The Tweets Before the Storm

There’s supposed to be a huge winter storm where I live. The only problem? So far there’s not even a grey cloud in the sky, much less any signs of an impending blizzard. As an avid fan of storms – and an eager Canadian wishing for snow – I’ve been checking Environment Canada’s website regularly for updates on the storm. I’ve also been checking Twitter, as I typically do when I’m curious about a storm.

I think Twitter is a fascinating source of news. When I searched for the storm, I found Tweets not just from meteorologists but from everyday people. In a manner of seconds, simply through scrolling through search results I was able to gain a wide variety of perspectives on the storm. What makes Twitter so interesting is that not all of the information I received was from a “real” journalist.

I put the word “real” in quotations because what even is a journalist? According to Merriam Webster, a journalist is a “writer or editor for a news medium”. By that definition, Twitter users are not journalists (unless they happen to work for a newspaper or medium). There’s a second definition, though; one that I think is far more accurate. A journalist is “a writer who aims at a mass audience.” This definition sums up Twitter users. The people Tweeting about the winter storm may not have intended to aim their Tweet at a mass audience. However, by typing 140 characters and pressing ‘Tweet’ (and having their account set to public) those people shared their words with the world and became journalists. Or did they?

In the time I’ve spent so far writing this blog post, three more Tweets have been posted about the storm. One was from the official Twitter of a local city. The other two were from citizens who, from the bios listed on their profiles, are not journalists in the typical sense of the word.

Is anyone who communicates information a journalist? Does the information have to be aimed at a “mass audience”, as Merriam Webster’s definition of a journalist hints that it does? I’m tempted to say no to the second question because you could be a bona fide journalist and have a small audience. I think what the phrase “mass audience” is trying to convey is simply having some type of audience. Journalists communicate information for someone to read; even, in my opinion, if it’s a small audience.

That first question is a little more complex. Journalist is a job title. People – me, next year! – go to university to gain the knowledge to pursue journalism as a career. Because of this, it could be unfair to proclaim that anyone with a Twitter account and a Wifi connection is a journalist. At the same time, though, people who use Twitter in a “journalistic manner” (sharing facts, and their opinions and thoughts) aren’t necessarily trying to be journalists. They’re simply trying to communicate information, something humans have been doing since long before Twitter was invented.

So does it really matter whether people using Twitter are technically journalists? It doesn’t, really. To me, it’s simply important to acknowledge that in this day and age anyone can share information with the click of a few buttons. I don’t think this replaces society’s need for journalists, because if anything it creates more people who are willing to share their thoughts. This contributes to a more democratic society – and one where citizens are more informed about the supposed winter storm coming their way.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “The Tweets Before the Storm

  1. You make some really good points – and I’d agree that Twitter users who report in a journalistic manner — being reasonably impartial and striving for accuracy — fit a decent enough definition of Journalist, in this day and age. There’s plenty of garbage in Twitter but there is also some amazing front-line journalism.

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