Business

Is it time for journalists to sign off Twitter?

Posted January 24, 2019 12:31 a.m. EST

— A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

"Never tweet."

Sometimes the insanity on Twitter makes my brain hurt. Sometimes the hatred makes my heart ache. But I almost never think about leaving. Until now.

Farhad Manjoo published an NYT column on Wednesday titled "Never Tweet." He said "it's time we journalists all considered disengaging from the daily rhythms of Twitter, the world's most damaging social network. You don't have to quit totally — that's impossible in today's news business. Instead, post less, lurk more."

A longtime tech exec sent the link to me and said Manjoo is right. "You guys are the lifeblood of Twitter right now," they said. "A huge part of Twitter's current value is journalists creating content for the site."

I've known this person for years. They don't have an axe to grind against Twitter, they just want journalists to think critically about what Twitter does to news coverage and the civic conversation. I asked: Do you think we should go on a Twitter strike? Maybe, they said — or at least take a hard look at the value exchange that's going on.

I used to think the transparency of Twitter helped improve trust in media. I think that's true around the edges. But I'm leaning toward the Silicon Valley exec's view that the incessant tweeting undermines trust. "You guys are down in the mud with the bots and the bad faith actors," the tech exec said.

That's definitely true. The more time someone spends on Twitter, the more likely their view of the world is distorted by all the shouting. And the more likely they start shouting too. Being on Twitter contributes to a sense that the thing being shouted about is hugely important and being discussed by THE WHOLE WORLD when in fact it's being discussed solely by people who are Extremely Online. The Covington Catholic controversy is just the most recent example.

I'm not saying everyone should delete their accounts. I'm definitely not saying newsroom bosses should stop reporters from tweeting. I love Twitter and I know that both my personal and professional lives have benefited from it. (I met my wife on Twitter!) But the site has changed. It is now, as Manjoo said, "the epicenter of a nonstop information war, an almost comically undermanaged gladiatorial arena where activists and disinformation artists and politicians and marketers gather to target and influence the wider media world." This is a big problem. It requires a big change.

>> BTW: Rob McLean, who edited this letter, read this item and replied: "FWIW, I deleted my Twitter account last fall. I couldn't take it anymore!"

>> Brand new CNN.com story: "A mysterious Twitter account stoked the DC protest controversy, but who was behind it?"

FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE

-- Vanity Fair is launching the 25th annual Vanity Fair Hollywood issue on Thursday morning...

-- And GQ is dropping a big new Jason Zengerle profile of Bernie Sanders... Zengerle had months' worth of access... It'll be online here after 5 a.m. ET on Thursday...

The contraction

Each of these cases has unique characteristics, but the overall sad story is the same: Changes in advertising and consumer behavior are causing a reckoning in both old and new media. Digital business models are an absolute struggle.

BuzzFeed cutting 15%

BuzzFeed has suffered several rounds of layoffs in the past couple of years, but this time is much more severe. About 220 people, 15% of the company, will be leaving in the coming days. BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti confirmed the sharp cut on Wednesday evening after reporters from other news outlets began inquiring. The layoffs, he said, are part of a broader effort to "put us on a firm foundation and allow us to invest and grow sustainably for years to come." He said the "restructuring" will reduce costs and "improve our operating model so we can thrive and control our own destiny, without ever needing to raise funding again. These changes will allow us to be the clear winner in the market as the economics of digital media continue to improve." Here's the full story I wrote with Oliver Darcy...

Verizon Media cutting 7%

The group previously known as Oath is cutting "roughly 800 employees," or 7%, this week, as Verizon continues to move away from content and toward 5G tech. It is not known "which media brands will be hit hardest," CNN's Seth Fiegerman wrote, but the portfolio includes Yahoo, AOL and The Huffington Post.

New layoffs at Gannett's papers

Layoffs also hit numerous newspapers owned by Gannett on Wednesday. The company's spokeswoman has not responded to my requests for info. But Poynter's Tom Jones is keeping track of the cuts here. He has counted impacts at six papers so far.

This tweet from Jaci Smith, who worked at the News Journal Media Group in Delaware, stood out: "25 years in the industry and it's over after a 10-minute chat in a sterile conference room. My heart aches for journalism and all my fellow #gannett colleagues who were laid off today." She added the hashtag "Journalism matters."

FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO

-- Sounds like Sean Hannity signed a new contract a while back: He has previously said his Fox deal was up in 2020, but in this interview with Variety's Brian Steinberg he said "his current agreement with Fox runs through December 2021..." (Variety)

-- Tamron Hall is at the NATPE conference this week, talking up her forthcoming daytime talk show... (B&C and Variety)

-- Shane Goldmacher with the scoop: Bill Clinton "is writing a new book about his post-presidential life." Bob Barnett "negotiated the agreement with Knopf Doubleday..." (NYT)

-- "Is the media coverage of the Mueller investigation a problem?" This 538 chat is a worthwhile read. Meghan Ashford-Grooms said what I keep thinking: "I just feel bad for readers trying to figure out what is going on..." (538)

Condé is going full paywall

Jeffrey Trachtenberg's Wednesday morning scoop: Condé Nast will put "all its titles behind paywalls by the end of the year." This means Vogue, GQ, Bon Appétit, Glamour, etc will be joining WIRED, VF and The New Yorker. His WSJ story about the move is behind a paywall too... Look, I just think these publishers need to focus like a laser beam on making it super simple to pay...

Hulu drops basic plan price, hikes Live TV

Jill Disis reports: "Hulu has dropped the price of its cheapest package by $2 — just a week after competitor Netflix raised prices for its services. Hulu's basic plan, which includes ads, will cost $6 per month starting February 26." The clear strategy here: To keep its US subscriber growth going at a faster clip than Netflix's as Disney prepares to take majority control of the service...

→ Big picture: Hulu ended the year with 25 million subscribers, far behind Netflix's 55 million in the US...

→ More from Disis: Hulu is also raising the price "of its Live TV plan to $45 per month, a $5 increase..."

Sinclair's shot at balance

Joe Flint with the scoop: Progressive activist Ameshia Cross will host a "new daily commentary segment" on Sinclair stations starting next month, countering Boris Epshteyn's Trump cheerleading...

FOR THE RECORD, PART THREE

-- Tom Jones tweeted: "No matter how you feel about the subject, excellent work by 'Today' and Savannah Guthrie for the controversial interview with the Catholic school student from Kentucky." Here's his full column... (Poynter)

-- Happy birthday to Norah O'Donnell, who's the subject of a new spread in People magazine... (People)

-- Congrats to Lauren Roseman: The "SNL" PR chief has been promoted to VP of NBC Entertainment Publicity... (Variety)

-- Jordan Valinsky flagged this story about a "Brexit boost:" BBC Parliament, the British C-SPAN, outrated MTV in the UK last week... (Guardian)

-- Read more of Wednesday's "Reliable Sources" newsletter... And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox...

-- "Megan Ellison's Annapurna has promoted Sue Naegle to chief content officer..." (THR)