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Start The Presses:

It’s time for us to tweet our words

June 03, 2009|By DAN EVANS

Does Twitter have a valid place in journalism? Or, rather, is it a bland, overwhelming and narcissistic medium, more useful for telling people about your shampoo preference than a way to engage readers?

As with most things, the answer lies with whom the Twittering tolls. At its best, the site connects reporters, editors and photographers to sources and readers. Readers gain insight into why and how a story was discovered, reported and illustrated. This is my goal for the Burbank Leader account, BurbankLeader.

At its worst, journalism-by-Twitter becomes just that much more noise, filled with banal trivia and useless information, doomed to failure by its own pointlessness.

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For the uninitiated, Twitter is the brainchild of a San Francisco start-up, Obvious. Users have 140 characters to state whatever is on their mind, and the tweet, as it’s called, is sent out to that user’s followers.

Twitter began in August 2006, blossoming to host an average 55 million unique visitors per month, according to the Web analytics company Compete.com. (By way of comparison, the Burbank Leader receives about 65,000 online visitors per month.)

Some in journalism cast a jaundiced eye toward Twittering. Like blogs, the complaint goes, Twittering is just one more thing we’re giving away. Producing tweets requires time and, by extension, money. Making that information freely available — no matter how interesting, timely or important — further imperils the industry.

My response is this: Journalism cannot be a once-a-day information vitamin. A paper’s website cannot afford to simply be an electronic version of the printed edition. Information simply moves on too quickly, and readers are far too impatient for the latest updates to wait.

This impatience has had two main consequences. First, more and more people are reading newspapers than ever before. The appetite for information is voracious, and only appears to be increasing. Blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts are vital in helping to fill that need.

Observe the cascade of information regarding the now-infamous “wise Latina woman” comment of Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

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