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What happens to journalists after Twitter?
The end of Twitter would mean the end of more than just tweets
According to The Washington Post, Elon Musk plans to cut 75 percent of Twitter’s workforce when he acquires the social media network. (Twitter told employees that “We do not have any confirmation of the buyer’s plans.”) Garbage Day’s Ryan Broderick predicts that this would render the site completely unusable. In wondering what could come next, he writes:
“The private and professional mixed culture of Twitter, where anyone can quickly log on, post a piece of content, read or react to a few others, and leave—that’s likely not going to come back if Twitter does die off. Just in the same way that the exact alchemy that made MySpace a success never came back somewhere else. Which, considering what the last 15 years of Twitter have been like, might be the best for everyone.”
The thought of logging onto Twitter and seeing nothing gives me a profound sense of calm (not unlike what I experienced when Instagram went offline for a day last year). But this is puzzling, because Twitter is responsible for my whole career.
In 2015, journalists made up the largest category of Twitter’s verified users, and they were also the most active, too. I graduated from college right into the heyday of this incestual sweat lodge of a community. I was an aspiring writer with no connections of my own to digital media, and Twitter was my golden ticket.
From my dorm room in Ohio I followed the major and minor players on the website, from prolific journalists with prestigious bylines to young women who got famous for tweeting things like “i came, i saw, i dissociated.” I slinked into their replies, boldy @-ed them with my own musings, and, once I moved to New York, actually starting meeting them in person.
I got my first job toiling in the depths of a content mine, stood in the corners at digital media parties staring at my phone, and portrayed it all online like I was having the time of my life. Maintaining this social and professional facade was necessary for getting editors to respond to my emails, and having acquaintances slide into my DMs with opportunities whenever I got laid off.
This is why, despite all my complaining about the service, I’ve never just deleted my account. It’s why, even though I’ve stopped tweeting about everything else in my life, I still post whenever I write a new article. As a writer who hopes to keep being a writer, Twitter is pretty much the only lever I have to pull. It would, I insist to my friends, my family, and my therapist, be career suicide to log off.
But what if I end up having no choice? And by that, I mean, what if a billionaire makes choices that kneecap what’s left of the already dying platform? Obviously tons of industries would be affected by its demise, but to me, the digital media industry without Twitter is unrecognizable.
This might be a good thing for journalism itself. The accessibility and immediacy of Twitter means writers, myself included, can erroneously conflate the majority opinion of Twitter users with the majority opinion of actual society. But, as Pew Research Center has concluded time and time again, a minority of extremely active Twitter users produce the overwhelming majority of all tweets made by U.S. adults.
But journalism loses something without Twitter, too. I’ve started seeing writers tepidly promote their Substacks in preparation for jumping ship. And there are other journalists already successfully cultivating audiences on Instagram and TikTok. But that sense of inter-journalist community—that “private and professional mixed culture” Broderick wrote about—doesn’t exist anywhere else online.
I’m under no illusions that the culture would just disappear. The journalism industry existed long before Twitter and it will, thank God, exist long after it. But to think Twitter may just be a blip along the way is somewhat mind-boggling, because it’s the sole reason I’m here, writing a newsletter that even one person reads.