Overview of the #GSSMDebate

Published September 17, 2012 by Syllable


On 27 August 2012, Get Smarter, an online learning division of the University of Cape Town (UCT) launched its first course in social media.

During the third module, which focused on the social platform Twitter, a live Twitter debate was scheduled on Thursday 13 September 2012. To encourage participation among the course members, of which several were not familiar with Twitter, an incentive in the form of a R500 Woolworths gift card was offered.

The topic of debate

  • “Is Twitter supporting the newsrooms or detracting from them?”

The debate was monitored by the course facilitators Jennifer Kling and Keri Paddock (@ChilliMktg)

The response

The general agreement was that Twitter supports newsrooms, although it was mentioned that from a business point of view, newsrooms could see Twitter as negative, as traditionally newsrooms used to be the channel of breaking news.

  • “Twitter can also threaten newsrooms by pre-empting them. Old news doesn’t sell” @NicPrinsloo


There is also the risk that users would choose to use Twitter exclusively as their source of information, and while the platform is a great channel for gathering news, traditional media does report more extensively, and have more time to verify facts.

  • “Twitter plants the seeds for the newsrooms” @reneeshields
  • “(It) gives newsrooms a new army of sources gatherers” @jpalte

It was mentioned that @News24 makes good use of Twitter. In the past however, in their rush to be the first channel to break a story on Twitter, News24 have uploaded articles with factual and grammatical errors, only to edit the story, remove the original link and upload the new one, but only after the damage was done and users remarked on the unprofessional content.

The immediacy of learning about news on Twitter is a great advantage of the platform, and it also allows newsrooms to connect with individuals such as politicians and celebrities much more easily, in order to do in-depth or exclusive interviews.

  • “From a consumer point of view it is great, because they get info immediately and free of charge. Newsrooms, although using Twitter as an aid, can’t compete with that. It’s bad for business” @SyllCity

The example of the plane in the Hudson River (15 January 2009), was cited as a prime example of how Twitter breaks news across timelines and borders. Another example was of shark attacks off the Cape Town coast.

Participants agreed that both platforms are necessary.

  • “Not a case of replacing, but with most instances in social media, using them in conjunction with traditional” @bonitabaily
  • “Twitter is not a bad thing, but it is forcing traditional media to change the way they operate in order to remain relevant” “Media that evolve and include Twitter in their business can interact with traditional and new users” @SyllCity
  • “Twitter allows us to get involved – it’s really empowering. Newsrooms who wake up to this will survive” @sgr_ct

The importance of a brand’s tone and voice was highlighted.

  • “Twitter and traditional news have different roles. News has to be somewhat impartial. Twitter is very subjective” @NicPrinsloo
  • “Most definitely subjective for bloggers and opinion leaders” @ChilliMktg
  • “Keep in mind there is a difference between journalists/newsrooms and bloggers/opinion leaders” @SyllCity
  • “Twitter allows journos to be themselves and often say things in a tone they normally wouldn’t” @NickJ_Robson
  • “Not necessarily. Newsrooms will still have journalists populating the Twitter feed in the business’s account.” “(Subjective reporting should take place) only if tweeting in their private capacity” @SyllCity
  • “Community manager vs journo for newsroom tweeting? Who’s going to get people talking first?” @ChilliMktg
  • “Theoretically the journo would have the info first, but the CM would put it in tone that appeals to their users” @SyllCity
  • Journos aren’t the obvious fit for community management” @sampaddock

Another benefit of Twitter is the short format, since consumers seldom have the time or patience to sift through articles for information. People will read what they enjoy or are interested in, regardless of the platform, e.g. traditional or Twitter. Newsrooms can still serve a purpose by providing a back story for those interested in more information. The following analogy was used: “Twitter is like a street pole poster enticing you to read the newspaper” @ChilliMktg

  • “YES! Except everyone (online) can see the headlines, not only those commuting/in the streets” @SyllCity
  • Information overload has lead to Twitter’s success. Start with 140 characters, if you like what you see, read more” @sgr_ct

An important area of development was highlighted during the debate: allowing users to choose the content they consume. Users tend to “favourite” tweets with links, especially when accessing the platform via mobile, in order to read it thoroughly when at a computer. Through sifting out articles that interested them, Twitter has another advantage over traditional media.

  • “Twitter is there to give you the main headlines, it’s up to the readers to actually then read the article for info” “Social media platforms are forcing traditional media to relook at how they sell/explore stories” @AndreaMeyer2010
  • “Wouldn’t necessarily buy a magazine for a single article. With Twitter I compile my own news/entertainment” @SyllCity
  • “Another area that print media needs to make advances to avoid losing revenue” @NickJ_Robson

The relationship between online and print was also touched on.

  • “The future caught print media and publishing by surprise. Hope they can leapfrog and set trends” @SocMediaComms
  • “Not all print media. Several magazines have bridged the gap very successfully” @SyllCity
  • “And others have changed their strategy – delivering up-to-the-minute online” @RochelleSA
  • “In order to be at the top of their game, newsrooms need digital strategies to be effective” @AndreaMeyer2010
  • “It’s pretty supportive, but more tradtional broadcast sense than the interactive potential Twitter holds.” @sampaddock
  • “True! IN fact, if I think of @timesLIVE they mostly broadcast. Really don’t make full use of Twitter opportunities to engage” “I think @news24 get it right” @RochelleSA


Content generated by users can be extremely helpful to newsrooms in the creation of leads. Twitter is also a great tool to disseminate information in bite sizes, with links to more in-depth reports online. It connects consumers, politicians and celebrities like no other tool does, and can cause information – good and bad – to go viral in a matter of minutes. Newsrooms and publishers who accept the way business has changed, changes with it and work with the trends instead of against it, will become the news leaders of the future.


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