Ezra Klein's Case Against Getting Your News From Twitter

The Washington Post blogger advises against obsessing over the platform.
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Ezra Klein is one of the biggest new media success stories of his journalistic generation: thanks to a keen understanding of the digital landscape, an ability to explain complicated policy in digestible posts, and a relentless work ethic, he's gone from a college student with a progressive blog to leading an impressive digital team at one of America's most prominent newspapers.

But there's at least one new media trend where he breaks from a lot of his tech savvy peers: he worries about people using Twitter as a main way to shape the news that they read on the Internet.

Here's his argument, as articulated off-the-cuff at an Aspen Ideas Festival panel:

This will be the part that makes people mad and that makes me decidedly "unfuture" of media: I really try not to get my news from Twitter, which has a reputation as a place where people go and find lots of great news. I find it a place you go to find, I guess, your barbecued potato chips.

A lot of stuff that is kind of interesting, mostly not that good. And it's absolutely chewed over into cud by the time you get there. So I've been making a concerted effort to create structure on my computer using different kinds of software and so forth, that forces me to get less of my news from social media, and more of it by reading my RSS feed, which are blogs, or going to other news sites. I really have begun to worry that it gets really easy to tilt into a Twitter centric news diet, because you feel that if you're not following it, you miss something that's gone forever, because the conversation doesn't archive in any readable way. And I think that creates a kind of obsessive quality, it leads to an over-reliance on the far side of what the signal to noise ratio of not just Tweets, but actual links on Twitter, should be.

My own preference for news is the RSS feed, and I have always been perplexed by folks who have basically used Twitter to replace it. Many of my favorite writers Tweet out links to their articles. But I miss the vast majority of Tweets that run through my feed. As Kevin Drum once put it:

The reason I use RSS is that I want to be able to scroll quickly through every post from a particular set of bloggers, and I want to be able to do it when I want to do it, not only in real-time when it happens to pop up in my Twitter feed.

There's a "television" lecture track here this week, and I've been hearing a lot about how consumers are growing impatient with live broadcasts: sports aside, they don't want to watch their favorite television show at 9 pm on Thursday, they want to watch it when they want to watch it.

In this era of time-shifting, Twitter is an anachronism. I love the platform for the conversations it enables, and the great links I'd never otherwise see. But it definitely requires a particular mindset to enjoy: an ability to just not worry that you'll never see everything in the stream. I think Klein is right that there's a psychological tendency to not want to miss a thing. And I wonder if, on the whole, Twitter is less popular -- or at least more anxiety inducing -- among zero inbox people.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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