Saints alumna Amy Artgetsinger '86 is an editor for The Washington Post Style section and a former Reliable Source columnist. She knows how much social media has changed the game for news reporting. There is an expectation for news to be reported instantaneously and for media to provide constant updates on a story. It’s changed the way journalists gather information, how they engage with their audiences, and it has created a brave new world for content. It’s a world where words can carry a lot of weight and live on indefinitely. Amy gives us the good, the bad, and the in-between of this medium from her personal experience and reflection.
Q: How does the role of social media—especially Twitter—impact today's journalism?
Amy: “I have such mixed feelings about Twitter. On the one hand, it’s been an amazing tool for helping us find new sources of information. You probably remember the Twitter user in 2009 who shared the first photo of the US Airways plane floating in the Hudson; but I always think of an incident later that year. One afternoon, I overheard an older reporter on the phone talking to National Zoo officials about a stunning tragedy—a deer that was mauled after it accidentally leapt into the lion’s den.
‘Wow,’ I said. ‘There must have been a ton of people who saw it happen on a beautiful day like today?’
‘Yes, one assumes,’ he said, ‘but who knows, because they haven’t called us.’
Suddenly, I knew what had happened. I went to Twitter and searched, ‘lion deer zoo.’ Within seconds I found two people who had seen it—one of whom had posted video—and within minutes my colleague had them on the phone.
‘This is great!’ he said. ‘No, it’s terrible,’ I replied. ‘Because the people who want to share information aren’t calling us anymore. They’re taking it straight to Twitter.’
It is also a potent feedback machine. I have seen mistakes corrected, questions answered, and stories sharpened thanks to immediate input from thoughtful readers. But that chorus can be an echo chamber. A few loud voices feel like the entire world shouting at you. And so I have seen journalists publish stories that are nearly indecipherable because they are written in response to insider arguments mustered by a couple dozen people they follow on Twitter. Worse, I have seen journalists talk themselves out of writing stories altogether, someone else made a 140-character observation on that topic that convinced them it’s already been ‘done.’
And I haven't even begun to discuss the endless hours journalists spend on Twitter promoting their stories, picking fights, obsessing over their follower count—time when they could have spent with their families, or reading a book, or writing real stories.
On the whole? Twitter helps us as much as hurts us; it wastes as much time as it saves; and it narrows our worldview as much as it broadens it.”