Every few weeks or so, the discourse resurfaces: How much should journalists be on Twitter, if at all? All too often, the perspectives of student journalists are left out of these conversations.
Debates about the platform’s usefulness for sourcing, engagement metrics, or building one’s reputation are worthwhile, but what’s missing is how student journalists, particularly those from underrepresented communities, use the platform to advance themselves in the industry.
Speaking from personal experience, Twitter ultimately has allowed me to connect with other young journalists, access career-related resources, and learn about the uglier sides of the industry in a way I couldn’t otherwise.
Let’s be clear, the platform is far from perfect. It can be a steady stream of bad news. And journalists — especially those in underrepresented communities — face awful harassment on the platform. It can also feel like a competition between journalists in terms of verification status, individual tweet performance, or personal news tweets. But it’s an undeniably useful tool for people coming up in the industry.
Unlike other social platforms, like Instagram or TikTok, it is primarily devoted to news-sharing and is a space where journalists can talk to and learn from other journalists. Those who dismiss Twitter as a distraction or seek to stop reporters from using it should keep this in mind.
It’s a way to acquire institutional knowledge.
After the murder of George Floyd, there was a public reckoning over how the industry had historically treated journalists of color, a subject previously restricted to whisper networks. California Polytechnic State University senior Omar Rashad recalls seeing tweets from professional journalists about being mistaken for other coworkers or facing racism or discrimination in their newsrooms.
“Journalists of color [are] uplifted because they have this platform to talk about what they’re going through in an honest way,” he said. “It also gives journalists of color who are still in college and who are new to this industry [an opportunity] to understand what they’re getting themselves into.”
Rashad, who graduated from a two-year program at El Camino College before starting his program at Cal Poly, remembers how jarring it was to read firsthand accounts after 2,100 media workers got laid off in a month in early 2019. At the time, he knew journalism was dealing with acquisitions by hedge funds and a lack of ad revenue, but seeing journalists publicly handle the industry-wide mass layoffs surprised him. “I’m not sure if I would have learned as much about the scale of something like that if journalists were not talking about it on Twitter,” Rashad said.
Now, as a fourth-year who’s witnessed multiple cycles of industry news play out on Twitter, he’s seen journalists of color share experiences about how they’ve been made to feel like they or their stories don’t belong in certain newsrooms.
While attending community college, Rashad realized he didn’t have access to the same resources as students who attended Ivy League or private universities, so he’d also often take Twitter connections up on their offers to review his résumé and cover letters.