The Times ran a pretty worth-a-read article yesterday about the new generation of campaign reporters. In contrast to the weathered chain-smoking Merriman Smith types of The Boys on the Bus, today’s campaign reporters are youngsters chosen because they’re cheap and willing to put up with uncomfortable working conditions. Which sucks right off the bat, but these kids (full disclosure: I shouldn’t really be calling them that, since I’m the same age or younger as most of them) are also being told to use Twitter in exactly the wrong way. And that’s the thing that really needles.
Here is the incredibly wrong-headed advice these reporters are being given about Twitter:
In light of this new, more perilous media climate, news organizations are counseling impulse control. At National Journal and CBS News, reporters must attach the suffix “CBSNJ” to their Twitter account names and have been directed to talk to their editors before they send out a Twitter blast.
“If Jon Huntsman drops out of the race, we want to know back at the news desk,” Caroline Horn, senior producer of politics for CBS News, told them. “We don’t want to find out about it on Twitter.”
The bolding is mine. You don’t want to find out about things on Twitter? What’s Twitter for, then? If Jon Huntsman drops out of the race, two things will happen: 1) no one will care, and 2) a quick reporter will tweet out the news way before these National Journal/CBS people who are hamstrung by the fact that they will have to call an editor, ask for permission to tweet, and then tweet.
During that time, the fleet-fingered reporter who beat them to Twitter will already have been retweeted hundreds of times; had their tweet linked to in a blog post; and been able to obtain follow-up information and reactions (“How do you feel about Jon Huntsman dropping out of the race?” “IDK”). Then they’ll get to work on their article, which will be informed by their Twitter-reporting. Then they’ll get fabulously drunk and everyone will high-five them about their scoop.
It’s true that with Twitter, there’s a high margin of error. It’s easy to make mistakes. But it’s also easy to tweet a retraction if you made an error, and fact is, Twitter has become absolutely essential to the way reporters do their job. Look at Brian Stelter’s coverage of the Joplin tornado. We relied on it this weekend to cover the goings-on in evacuation zones in Brooklyn and Queens. In addition to filing a story when we got home, we were able to report what we saw and heard in real time. Strikes us as a little old-fashioned that these campaign reporters won’t be able to do the same.