Twitter's latest mission? Drumming up followers for local journalists

·3-min read
Twitter is running an ad campaign in 28 local newspapers throughout the US, in a bid to support local news.

Twitter is marking World Press Freedom Day, Monday, May 3, by launching a new campaign spotlighting the essential role of local news. Its aim is to encourage users of the social network to support local journalism, which has been particularly struggling since the start of the pandemic.

Regional media has not been spared the effects of the pandemic, from the dramatic drop in advertising revenue to widespread staff cuts. It's a situation that has exacerbated the growth of "news deserts" in certain parts of the world, including the USA. In fact, more than one fourth of American newspapers disappeared over the last 15 years, according to a recent study from the UNC Hussman School of Media and Journalism.

While tech giants like Google and Facebook are often singled out for their role in the crisis affecting local news in the USA, Twitter has decided to prove its credentials through the #FollowLocalJournalists hashtag. "We're encouraging everyone -- prominent national reporters, journalism advocacy organizations, and everyday passionate news consumers -- to share impactful examples of local journalism and elevate the reporters who contributed to it. The goal is to spotlight these reporters' work and increase their audience," said the firm about its initiative.

Hearing directly from journalists in the field

Moreover, the social network has decided to launch several discussion rooms, or Twitter Spaces, offering a chance to hear from journalists working in the Philippines, Myanmar, Japan and Brazil. The editorial team at Vice World News, based across Southeast Asia, will, for example, talk about the political events that led to the creation of the #whatshappeninginmyanmar hashtag, while senior editors from India will discuss the ongoing covid-19 crisis in the country, and the difficulties journalists face when reporting in these challenging conditions.

Twitter has also funded an ad campaign in 28 local newspapers around the US, including The Detroit Free Press, The Des Moines Register, The Miami Herald and The Kansas City Star. The initiative aims to support these outlets and amplify the #FollowLocalJournalists campaign.

Twitter, a media like any other?

It remains to be seen whether this helping hand from the Silicon Valley tech giant will really serve to support local news, or whether it will merely reinforce the dominant position that the social media site already occupies in the media landscape. The Nieman Foundation has studied the question of interdependence between the media and Twitter in depth. Its research suggests that journalists merely accentuate this when using tweets as "content" rather than sources, "whose ideas and messages must be subject to scrutiny and verification."

"Journalists are reduced to amplifying and interpreting (as opposed to seeking and verifying) information, sharing authority over information with a social platform that itself is seen as a legitimate news source, if not a distinct journalistic entity," notes the Nieman Foundation in a study recently published in "Information, Communication & Society." It's enough to make users pause for thought the next time they see tweets being used in a press article.

Caroline Drzewinski