Bloggers, Journalists, and The Downside of Transparency

One of the latest developments happening in both the political blogosphere and journalism today is the newfound attraction to the microblogging service Twitter.

Twitter is simply a service that allows people to send 140-character “tweets” to their followers, and exactly because it is just that simple, users have been able to make Twitter their own, and turn it into many different things. So, for some, like Zappos, it’s a marketing and business tool. For Twitter’s investors, it’s a business plan waiting-to-happen. For celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Lily Allen, it’s a way to reach out to fans. For technologist Dave Winer, it’s a launching point for starting “a billion Twitters,” just as in the beginning, few blogs started a billion more. Similarly, Trebor Scholz wonders if, like the early days of link blogs, Twitter is a “revival of mutual pointing from more than a decade ago“?

Because Twitter is so simple, it can be all of those things, and more. And because on Twitter, you “tune” the list of people you follow, you carve out your own little world there. So whether there are 100, or, as reported recently by Nielsen, 7 million users, it doesn’t matter — Twitter can feel as intimate or as breathlessly overcrowded as you want it.

Most interesting to me, though, is the way in which journalists and bloggers have taken to the form. On a recent post on Daily Kos, blogger Scout Finch outlined why the kos community should be joining Twitter:

What I discovered is a fascinating social experiment. Journalists, pundits, politicians, celebrities, and the everyday Joe are chattering away. Suddenly, the Joe Scarborough’s of the world are interacting with the public in a way they never have before…..directly and without a filter. Whether responding to questions about Morning Joe segments or his favorite soccer teams, Joe is tweeting like mad. And he’s not alone. @GStephanopoulos, @jaketapper, @Shuster1600, @tamronhall, and so on. The list of twittering pundits is growing by the minute. But, what is the appeal for them? Why have they gone so utterly crazy for Twitter? Reading through their tweets, I was struck by how engaged they are with their “followers.” Twitter allows them to interact like they might in the comments section of a blog. In short, Twitter has allowed them to become bloggers…albeit in a micro-form…

…I may still be a n00b in Twitterville, but I’ve seen enough to know that Twitter is crashing the old communication gates. The most surprising thing about that is how relieved the pundits, celebs, and politicians seem to be about the old barriers coming down. Turns out they weren’t being protected by those old barriers as much as they were being constrained by them. So, it is easy to see why the pundits are developing into a Twittering class of their own.

Surprisingly to me, many of the bloggers on Daily Kos either didn’t get, or didn’t want to get, the explanation. So you find comments in the post like, “Twitter is bullshit” and the reply, “I agree it is total bullshit. The best I have seen it described is it seems to be an unusually ‘high noise to signal ratio.’ All updates, no substance.”

Now, perhaps this is a case of the old guard (although calling bloggers at Daily Kos that seems odd…) being wary of the new. Perhaps there is a threat to what bloggers do, and in this respect, their reaction can be seen as similar to the defensive posture we saw journalists take in the early days of blogging.

But the political blogosphere has been largely built through maintaining an antithetical position to the field of journalism — rather than blogs being a parasitic medium (which is often how they are portrayed), bloggers have really come into whatever political clout and power they have today because they’ve taken on the media. Bloggers aren’t repackaging the news; they’re taking it apart and asking why it works the way it does.

Which is why avoiding Twitter seems like the last thing political bloggers would want to do, because Twitter brings with it an amazing level of transparency — it’s groundbreaking, really. As Scout Finch remarks, journalists and TV pundits are interacting both with their audience, and with many politicians. Where in the past, the why and how of journalism were always hidden, today, on Twitter, it’s increasingly out in the open.

And for journalists, that’s also becoming the downside.

Take ABC’s Jake Tapper. As pointed out on TPM earlier today, Tapper began pushing a story on Twitter about Obama (cracking a Special Olympics joke on Leno, which was, obviously, a dumb thing to do…), and then later “sighing” at the “hypocrisy” of people talking about this story.

As David Kurtz at TPM notes, this is the “disease” of the bubble in which journalists live. This is exactly how they operate, pushing a non-story story that will likely get ratings and website hits, rather than doing investigative journalism. And that model is exactly what bloggers have used as a rallying cry for the last 8 years.

Even more interestingly, a few bloggers have noticed Tapper is now “blocking” them on Twitter, whenever someone apparently asks the wrong questions. Or something?

Talk about hypocrisy — here is a journalist whose profession is made possible by the First Amendment, keeping people from reading his public statements on Twitter. It would be stunning, if it wasn’t part of the same critique bloggers have offered about the news media for years.

Scout Finch is right — there is a huge social experiment going on right on Twitter. Fascinating to watch.

Even more fun to take part in.

Update: ThinkProgress

Update Two: From TPM blogger David Kurtz: Tapper, in what I guess is a Twitter equivalent of a peace offering, started following my Twitter feed this afternoon, and I am now able to follow his again. He twittered: “tpm is unblocked. My bad”

Brave new world…

[Note: This has been cross-posted on my blog at MediaCommons, a new “digital scholarly network.” Really good stuff over there — please check it out!]


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