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Twitterocracy changes politics, journalism

Posted: April 10, 2013 | Tags: journalism

The “Etch-a-Sketch” comment.

The “47 percent” video.

The “Clint Eastwood” moment.

Political journalists and campaign media strategists on Wednesday pointed to these moments in the 2012 presidential election as examples of how social media has changed politics — and journalism.

Focus on the election’s gaffes would have died soon in the traditional media, but conversation on social media kept them alive far longer, said Jonathan Martin, senior political writer for Politico.

“Twitter is an accelerant,” said Martin, one of the panelists at the University of Missouri’s Hurley Symposium in Washington, D.C. “It pours gasoline on the fire.”

Social media do have a tendency to highlight political slips and quick hits, Martin said, but they also highlight in-depth reporting. He credits Twitter for exposing him to a wider range of quality journalism.

“I would never have time to bookmark every website,” he said. “It’s the link that brings you to a long-form piece that you wouldn’t otherwise see.”

Journalists, students and techies packed a conference room at the National Press Club Wednesday for the one-day symposium, which examined social media's impact on journalism and politics.

Panelists said social media's growth has moved newsroom banter and water-cooler conversation into the public sphere. That poses a challenge for journalists, who don’t always know how to engage readers online, said panelist Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for The Washington Post. She says reporters on Twitter need to be edgy without showing bias. And they can’t talk down to their followers, who are often plugged-in to the news.

“Getting that exact right balance is key to being effective as a journalist,” Tumulty said.

Missouri School of Journalism Professor Barbara Cochran moderated Wednesday’s discussion. Other panelists included Zac Moffatt, who oversaw Mitt Romney’s digital campaign strategy; Teddy Goff, who directed President Barack Obama’s digital campaign; and Peter Greenberger, head of sales for Twitter in Washington.

One question Cochran asked drew silence:

With citizens and politicians sharing information directly on social media, why do we need journalists?

After a pause, Tumulty spoke up. What journalists bring to the table is experience, authority and the ability to put news into context, she said.

“The typical citizen does not have a bureau in Baghdad. They don’t have experts and think tanks on speed dial,” she said.

When asked how social media will impact coverage of the 2016 election, the group could only speculate.

“I’m so excited,” Tumulty said. “I’m dying to see where it takes us.”



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