Report uncovers lack of interactive tweets

Five years after Twitter entered the social media scene, major news outlets have yet to adopt the site as a reporting or interactive tool, a study published this week found.

The School of Media and Public Affairs and the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reported in a Nov. 14 study that mainstream news organizations primarily use Twitter as a platform to promote already-published content.

“It is not necessarily being used to gather new information or engage in a social relationship with readers,” Jesse Holcomb, co-author of the study and researcher for the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said. “Some of the more social aspects of the tool are not being utilized.”

The team of researchers analyzed 3,600 tweets from 13 print, broadcast and online news sources over a one-week period in February 2011. Their sample included tweets from reporters and the news organizations’ official and beat accounts. Media and Public Affairs professors Kimberly Gross and Robert Entman worked with several dozen undergraduates to conduct the research, coding each tweet based on date, source, number of re-tweets and the story’s topic.

“Mainstream news organizations primarily use Twitter to move information and push content to readers,” the report said.

The study also found news organizations rarely use Twitter’s hashtag component, which allows users to mark keywords or topics searchable to other users.

Holcomb, also an alumnus, compared this minimal use of Twitter to “the early days of the web when there was an unwillingness of organizations to pass along information from other sources.”

On average, only 2 percent of tweets from the news outlets sought feedback from followers.

Gross, co-author of the study, said that, to use Twitter as a social news forum, journalists must fundamentally change how they view their jobs.

“I think reporters are the place where we’re going to see the most innovation with Twitter,” Gross said.

Rachel Weisel, an SMPA graduate student and research assistant, said this study marks the first empirical analysis of how Twitter is used by journalists.

“The results showed that there was the same news in Twitter and mainstream media. Even though some people think of Twitter as a medium for mundane events, journalists use it to reflect what is going on and it does mirror what is going on in their news organizations,” Weisel said.

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