Well-readhead: How and why I use Twitter
I recently gave an address at the Media 140 Conference in Sydney about the impact of social media on journalism. I was invited to speak about the ethics and professionalism of the way I use twitter. Today’s post is adapted from my remarks.
My guiding principle is ‘If in doubt, leave it out’.
In other words, when it comes to what I put on twitter, I err on the side of caution - as I do with what I write or broadcast generally.
It might be helpful to explain why I tweet:
• So I’m not left out. Media technology is rapidly changing and I’d prefer to try new things and then dump them when they’re superseded rather than not try them at all.
• To diversify my ‘brand’. I hope to attract a new audience to my writing and broadcasting.
• To promote product. I advise what’s coming up on Lateline, provide links to this blog and recommend other articles that I have found helpful.
• To gather information.
On this final point, the twitterers I follow can largely be divided into two groups. The first comprises those who provide useful information. Two examples: The Times (@timesonline) is an excellent provider of short, sharp links to high quality content and my colleague Mark Colvin (@colvinius) is very widely read and regularly links to articles I’ve not seen. The second group I follow is made of twitterers who entertain me. One of my favourites is @shitmydadsays. The blurb says it’s written by somebody called Justin: “I’m 29. I live with my 73 year old Dad. He is awesome. I just write down shit that he says.” And it is hilarious.
In terms of my own twitter stream, I aim to provide a feed that is both useful AND entertaining. I hope that people who follow me over time will come to trust that my own journalism is worth watching or reading. I also hope that they find the stories or items to which I link interesting, funny or informative. I recently read a comment that said to be a success on twitter, you must be the friend that everybody wants to hang out with. That’s what I aim for.
The trickiest aspect for me has been the desire to entertain. My public persona prior to twitter has been about as far down the pointy-headed end of journalism as you can get. I’m a former Washington Correspondent, former National Security Correspondent, my latest book muses about the merits of doubt as an intellectual premise and the one before that evaluated the Bush administration’s detainee policies in the war on terror. Let’s face it – on paper, I sound like I could bore for Australia.
But I’d like to think that in real life, I don’t take myself that seriously. I’d also like to think that it’s possible to be a serious, credible journalist and also display a sense of humour. Although I don’t see those two things as incompatible, I wasn’t convinced that the more dour critics of the ABC would agree. I could imagine the fun police saying that the host of a sophisticated program such as Lateline shouldn’t be posting tweets such as: “BBC: Study shows parrots like heavy metal music. Polly want a Limp Bizkit”.
Accuse me of making lame jokes if you like, but who’s to say I can’t make a bad pun AND be sufficiently abreast of developments in Afghanistan to quiz the Foreign Minister about the direction of the war?
That’s the why. What about the how – the ethics and professionalism aspect. How have I married my serious journalism side with a desire to be entertaining?
As I said earlier, from the first day, my guiding principle on twitter has been if in doubt, leave it out. If I come up with something that gives me even a moment’s pause, I don’t post it. I’m sure I sometimes make mistakes. But I try to apply this standard to both matters of taste and accuracy.
When it comes to accuracy, I act exactly as I would if broadcasting on television or radio. If the information comes from another media outlet, I source it. If I’ve gathered the information myself, it must come from credible sources and be verified. On taste, my general rule is that I don’t joke about stories that I may have to cover personally. So for example, I rarely touch federal politics, although there are a lot of jokes to be had there as @annabelcrabb would attest. I mostly make jokes about insignificant or inoffensive stories (such as dancing parrots).
I guess it should be fairly apparent from what I’m saying that the @leighsales persona that you may or may not follow on twitter is not fully ‘me’. Although you see more of my personality than you do on Lateline, and it’s certainly not fake or false, my twitter persona is still reasonably carefully constructed.
Here are this week’s ten interesting things to watch, read or listen to:
1. The most fitting description of somebody I’ve ever read could well be this one about the British comedian Russell Brand: “in full panoply, with his boots and bullet belt and chains and eyeliner, he looks like Chewbacca’s girlfriend”. Read The Atlantic’s full take on Brand and his fellow Brit-wit Ricky Gervais.
2. How about this guy’s lego?
3. Philip Roth is one of my favourite authors. In a rare video interview, he discusses writing and his new book ‘The Humbling’ – I can’t wait to read it.
4. Some of these passive aggressive notes are hilarious.
5. I used to think blogs were the domain of self-promoting narcissists. Now I know they are: here’s my latest article for The Monthly about the court where offenders can win applause.
6. The Bush administration faced immense criticism for its policy of rendition although the practice continues under President Obama. Now Italy has charged and tried 26 Americans over the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Milan more than six years ago. It’s straining the diplomatic relationship between Italy and the US. Read about it here at The New York Times.
7. This very provocative but fascinating article is headed ‘Do Starving Africans a Favour. Don’t Feed Them.’
8. What happens when you test how Google-suggest responds if you use ‘more intelligent’ or ‘less intelligent’ language? Slate checks it out.
9. Kevin Rudd is often accused of using too much jargon (detailed programmatic specificity anyone?) Speechwriter Don Watson tells Sabra Lane on AM how it drives him nuts.
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