Oct 212009

Twitter badge CC photo credit jmillesWhat is it with the Twitter police? Another screed on the triviality of Twitter has been dismissed as  ignorant and foolish. Both sides are equally passionate about the subject: Is Twitter a threat to storytelling?

The latest anti-Twitter rant came from journalist Philip Lee, who called it a “great distraction for reporters who are hard pressed for time to do real work”:

Writing is a serious business. Tweets are trivial. We need writers, and journalists to be applying all their energy and brains to what we do, which is to tell stories. The stories will be the salvation of the journalism business….We can’t Tweet stories, and it is the stories that we need in order to live. The Tweets we can live without.

The smackdown came from newspaper editor Steve Buttry, who accused Lee of saying “lots of ignorant things” about Twitter and defended it as a powerful tool:

I’ve used Twitter to tell the stories of many unfolding events and seen other journalists do the same thing, as well as seeing fascinating stories take shape in the aggregation of tweets from multiple sources, journalists and the public.

So, is Twitter a threat to storytelling? Of course not.  And not just for the obvious reason that Twitter is an entirely different medium from long-form narrative. It’s never going to replace good writing.  Checking a Twitter stream is an entirely different experience from curling up with a good book, and most serious readers–even those who are also avid tweeters–wouldn’t trade one for the other.

But here the real reason Twitter isn’t a threat to storytelling: Twitter can make writing better.

After all, you really have to focus to get something across in just 140 characters,  and focus is the key to writing well. And if you’re good, you can tell entire stories in the limited window Twitter gives you. For example:

Papa loved Mama. Mama loved men. Mama’s in the graveyard. Papa’s in the pen.

76 characters. I rest my case.


  One Response to “Twitter vs. storytelling”

  1. […] Potter, Deborah. “Twitter vs. Storytelling.” 21 Oct. 2009.  NewsLab. 1 Feb. 2010.  <https://www.newslab.org/2009/10/21/twitter-vs-storytelling/&gt;. […]

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