Om Malik highlighted a survey by Muckrake which shows a bigger proportion of journalists expecting to spend more time on Twitter in the next year than less:
To anyone following the trajectory which Twitter under Musk has taken this makes no sense at all. The service suspended the accounts of journalists who criticised him. It curtailed efforts to prevent attacks on women journalists, leading to an upsurge in more attacks. It reinstated the accounts of far right activists who had been suspended because of threats to journalists. It has deliberately reduced the reach of posts mentioning Substack, a platform which many journalists use to directly reach audiences.
And of course this is in addition to providing a safe harbour for bigots, racists, homophobes, transphobes, anti-semites, anti-vax myth peddlers, climate change deniers, and mass murderers who have been charged with war crimes.
So why do journalists appear so reluctant to even reduce their time on Twitter, let alone abandon what’s obviously a dying platform which is slowly choking on the hate that Musk is encouraging?
There are a few factors at play. The first is that most journalists are incredibly conservative when it comes to new technology of any kind. Journalists were slow to understanding blogging and how it was going to change publishing. They were slow to social media: as Anil Dash points out, “prestige media won’t go to the fediverse for another 2 years, same lag where they didn’t think Twitter existed until after Ashton Kutcher legitimized it.”
The second is that almost universally journalists overestimate the amount of engagement and traffic which accrue from Twitter versus any other kind of social media. When I worked in audience development, I would often ask journalists who weren’t familiar with traffic numbers where they thought social traffic came from. Universally, they would put Twitter at the top.
In fact, referrals from Facebook dwarf Twitter, and they always have. Facebook accounts for 90% of social media traffic for publisher and news websites, 10x that of Twitter:
If what you care about is ordinary people reading your stories, you will get 10x the results from effort put into Facebook vs Twitter.
What you won’t get – and this is the important point – is 10x the attention from other journalists. Journalists love Twitter because it connects them to other journalists. It’s talking shop, and shop window for themselves and their work. Some journalists have made their careers through being noticed by other journalists on Twitter: there is an entire coterie of political journalists, for example, who have become “big beasts” because of the attention they get there, not from ordinary people, but from other journalists.
Journalism is an intensely social and sociable practice. It’s also often – particularly in newspapers – run on a “who you know” basis, which is one of the reasons that over half the top 100 journalists in the UK went to public school. Being able to parade your engagement skills on Twitter in front of your peers has helped people get jobs, and, at the very least, it can establish your name.
So no, I’m not surprised that journalists are clinging to Twitter like a life raft, despite the direct attacks from Musk, the bigotry, and the clear decline in the platform’s importance to ordinary people. It’s not about the plebs. It never was.