Twitter: Beware the long tail and what it’s attached to

There’s no question but that journalism has in recent decades shifted its focus from news (chosen for news value) to “infotainment” (chosen for entertainment value). And the journalism world made this questionable move awkwardly, trying to handle fast-paced, sexy content via a creaky, stiff medium.

Then along came websites, blogs, and other social media communications platforms to show them how it should be done. One of the beauties of social media is that the “infotainment” is being provided by extremely clever and articulate infotainers. (You know who you are, folks.)

Everyone wants to get in the game now, and the web abounds with articles and posts about “how to” do great social media writing. Not surprisingly, some of this online literature is aimed at journalists trying to catch up with and get onto the bandwagon. An excellent addition to this genre is “Twitter to journalists: Here’s how it’s done” posted on the site eat sleep publish. The post collects “tips for journalists using social media” that blogger Monica Guzman solicited from her online colleagues. The tips (Twittered, of course) were short and to the point.

I’m honored to have been one of the people whose advice appears in the collection. And now I want to “out” myself as the contributer who offered up the most hard-line, old-time, journalistic advice. I wrote:

“NEVER relax the traditional standards you used for verifying facts and getting both sides’ points of view!”

It was a bit embarrassing to see all the other Twitterers’ tips about savvy use of the latest social media sites when there I stood, effectively pounding my oh-so-sensible shoe on the digital desktop. (Yes, I know what era that reference comes from.)

But I want to stand by my stodgy comment, and expand on it a bit here. Particularly because I just spent some time arguing the other side this morning, urging a client with a business blog to cast off the stilted, detailed, boring language of press releases and adopt a reader-focused tone.

Blogging and Twittering are infotainment. As infotainment, they only need to present one side of the picture. Many great posts (and Tweets) are unabashed pieces of advocacy. These pieces are great because they’re full of new information (or bring together information in a new and provocative way).

However…you’ll notice that the bloggers and Twitterers who consistently write great stuff have a reputation for accuracy (because they’re verifying facts). And, if you get into a discussion with them via comments or email, you soon discover that they research not only the side of the issue they choose to present, but the other side as well. They know what they’re up against before they hit “Publish.”

By knowing both sides of the issue before you write, you not only occupy the moral high ground — you also prevent yourself from sounding like a horse’s ass. (And I don’t mean the political blog, which is rather wonderful.) In the world of Twitter, horses’ asses tend to lose followers; it can get very messy if you follow too closely behind a horse.

So, I stand by my advice for journalists aspiring to Twitterificness, and hope that the social media darlings who haven’t already figured it out will consider giving it a try as well — if just to keep their Manolo Blahniks and Skechers pristine.

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