Dear journo: a retweet doesn’t mean you’re good at your job
Journalists in South Africa broadly make up three kinds: the old fashion pen and paper only, the technologically competent but moderate Twitter user, and the incessantly tweeting- until-his-fingers-turn-blue type of journalist.
Twitter is something journos speak about when we are out to report. This is when we nest together at times waiting for some action to start. We talk about things such as hashtags for the event or incident, whether it's trending and some random exchanging of Twitter handles.
It's the cool crowd mainly that's involved in the conversation. Some orthodox journalists - predominantly the older, grey-haired types - don't really care about what we newbies on the block are doing.
When we arrive at the scene or event we tweet that we there, we tweet who's there, we tweet what is due to happen or what may happen. But then a lull in events comes when there is simply nothing happening. No one is speaking, the crowd is still doing the same thing, we have identified every recognisable face, etc.
This is the agonising part of Twitter reporting because we end up scrolling our timeline only to realise that our colleague right next to us found something to tweet about and he has already received a dozen retweets. This is when the competition begins.
It doesn't take Einstein to know that the main focus of newsroom is to be first with a story. So I understand why editors SMS journalists reminding them to tweet as much as possible. And I also fully comprehend the power of social networking as a new platform of disseminating information.
But it really irks me when reputable news platforms or renowned journalist resort to the use of shoddy language skills in an attempt to be the first. Then there is the element of inaccuracy or amateurish speculation that plays its part as we tap our screens in a Parkinsons-like frenzy.
What happens is simple: the event, speech or incident is over but we were too busy trying to be first n twitter that we missed an opportunity of taking a unique angle to the story. We missed the responses from the crowd or audience, we failed to distinguish facial gestures in reaction to certain remarks and sometimes neglected important comments.
The result of which is cheap churnalism. Instead of a well thought of, timely and accurate piece, we rushed to be first at every dim-witted detail. I believe that social media can be the downfall and success of a media organisation. A success because its range is extensive and fast but adversely it may compromise the quality and level of journalism.
Mistakes on twitter are not easy to recall at times because before we comprehend the blunder and delete it - it may have been retweeted multiple times. Tweet if you have to - it is important. Try to be first - it is valuable. But always, always be accurate and fair.
Qaanitah Hunter is a journalist for Cii broadcasting and freelance columnist.