Tweeting into the void

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By Eva Herscowitz

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Journalists converge on Twitter, but public still prefers Facebook

By Eva Herscowitz 

Most journalists may be clacking away on Twitter, reaching sources via retweets and chatting with co-workers in replies, but the public generally prefers Facebook for their social media fix. 

Nearly 70% of journalists say Twitter is the platform that tops their list for work-related tasks, according to a recent Pew Research Center study that surveyed 11,889 U.S.-based journalists. 

In their methodology, the researchers categorized the platform that originally employed surveyed journalists into four pools: print news (42%), online outlets (29%), television (17%) and radio or podcasts (12%). 

While journalists prefer tweets to captioned posts on Facebook or Instagram — 52% of journalists turn to Facebook for work-related tasks, surpassing the 19% of media workers who favor Instagram — the public remains relatively Twitter-averse. 

Most Americans get their news from Facebook, reinforcing previous Pew findings that the Mark Zuckerberg-founded platform remains a media mega-weight. 

YouTube is a close second: around 22% of the public considers the video-sharing platform their primary news source, compared to the 31% of U.S. adults loyal to Facebook. Twitter clocks in at 13% — a thin slice in Americans’ social media diet, compared to the platform’s prevalence among U.S. journalists. 

Pew senior writer Mark Jurkowitz and senior researcher Jeffrey Gottfried dissected their findings by demographic, determining that, among media workers, younger journalists are Twitter’s most active users. Over 80% of journalists ages 18 to 29 are Twitter loyalists, as compared to 45% of journalists older than 65. Those with more experience in the industry are more likely to turn to LinkedIn and YouTube for work-related tasks. 

Sommer Brugal, 29, has been covering schools since June 2019. Brugal, an education reporter at The Miami Herald, turns to Twitter to see how other reporters are covering education across the country, approaching the platform as a “sounding board” for story ideas. She said she also uses it to promote her work. 

“I use it to amplify my stories, especially stories that I’m proud of, and I want to get out there fast,” said Brugal, a former IRW intern who previously covered school districts on Florida’s Treasure Coast for TCPalm. 

She said her beat is less Twitter-driven than political reporting, where politicians routinely communicate with their constituents online. Brugal’s primary readers are parents, many of whom are more active on Facebook than Twitter. 

“It holds value in terms of information sharing, but I don’t know if it’s the best way to effectively communicate to readers,” Brugal said. “In my experience as an education reporter, I find that most of my readers share my stories in Facebook teacher groups, Facebook parent groups.”

Depending on one’s beat, Twitter is an enduring part of most journalists’ professional lives. 

But despite its popularity, the platform continues to aggravate media heavyweights, including Dean Baquet, the outgoing executive editor of The New York Times. In April, Baquet advised the paper’s journalists to “tweet less, tweet more thoughtfully, and devote more time to reporting.”

Baquet’s pronouncement, codified into new social media guidelines for reporters there, hasn’t quieted several high-profile tiffs that have erupted on Twitter. 

Nevertheless, not all journalists are in the Twitter-orbit, or even prefer the platform to other social media sites. Around two-thirds of journalists who work for outlets with roots in TV news identify Facebook as their most-used social media site. 

That group of broadcast-bred journalists are also less likely than online journalists to turn to LinkedIn for work-related tasks. Compared to print journalists, though, more TV-journalists include Twitter among their most-relied-on sites — 80% of TV-tied reporters compared to 62% of their print peers. 

The researchers also mapped social media use to political fault lines. Journalists who write for right-leaning readers are more likely than those with a left-leaning audience to prefer Facebook for professional tasks. Journalists whose readership leans to the right, too, are half as likely as those with a left-leaning audience to use Instagram. 

For journalists employed by left- and right-leaning outlets, the difference in Twitter preferences was marginal — 75% of the former are Twitter-loyalists, compared to 66% of the latter. 

Despite these statistical differences, the Pew study seemingly confirms that the old town square has now become a news feed. Facebook boasts more than 2.9 billion active monthly users worldwide compared to Twitter’s 330 million. 

Brugal said she finds herself tweeting less frequently. The platform is ubiquitous among journalists, but she said it sometimes feels like a bubble, an industry “hangout” disengaged from most readers. 

“It’s a way to get kudos from people in your field,” she said. “It’s kind of like a silo where people go to argue and get praise, which is kind of what all social media is at the end of the day.”

The full study is available here