New paths to transparency without Twitter

If media organizations take away one lesson from the Twitter fallout, it’s that thousands of marginalized journalists rely on it to cultivate critical relationships, build loyal followings, and learn about the media industry in a way no other platform offers.

Right now, it’s easy to focus on the platform itself and what we might lose with its potential fall. But instead of panicking or prematurely grieving, we need to work on patching the holes in the industry that our reliance on Twitter exposed: inaccessibility and lack of transparency.

My prediction is that media organizations will make their journalists more accessible as mentors to their less-established peers. I hope that in the new year, these outlets cast a wider net with their internal talent pipelines, so they won’t have to rely on outside platforms to curate robust and diverse networks. I believe more marginalized journalists will flock to professional organizations en masse, and those groups will in turn lower the barriers to entry by providing more scholarships, resources, training, and guides.

All of these predictions go toward the first issue Twitter helped mitigate, by developing communities across layers of media workers. It’s remarkable that one platform commanded so much sway in our industry, both internally and externally. But considering what we’ve seen over the past few weeks (and now in rapid day-to-day developments), it’s become clear that it’s dangerous to depend this much on a platform whose future is this uncertain.

Twitter as a journalistic resource would be hard to replace fully; the modern digital landscape deeply intertwines news media with social media. Even outside of how journalists leverage it for our careers, it’s become an integral part of how digital-first audiences share, influence, and interact with the news, which brings me to my second point: two-fold transparency.

Two-fold transparency means that while Twitter allows marginalized journalists a peek behind the curtains, it also (for better or for worse) lets the average news consumer in on the same rawness — meaning tensions, disagreements, and general discourse between media workers are all out in the open.

The ability to participate in live, comment-centric discourse is so characteristic of Twitter that it can only be similarly reproduced in online forums, of which there are already many (Reddit being one). But traditional comment sections, whether in-house or on an alternative social media site, are no match for the live dialogue that happens on Twitter.

A movement to expand industry transparency cannot be led by the news organizations that perpetuate the lack of transparency. Instead, outside entities (in the form of media reporters, media critics, and places like The Objective or Nieman Lab) can hold them accountable for unfair labor practices, unsafe work environments, and unethical behavior through critical reporting. While this may not be a perfect replacement for Twitter, it’s a testament to how journalism can be a part of its own solution.

In the new year, I hope the media industry will seriously consider these resources with transparency and accessibility in mind, so that the layers of college-aged journalists, local news journalists, freelancers, and late-bloomers who have leveraged Twitter to build their careers are not left stranded without it.

Alex Perry is editor-in-chief of The Daily Northwestern and a ProPublica Emerging Reporter.

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