Different opinions on Twitter have been coming out of the New York Times recently. First, Bill Keller, the executive editor of the paper, criticised Twitter and social media in general as promoting short-term thinking, not suitable for a profound discussion. His view was met by a wave of negative reactions, also from his own staff.
Last Friday, NYT journalist Brian Stelter posted an account of his ways of reporting from the tornado-stricken Joplin, Missouri. Twitter is the star of his description - deprived of mobile and Internet coverage, Stelter used Twitter to post updates and photographs from location. "Looking back, I think my best reporting was on Twitter," he wrote.
For many commentators, Stelter's account highlighted how journalists using Twitter are able to report in ways that are not possible through traditional methods. GigaOM's Matthew Ingram noted that the Times has seemed to take a more open view of the Internet lately, and wondered whether Stelter's example would encourage the newspaper to experiment more with the web as a journalistic tool.
Jeff Jarvis thought of Stelter's Twitter coverage from Joplin as remarkable. In light of this and other examples, he went on to question the practice of writing articles when reporting from such events. According to Jarvis, "news is a process more than a product" - therefore news organisations should invest principally in reporting, not on publishing articles. If background information is required, it could be in many cases provided with a link to an appropriate site. His conclusion was that the article is still sometimes needed, but it should be regarded as a byproduct of the journalistic process - something that should be written only when it is the best way to convey information.
Matthew Ingram commented on Jarvis's thoughts. In his view, Twitter cannot replace any other forms of journalism, and there still is a need for traditional journalists. In fact, in this age of constant stream of information on the Internet, the need for journalists and professional curators is higher than ever.
It should be noted, though, that Stelter used Twitter to report from Joplin mainly because it was the best means available and not because he would have considered it as the best means per se. His tweets conveyed the immediacy of being at a disaster scene but offer no context for the described events.
Last week, the New York Times experimented with its Twitter account by replacing the automated feed with a human-controlled one. The automated feed took over again after the experiment's end on Friday; no information was yet available as for the future of the feed.
How could newspapers best make use of Twitter? Jarvis highlighted an interesting method in his post: in Canada's recent elections, Postmedia had its reporters on location to only put up posts and photos, providing coverage for the team at the HQ, who turned the feed into blog posts. Dividing tasks in this manner would use the possibilities the web offers while still providing insightful analysis.