Ever since I discovered Twitter - I mean, really discovered it, without scorning it - I have loved it as a news feed. For me, it replaced my daily use of the Dow Jones Newswires, the Bloomberg headlines, and the Reuters terminal as well as multiple visits to WSJ.com and NYtimes.com to hunt for stories. Good stories are tweeted by their publications, retweeted by their reporters, and then retweeted again by followers who find them interesting. I use my Twitter feed as an aggregation tool as well as a commentary on news, and as a way to hear from readers - or at least, readers who tweet - what they think about financial news and stories. (And cute animal pictures, such as this slideshow of otters, which was my 50,000th tweet - and, appropriately, a retweet.)
One thing I love about Twitter is its engagement; it’s not just a way to share news, but also to share jokes and reactions to it. It’s also a way to give credit to reporters who do great work that deserves attention, and to occasionally point out missing context. Twitter is a great underminer of the rigid ivory-tower voice-of-God news judgment that has fed a lot of arrogance into journalists and journalism, and which has been its downfall. There are a lot of journalists who see Twitter as a “branding” tool or as a way to pimp their own stories without actually having to hear what anyone else thinks or respond to anyone else. This, I think, is stupid. As the private equity maven Henry Kravis told the FT’s Henny Sender (in a story I found on Twitter): “Arrogance kills.”
The key to good journalism is an open mind. I am continually disappointed that there are users, many of them journalists, who don’t engage very much with people on Twitter and just use it to broadcast their stories, promote only their friends, or otherwise suck up. Readers and followers rightly see this as a pompous and self-serving use of their time and attention. If readers wanted to read only your stories, they would add you to an RSS feed. The point of being on Twitter is to talk to people, normally, without using snappy air guns and smothering everyone with some oleaginous need for approval.
I like Twitter as a service to oneself and others, and I’m ruthlessly utilitarian about my news judgment on it, retweeting only what is genuinely interesting to me and following people with good taste in news. (And unfollowing people who are boring or cripplingly angry or hateful.) I’ve averaged about 45 tweets a day since I started on Twitter and I’d estimate that at least 99% of that is links to or retweets of the news stories of other publications and reporters. (The other 1% is cute animal pictures, occasional links to my own stories, and venting about sources being out at lunch when I need to reach them on deadline.)
Let’s take a detour here to Twitter stats. Numbers are a fairly soulless way to approach social media - this is why Klout is not terribly useful - but they open up an interesting window into things we may not otherwise see. For instance, one service told me this week that about one-third of my followers are outside the United States, indicating that international followers are quite interested in the finance stories I like to share.
Now, which metrics tell you whether you’re not just yelling into the vortex on Twitter? Felix obviously likes to rely on number of tweets, but that’s as irrelevant as is the number of followers. For instance, he has over 40,000 followers, and I have under 13,000. But I tweet more, and tweet more news, and there seems to be a demand for that. A better metric of engagement and influence on Twitter than the number of tweets - a barbarian’s way of measuring things - is the number or rank of retweets, which shows how willing people are to share what you tweet. I picked a random retweet ranker out of the Google ether - it’s RetweetRank.com - and it shows my use of Twitter as a newsfeed has put me in the 99.54 percentile, meaning that almost everything I share with readers, they share with other readers. That indicates a high relevance. (Felix has many more followers than I do, but his retweet rank is in about the 97th percentile, still quite high).
I tend to like other tweeters who also keep an open mind, engage a lot on Twitter and use their tweets as a newsfeed, including Anthony De Rosa at Reuters and Josh Brown, the Reformed Broker. This is the way Twitter should be - not a Kremlin command center to push stories on the open-mouthed proletariat, but as a genuine marketplace of ideas.
I get a lot of questions about how I find the time to tweet all this news. My answer, like Josh’s, is that I don’t have the time. I head up a bureau, I cover Wall Street, I have source breakfasts, lunches and dinners almost every day as well as work events and friends and loved ones to keep up with. But I find the time to tweet or scan Twitter- in moments here and there, keeping it open on my work computer screen all day - because it is simply the best way to hear about breaking news first. Have you tried watching a TV or opening a newspaper for breaking news lately? In the words of John McEnroe, you cannot be serious. Twitter always has the event, the details and the analysis - and then the jokes - first. It’s an invaluable tool for journalists. It’s not a coincidence that the one newspaper I’m addicted to, that has been my homepage for 17 years, that I’ve contributed to, is also the one that “gets” Twitter and its impact on journalism: The New York Times. Their reporters tweet, their newsroom tweets, their editors and their columnists and their bots all tweet their stories and reply to readers. Yes, even the bot. The Times may be the Grey Lady, but it’s not an arrogant one. It’s obviously listening- something that should be in the culture at more news organizations. (I’m glad to to belong to another closely-listening one now at Marketplace Radio.)
So I am proud of my 50,000th tweet. It’s a result of paying attention to what’s out there. It’s a result of sharing the work of my colleagues and peers, and what I see on my beat, things few people would ever see on their own. It’s the result of being a journalist. And I plan to continue doing that, at whatever velocity seems right to me. I think it’s a pretty good plan.