Twitter’s Elon Musk is wrong about newspapers and the internet


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Businesses that started with printing presses and horse-drawn wagons are now churning out real journalism online around the clock.

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Elon Musk can know a lot of things: electric cars, space flights, tunnel digging. But The new owner of Twitter, increasingly erratic he keeps proving time and time again that he is shockingly ignorant when it comes to journalism.

“Newspapers just search the internet and print,” he tweeted Tuesday afternoon, attributing the stupidity to “SJM,” his son Saxon James Musk, whom he occasionally quotes on his feed.

Where to start with such a fundamentally false idea?

In the first place, it hardly makes sense to refer to the “newspaper industry” in 2022. The hundreds of major American newspaper organizations that began with printing presses and horse-drawn wagons in the 19th and 20th centuries are now best characterized as websites that still They publish a large format edition. Today, most metropolitan dailies dump tens of thousands of papers on driveways and lawns, while their digital counterparts reach millions of readers by churning out updates around the clock.

Furthermore, those online audiences are no longer limited to the range of delivery trucks. When big news breaks in Kansas City, it can spread instantly from The Star to Toronto, Nairobi and beyond. That took days or even weeks before the Internet.

And the backbone of these newsrooms are the thousands of professional journalists who report, write, edit and publish countless journalistic words every day, just as they have for decades. Newspaper reporters have long rolled their eyes as they listen to their sometimes slightly rephrased morning paper stories read by radio hosts on their way to the office. Today, traditionally trained journalists are used to seeing their hard work “go viral” when it is stolen—all too often without attribution—in someone else’s list, roundup, or social media post.

Musk obviously doesn’t know this, but real reporters don’t take the word of others as gospel at all. They check the facts before publishing them. The basic journalistic principles of truth, public service and independence never change, regardless of delivery method. When they make mistakes, they correct them transparently.

Traditional newspaper companies operate the largest and most trusted newsrooms in communities around the world. They post hundreds of new and unique stories online every day, about real people and events, verifiable to anyone who wants to dig into the facts. “Internet” does not send reporters to the city hall, nor does it assign photographers to get pictures of the perpetrators’ walks and house fires. And any digital-native news source worth paying attention to focuses its reporting on exactly the same practices and ethics as any other reputable newsroom.

Those newsrooms employ editors, whose important job is to make sure that what they publish is accurate and fair. The credibility of a journalistic company is its greatest value. If you lie repeatedly, and your audience cares, they won’t stick around. The Founding Fathers were clear that they believed that a free and independent press is crucial to the functioning of a democracy.

Twitter causes a strange kind of brain rot: the more time you spend on it, the more important it seems than it really is. Part of that reality-bending effect is that, as the most time-based social network, it’s been the platform of choice for politicians, journalists, and plenty of celebrities for several years (although that may be changing as Musk reinstates users). Nazis, abusers and other scoundrels who earned their banishment under previous ownership).

And as editors of any outlet know, keeping the inherently fractious nature of human beings at bay is a never-ending task. Newspaper letter column editors have worked for decades to keep trolls and liars out of their pages. Exponentially multiply that difficult task and add anonymity to the mix, and you’ll see why social media moderation is such a pain in the ass.

Musk continues to post what he imagines to be shocking smoking guns on his “Twitter files”: internal company communications, curated by journalists with checkered credentials, that show Twitter’s previous management worked to combat misinformation and abuse. by its users.

Anyone who has worked in comment moderation sees this debate for exactly what it is: people responsible for a great platform working to limit the reach of bad actors on their service. If so-called “conservative” content appears to have been disproportionately suppressed, that can be blamed on all the former right-wing gatekeepers who have ceded the truth to the likes of Donald Trump and alternative facts about him.

Musk seems intent on hijacking the Twitter plane he bought, and a soft landing seems more unlikely with each tweet. (By the way, Tesla stock owners, aren’t you wondering what he’s doing for you, since he seems to be obsessively fighting online with his critics all day?) As one of his most popular users, he thought this Twitter thing would be easy. . It’s becoming more and more obvious that not even Chief Twit knows the difference between a journalist and an online troll.

This story was originally published December 20, 2022 5:49 p.m.

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