Look, I don’t want to have a go at The Australian. Really. I don’t. But with Posetti-Twittergate, and then Geoff Elliott having a go at Jonathan Powles for his tweet that echoed the #iamspartacus thing with Paul Chambers, one thing seems certain. The newspaper doesn’t understand that Twitter is not a newspaper.
The folks at The Oz are not alone. Sadly, there’s still plenty of established media outlets just like them — seemingly insistent on defining journalism in terms of their specific workflows that produce their specific media outputs. They look at Twitter, see that it’s different, and reckon it’s wrong because… it’s different. Well, der.
A newspaper’s daily production workflow produces final, fixed news stories, frozen into ink on paper forever and ever amen. Twitter is a real-time medium. Twitter is a conversation. Like any conversation, it’s full of stumbles, mis-speakings and corrections. Through dialogue, some sort of shared truth emerges.
Twitter’s a lot like talkback radio, I reckon. Random callers — Quelle horreur! Untrusted anonymous sources! — go on air and make claims. Others get to refute them. The producer phones authoritative sources for comment. Through dialog, some sort of shared truth emerges. Eventually. Or not.
On talkback radio, on Twitter, we get to hear and see the sausages of truth being made. And it’s not pretty.
So when Oz editor Chris Mitchell complains that Julie Posetti didn’t contact him to get his side of the story before tweeting, he completely misses the point.
Posetti was tweeting about what was happening, live, in front of her. Mitchell could have joined the conversation any time he liked. Even if he didn’t want to dirty his paws by using his own Twitter account, I’m willing to bet that if he’d emailed Posetti — or gotten @overingtonc to be his cut-out again — she’d have tweeted his comments on his behalf.
Now as Jonathan Holmes has written, whether Posetti’s tweets were accurate is still an open question. As Guy Rundle reminded us yesterday, Twitter is still “a form of publishing, not post-legal freeware pixiedust”. Whatever the medium, defamation is defamation. But that’s another issue.
What interests me is that Mitchell chose not to join the conversation where the conversation was happening. I suspect that’s because to do so would be tacit acknowledgement of Twitter’s legitimacy as a medium. We wouldn’t want that.
Geoff Elliott, meanwhile, is concerned that some jokes on Twitter are mock threats, such as Powles’ tweet, “Crap! Mitchell is sueing [sic] @julieposetti! The Oz has a week to get its sh-t together or I’m blowing the place sky-high. #twitdef #iamspartacus.”
“I suggest that it is completely inappropriate for an ANU academic in the college of law to be even cracking jokes like that,” wrote Elliott. “Call me old fashioned…”
Not old-fashioned, but certainly out of touch with Twitter. Even if Elliott didn’t know that “blowing the place sky-high” was a reference to the Chambers case — but I’m sure he did, because his paper had already run at least two stories about it — the hashtag #iamspartacus should have at least aroused curiosity. For anyone familiar with Twitter, it’s a clear sign that something more subtle is happening, beyond the tweet’s literal meaning. I’d even contend that #iamspartcus was so widespread — even Elliott describes the Chambers case as a cause célèbre — that it’s “common knowledge”.
Again, Twitter is not a newspaper. It’s a communications medium. Anyone can use it any way they like. Like cracking a joke. Even journalists can use Twitter for things other than journalism.
Like getting into fights.
Elliott is a quiet voice on Twitter. Mitchell isn’t there at all, as far as I know. So it was left to Oz media writer Sally Jackson to face the braying mob this week — and she was curiously defensive.
Scroll back through Jackson’s Twitter feed and you’ll you’ll see her calling critics “dill” and “troll” and “Twitter’s unfortunate bullymob element”. In fairness, she was hit with hard criticism. But as Andrew Elder noted, for a media expert Jackson’s responses were “astonishingly inept”.
“She won’t participate in a debate that she can’t frame. Criticism that addresses the issue is lumped in with ad-hominem attacks, so that any criticism of her article is a personal attack upon her. That’s why reasonable challenges are met with shrieks like “nasty”, “troll” etc. Jackson’s responses remind me of people who flap their arms wildly when set upon by flying insects: this doesn’t actually repel the insects or even discourage them much, it only gets the person upset, diminishes their dignity and makes further attacks more likely rather than less.”
So how come The Australian doesn’t get it?
British blogger Martin Weller seems to have the answer, in this post, cited by John Naughton in The Observer under the catchy headline, “Oh you naughty tweeters, you’ve upset the establishment.”
Weller reckons that media outlets – as well as politicians, the police, prosecutors and judges — are part of “a conspiracy of sentiment”, all acting from the same unspoken emotional base. “This can be summarised as: they hate you,” he wrote.
“They hate that you undermine their carefully crafted messages and turn them into jokes. They hate that you are forming new methods of entertainment that they don’t understand. They hate that you can organise yourselves without them knowing about it. They hate that power has been democratised. They hate that you get at content for free. They hate it, hate it, hate it. So when the opportunity arises to stamp on one of you snivelling social media types, they grasp it with both hands.”
My guess is there’s still a lot more hate to come.