as advanced search, TweetDeck and HootSuite to organize tweets so you can search and monitor Twitter efficiently. I’d share my Twitter time management tips.
Some people have valid ethical questions or concerns. I discuss how to vet and verify social media sources and information.
I would point out some respected journalists using Twitter. I’d ask what makes you think you’re better than Nicholas Kristof, Jake Tapper, Ann Curry or Roger Ebert, who make outstanding use of Twitter? I recently provided some coaching to a journalist who had procrastinated about getting started on Twitter. She knew she needed to be on Twitter, but just hadn’t gotten around to it. I knew she was a big fan of Kristof (“hero” was the word she had used in an unrelated email). I noted he was a big Twitter user. Now she’s using Twitter.
I also would make the point that I don’t care whether journalists like Twitter. I don’t like interviewing grieving relatives about their deceased family members. But it’s an important part of journalism. It has produced lots of great stories for me (and it has given family members an opportunity to tell people about the loved ones they had lost). Every job has some important and legitimate tasks that we don’t like. Professionals do what good journalism demands, and today good journalism demands social media skills, like it or not.
I also would consider the journalist’s overall skills and attitude. Maybe this journalist is a standout at some other aspect of digital journalism, such as databases, blogging or video. Most journalists are going to have more successful careers if they embrace and master multiple digital skills. But someone who excels at one digital skill is probably going to get a little slack if resisting use of Twitter (or something else) than someone who is resisting digital journalism generally.
And traditional journalism skills still matter. I’m not very patient with curmudgeons, but I’ll be more patient with someone whose reporting, writing, editing, photography or design skills are outstanding than with someone who’s just pretty good at traditional skills. But that patience is wearing thin. The value of digital journalism skills rises almost daily, and any journalist who is denying the value of Twitter is ignoring years of evidence in thousands of stories. I don’t have much respect for journalists who are stubborn about ignoring facts. Soon, that trait will show up in news coverage, and that has never been good journalism.
Let’s be honest: In many cases, the journalists Brian describes have made a career choice to hang their future on nostalgia and wishful thinking. I can’t make their wishes come true, and I don’t want to.
Twitter has been proving its value to journalists for at least three or four years now. I am under no illusion that I have such wonderful persuasive ability to change the thinking of someone who has been ignoring the changing world that willfully and that long.
I have lots to do helping journalists who want to be part of the exciting digital future of journalism. I won’t waste much time and energy on people who have decided not to join that future.