HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The newsonomics of MLB’s pioneering mobile experience
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
June 22, 2011, 3:30 p.m.

I happen to have that research right here, Mr. Keller: The day sociologist Zeynep Tufekci dropped a bundle of knowledge on the New York Times’s Bill Keller (with help from Twitter and a whole lot of scholarship)

Last month, The New York Times’ outgoing executive editor Bill Keller trolled all of Twitter (including plenty of journalists at his own paper) by posting a single tweet: “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss.” Today, Reuters’s Anthony De Rosa posted an interview with Keller where (among other things), De Rosa asked him about it.

While repeating some of the stranger accusations he’s previously leveled at his critics (“My view of social media is that it is a set of tools, not a religion”; “digital evangelists and cyber-puritans… treat any hint of skepticism as heresy”), Keller also spelled out what he thinks social media is (and isn’t) useful for:

At the Times, we embrace social media, we use it, we experiment with it. We have a staff dedicated to figuring out new ways to make the best journalistic use of it. We have staff seminars on social media. I encourage reporters to look at Twitter and Facebook and to figure out if there’s a way these services can be helpful to them. Like many tools, Twitter will fit some people’s toolkits more naturally than others, and will be used more skillfully and creatively by some people than others…

The point of my column was that most technological progress comes at a price, and it’s okay to consider the price along with the progress. For some people, Facebook is a way to engage more openly with the world. But there’s an opportunity cost. The time you spend keeping up with your 200 Facebook friends is time you are not getting to know someone really well in person. Twitter is all the wonderful things I said above and then some, but Twitter is mostly reductionist. It does not lend itself to deep, rich conversation, with context and persuasion. It CAN be a stimulus to serious discussion, but that is not the nature of the tool, which is reach rather than depth.

In case you’re wondering, by the way, I do not believe that Twitter literally makes people stupid. If you read the column, you know that I posted a hashtag — #twittermakesyoustupid — followed, please note, by the word “discuss.” The point was to throw out a subject for discussion, and see how the medium dealt with it, which was pretty much the way I expected. (A hashtag is a topic, not an argument. ) I think Twitter can encourage distraction, superficiality, short attention spans, bumper-sticker-level discourse. It can make you SOUND stupid. But, no, I don’t think it makes you stupid.

Now, the long-standing, well-known rule of thumb on the web is “Do Not Feed the Trolls.” In other words, when an Internet user posts something with the deliberate intention of starting a fight, don’t give them what they want. “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss” has all the telltale marks of a troll. Even Keller says that the argument went “pretty much the way I expected.”

But in this interview, Keller doesn’t seem to be looking to troll the web, but asking for a different kind of engagement. I don’t think he was expecting that different kind of engagement to happen on Twitter. But that’s exactly what happened.

[View the story "I happen to have that research right here, Mr Keller" on Storify]

[If you don't see a Storify embed above, click here, then come back.]

No one on Twitter is going to let any one person set the conversation agenda. But still, we all hope Mr Keller responds. Whenever he’s ready. We know that just like us, he’s a busy man.

Update: Keller responds. And yes, he and Tufekci are both very busy. (Good thing there’s a popular medium for very short messages written by busy people.)

POSTED     June 22, 2011, 3:30 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The newsonomics of MLB’s pioneering mobile experience
Running a sports league and running a news operation aren’t the same thing. But there are lessons to be learned from baseball’s success in navigating mobile.
Why The New York Times built a tool for crowdsourced time travel
Madison, a new tool that asks readers to help identify ads in the Times archives, is part of a new open source platform for crowdsourcing built by the company’s R&D Lab.
Opening up the archives: JSTOR wants to tie a library to the news
Its new site JSTOR Daily highlights interesting research and offers background and context on current events.
What to read next
1020
tweets
The newsonomics of the millennial moment
The new wave of news startups is aiming at a younger audience. But do legacy media companies have a chance at earning their attention?
803A mixed bag on apps: What The New York Times learned with NYT Opinion and NYT Now
The two apps were part of the paper’s plan to increase digital subscribers through smaller, targeted offerings. Now, with staff cutbacks on the way, one app is being shuttered and the other is being adjusted.
537Watching what happens: The New York Times is making a front-page bet on real-time aggregation
A new homepage feature called “Watching” offers readers a feed of headlines, tweets, and multimedia from around the web.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Crosscut
Hechinger Report
Newsday
Placeblogger
The Guardian
Tampa Bay Times
EveryBlock
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
La Nación
NewsTilt
TBD
Storify