Blame The Author, Not The Tool: The Toronto Star & The Terrible Tweets


Below is a copy of my response to the Toronto Star March 23 article Tori Stafford murder trial: Why the Star isn’t tweeting this trial by Kathy English. Ms. English is the Public Editor for The Star, an important position that makes her opinion worth noting when it comes to her statements about social media (in this case, Twitter).

I encourage you to read her article in order to understand the full context of my comments below. I would summarize it as: “Don’t blame the message or the messenger, blame the messaging!”


Blaming the tool instead of the journalist?

The choice of what information to share about trial proceedings has nothing to do with whether or not it is shared via a newspaper, a website, or a twitter feed. Twitter has never caused any journalist to misrepresent any facts. They would have to do that on their own.

ImageAs for the limitations of 140 characters, this has to do with the skill of the journalist and their understanding of the various tools at their disposal. Obviously you don’t use twitter the same way you use a printing press.

For example, to tweet timely facts such as who is being called to the stand at a given point in time seems quite a reasonable and appropriate use of Twitter at a trial. For reporting that has more to do with analysis, the reporter can file it as an article, blog, etc. and then tweet a link to that content rather than trying to summarize in 140 characters (who would actually attempt this?).

As for whether or not to share details that readers might find offensive, again, that has nothing to do with Twitter. That’s a choice that has to be made whether communicated with Twitter or smoke signals.

I can assure you with some confidence that bragging about not using Twitter does not help improve public confidence in the ability of traditional media to maintain their relevance. There are some valid points made about the damage that can be caused by a journalist rushing to be “the first to tweet” and possibly spreading misinformation. So, don’t do things like that. And be proud of it. That’s now part of how a journalist (and a newspaper, radio station, tv station) earns their reputation.

But don’t extend that to “We don’t use Twitter.” It really doesn’t make sense. It just says that you’ve attributed the power to create mistakes to tools like Twitter instead of to the person or organization that misuses them.

About Keenan Wellar

Keenan is a citizen of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) and co-leader of a social change and community benefit organization, LiveWorkPlay.ca, a registered charity which helps the community welcome and include people with intellectual disabilities, autistic persons, and individuals with a dual diagnosis to live, work, and play as valued citizens. LiveWorkPlay was named Ottawa's Best Non-Profit of 2019 by the Ottawa Board of Trade and Ottawa Business Journal "Best Ottawa Business Awards " With Julie Kingstone, Keenan is co-owner of Wellstone Leadership Services, dedicated to supporting a culture of excellence for non-profit, private sector, government organizations, collaborations, and partnerships. Keenan is a founding member of the leadership group for the From Presence To Citizenship collaborative. Keenan is a regular guest (monthly) of the News 1310 Power Lunch radio show, and he writes the monthly NPQ North column for Nonprofit Quarterly. When not working and supporting various social causes, Keenan loves kayaking and wildlife photography, cheering for the Ottawa RedBlacks and Pittsburgh Steelers, and causing a disturbance on social media.
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