So what might we identify as the motivations behind creating a media expert role? For one, this announcement comes in the wake of Twitter’s appointment of Simon Rogers as its new data editor (see previous Editors Weblog article) – a move that signalled the social network site’s clear intention to increase its potential as a force of serious journalism, having somebody sift through their sea of tweets in order to fish out compelling news-worthy stories. Twitter already has a prominent media expert in its midst: Erica Anderson, who made it into Forbes’ “30 under 30” media list, appointed in February 2011 to “specialize in helping news organizations and journalists use Twitter effectively to find sources, develop comprehensive stories and engage audiences in meaningful civic discussions.” Anderson already set up ‘Twitter for Newsrooms‘ in 2011, an online toolkit designed to help journalists use Twitter for “finding sources, verifying facts, publishing stories, [and] promoting [their] work and [themselves],” already a significant step in fostering a relationship between Twitter and the media.
Perhaps by appointing an official ‘Head of News and Journalism’, then, Twitter is looking to make official, and be taken more seriously in, its commitment to working closely with news entities to ensure that they get the most out of Twitter. The company are clearly looking for a seasoned media expert, specifying a requirement for a “minimum of 15 years in news in editorial or journalism, 10 years of managing teams and at least 5 years executing strategic partnerships.” They may also be looking to keep up with other social networks such as Facebook, who appointed a “managing editor” in 2012 to curate ‘Facebook Stories‘ a journalistic project offering a platform for the stories of people “using facebook in extraordinary ways.” It might be interesting to note, though, that the journalism graduate appointed to this position, Dan Fletcher, left the project a few months later claiming that his job title was misleading and that “the company doesn’t need reporters.”
It also follows a number of events in the world of current affairs which have cast a certain degree of doubt over Twitter’s credibility as a source of trustworthy breaking news stories. Most prominently, the Boston bombing and subsequent manhunt: events which provoked a wave of harmful false information that ended up misleading the public who were consulting Twitter for its immediacy rather than traditional news sources, which clearly take longer to verify their stories in the interests of reliability. The job advertisement makes what seems to be an indirect reference to this issue, in acknowledging the fact that they already provide a “way for consumers to find news in real-time,” and then by specifying in their job description the need for somebody who will strategise an increase in the “volume and quality of professional news content on Twitter, especially in breaking news.”
And something else to consider which might be identified as the most urgent motivator – the fact that this new job search follows a series of high-profile attacks on organisations such as Associated Press and the Guardian by a group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army. As the New York Observer suggests, “now’s probably a good time as any for Twitter to develop a liaison who can calm frantic journalists frothing at the mouth.” BBC News reported that on 29 April, Twitter contacted news organisations with suggestions of how they might tighten up their security, responding to pressure from security experts who have advised that they take more action to ensure the protection of their users. Advice included ensuring passwords were more than 20 characters long and consisted of random combinations of letters and numbers, and also having just “one computer to use for Twitter” that is not used for any other purposes such as reading emails and surfing the internet to “reduce the chances of malware infection.” However, the BBC quoted security researcher Rik Ferguson, who pointed out that “the point of Twitter is that it’s instant, and you can react instantly. If you have to run back to the office to get to a particular computer to use Twitter, that’s obviously going to impact upon its use.”
Appointing this new ‘Head of News and Journalism’, then, might well constitute another example of Twitter engaging with the media world to ensure that it remains a safe tool that can be used by journalists to report on news items. Twitter clearly wishes to remain at the forefront of the news industry, having “already changed the way news breaks and provided journalists with new ways to connect with their readers,” but recognises the need to respond to the threat of hackers. News organisations with Twitter accounts have been made vulnerable, and with serious global consequences (the hacking of AP’s feed, for example, caused stocks to dip), and it has therefore become necessary for Twitter to take up responsibility and ensure that its relationship with the media becomes stronger rather than fractures.