I’ve been drawing a paycheck as a journalist for 33 years now, and for all of the past three I never knew if anyone really read anything I’d reported unless they were angry.
That changed the past three years, when I began reporting via Twitter.
Until then, the only feedback journalists got were usually a letter to the editor or a short, terse phone call. Over the phone, you could hear them screaming. It usually took a special kind of anger to make someone sit down and write, in detail, why they hated me and my future spawn, because they disagreed with something I’d written.
In those days, journalists rarely heard from anyone unless they were hacked off. Occasionally, a colleague, or someone you knew, might say they liked something you wrote. But mostly, it was readers and editors telling you what you did wrong.
Twitter changed everything. I’ve gotten more encouragement and support on during the past three years on Twitter than in the past three decades before that.
I’m not the only one. Tom Jolly, sports editor of the New York Times, has found a similar experience. We met at the New York Press Association Convention, where he spoke on how the Times uses social media.
“The conversations on Twitter tend to be more civil,” Jolly said. “There’s a lot less of the ‘You’re an idiot’ type of posts. And that’s not always true of conversations elsewhere on the web.”
Part of it, I think, is that people on Twitter choose to follow what I do, rather than just having it thrown on their doorstep. Online journalism gives people more choices, and they can pick where they want to receive their information as never before.
Also, social networks like Twitter allows journalists to connect with their community as never before. This is one reason I advocate for keeping one Twitter account for both professional and personal use. I received some chiding by some folks who had followed me for the Roeder trial that they didn’t realize they’d also get such detail on weekends from Kansas-based basketball teams. Or when my kids wreck the car, or when I have knee surgery.
But these details have helped people get to know me. They know I’m more than a byline on a page, and I think knowing me personally will help them determine whether they want to keep getting information from me. It’s helped bring me closer to crime victims who I cover. I’ve made friends on Twitter, some of whom have become close personal friends. Others make me laugh, and we talk, even though we may never have met.
And the comments I get on Twitter are usually more thoughtful, and less confrontational, than the anonymous reader comments left on news web sites.
That’s one reason that after a busy day in court, or the end of the big trial, I try to remember to thank everyone who follows me. It’s not something I do because I think I should. I really appreciate everyone who chooses to listen to the stories I tell. And I always ask for criticism, because I do want to know how to do my job better. Usually, responses come in the form of suggestions, and those have helped me pace my tweets better during a busy part of a trial, give background, and link to other sources.
I do love my Twitter followers. And I take much more from them than what I may put out in the course of my daily news coverage. After 30 years of hearing little more than criticism and insults, the more congenial atmosphere of Twitter has helped given me a much brighter outlook on being a journalist. For that, I thank them.