The Limits Of Twitter

Roger Cohen makes a passionate case for the indispensability of "being there" on the ground for reporting. I think he's absolutely right, and the expulsion of the MSM from Iran is a blow for the revolution that cannot be balanced by social media. But I also think he under-estimates how the new media can be aggregated by intelligent human beings and presented in a way that gets closer to real life than any other medium except "being there" can. He writes:

Journalism is distillation. It is a choice of material, whether in words or image, made in pursuit of presenting the truest and fairest, most vivid and complete representation of a situation. It comes into being only through an organizing intelligence, an organizing sensibility. It depends on form, an unfashionable little word, without which significance is lost to chaos. As Aristotle suggested more than two millennia ago, form requires a beginning and middle and end. It demands unity of theme. Journalism cuts through the atwitter state to thematic coherence.

What we experimented with last June here at the Dish was an attempt to fuse new social media with an editorial crafting: to integrate tweets and blogs into a coherent real time narrative, and to give it context by constantly linking to real journalists on the ground so far as we could. I don't dispute Cohen's point. But I also believe that social media are in their infancy, and the great challenge for those of us who call ourselves journalists is to corral them to help illuminate the truth. This is a work in progress. It doesn't deserve to be dismissed before it has had a chance to prove itself.