As Twitter implodes, get out the contacts book

Twitter has been the blessing and curse of a journalist’s life for more than a decade.

Twitter is a beast that constantly, incessantly, needs feeding and a tickle on its belly. It has unrivalled, immediate access direct to your audience, making it perfect for sharing and producing content in real-time. And, when you need to know what’s happening, Twitter is the ultimate tool for open-source intelligence, or dropping the classic ‘#journorequest’ to find expert comment and incisive opinion.

It’s been exhausting, hasn’t it?

Somewhere, since the 2009 ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ plane crash showed the value of real-time social media, and catapulted Twitter from people sharing what they’d had for breakfast into the realm of news and PR, it’s become an all-consuming entity.

Office hours no longer apply. Gone are the days of forging relationships, building up a little black book of contacts (usually with names and numbers slashed out in red pen and updated as necessary), and stuffing your desk drawer with business cards. Twitter rewired the relationship between journalists and PRs – always two sides of the same coin – and we surrendered familiarity and trust for a wider, faster reach. We lost something.

So, it’s almost a relief that Elon Musk’s disastrous takeover seems to have condemned the blue bird to the way of Friends Reunited, Bebo, Myspace and so many others. The platform has already seen a mass migration, with journalists taking flight to sunnier climes. PRs will follow – they’ll have to.

The obvious question is: where? Alternatives such as Parler have already attracted fringe elements that make them less of a welcoming environment, more a brand-toxic sewer. Mastodon doesn’t have that problem, but its clunky interface puts it out of reach for all but the most tech-savvy. It reminds me of Linux; it might well be superior to Windows, but people will settle for something easier to use every time.

That’s why it’s unlikely we’re going to see a Twitter replacement any time soon. Should the worst come to pass and the whole platform self-destructs, there’ll be an entire generation of journalists and PRs faced with a hard lesson: there are no shortcuts in this career. Right now, smart PRs will be future-proofing their Twitter-based efforts by taking note of who’s asking for what, and when; the information is all out there, in a thousand email lists, saved documents or contact numbers. It’s this hard work, the graft and the craft, that will keep us all in good stead until the Next Big Thing emerges.

Maybe all of it won’t be necessary. Perhaps Musk will fight against his own self-inflicted bird strike and bring Twitter home to land. But it’s telling that, in November 2022, the man who woke journalists up to Twitter’s potential, the Miracle on the Hudson’s hero pilot Sully Sullenberger, decided to depart the platform for good. The era of easy access is ending – and it’s time to brush off those address books.

Dr Kit Chapman is course lead in MA Journalism (Online) at the School of Communication, Falmouth University

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