Dan McGowan (@danmcgowan): News Editor, GoLocalProv.com
Tim Murphy (@politifactri): Assistant Managing Editor, Public Policy Desk, Providence Journal; Editor, Politifact RI
David Scharfenberg (@d_scharfenberg): News Editor, Providence Phoenix
Erika Niedowski (@eniedowski): Reporter, Associated Press, Providence Bureau
Ian Donnis (@IanDon): Political Reporter, Rhode Island Public Radio
Ted Nesi (@tednesi): Digital Reporter, WPRI
Tim White (@white_tim): Investigative Reporter, WPRI
Julie Tremaine (Providence Monthly): Though you work for competing news outlets, it seems like Twitter makes it really easy for all of you to work collectively as a team. As Dan was saying, one person can contribute one small part of the story and another person releases another part. We're in this little bubble in Rhode Island, right now, where you guys are the extent of the really good political reporting and all of you work together on these stories. It's something that maybe will trickle up to bigger media, to bigger towns, but I feel like it's only happening right now and this is a really special moment.
Ian D: I wouldn't use the word collectively. I would use the word collegially, because I think we all want to get that story first. We are competing with one other. But at the same time, we do have a respect – a grudging respect for each other.
Ian D: We do have admiration for professional colleagues when they break an important story or write a story particularly well, and that's why we might re-tweet it. I'm glad to see the Journal has gotten more active on Twitter. We're at this moment where there's still very much a need for quote/un-quote old time journalistic values, fact-based reporting, but there are more ways than ever of getting that out. The most successful news organizations might be those that can balance those two different things.
Dave S: Rhode Island is also an interesting case study for that. Rhode Island is small enough and does still have a dominant newspaper. But it might not. I mean, it might get more polarized. We'll see.
Ted N: We're talking a lot about what the digital changes have taken away – in terms of audience, in terms of ad business, in terms of common culture – but it's given us a huge range of new tools. You can get documents so quickly. That could have been days going to city halls, or you had to have a library like newspapers used to have. Now, it's all on a website; you can grab it quickly. I know people complain that it’s sped up the reporting process, but it's taken away time that wasn't useful – you know, driving off to some state law library somewhere in Kingstown.
Tim M: It's also value added to the consumer, to the readers, because you can share the actual documents and sources with them.
John T: So here's an interesting consideration. When this first started, I sent out a tweet from Providence Monthly announcing that we're all here for this roundtable. Already somebody tweeted back to ask if we're streaming this somewhere. According the rules of the new media age, I should be tweeting highlights from this, we should be streaming it, I should be answering this guy’s question. But if I'm doing all that, to your point about the debates, I'm not paying attention to what you guys are saying. How do you prioritize, especially when you're dealing with this pressure on the one hand to get the story out first, and on the other hand, to verify?
Tim W: When we would cover Chaffee's press conferences we were all tweeting what the governor was saying, and what changed, for me, was I actually used that as my electronic notebook. He says something that's new and noteworthy, I'd tweet that out. Ted would put it out. Ian would put it out. And then when I'm compiling my story – writing it, I should say – for the newscast that night, I went back through the tweets and wrote my story based off of that. It was like an electronic notebook. You are paying attention even more while you're tweeting, in that case. I think when it's a distraction was something like debates, or something like that.
Ted N: I think it's also made us and other organizations more transparent, like it or not. Some organizations have resisted that much more, but I think it's not a bad thing for the press to be accessible, for people to be able to quickly hit back at us if we're off. We do get off on the wrong track sometimes, or we are fumbling for conventional wisdom that's missing a big alternative point-of-view. I think that's it. I struggle with the time management and attention thing, because there are different pressures. There's the pressure to be on top of everything that's happening in real-time, and then there's the pressure to come up with interesting new takes, which inevitably involves going into something that's not being tweeted about.
Ian D: There's a big ocean of information out there and you can't completely wrap your arms around that. Occasionally on the weekend I might just not tweet, because I need to clear my head a little bit. Other times, I might be a lot more active on the weekends. There is that 24-7 cycle that there wasn't before, but a lot of it just comes down to judgment calls.
Erika N: I'm probably an outlier at this table, in that we, the Associated Press, do not break news on Twitter. It's a policy. There's a business reason for that: people don't pay for my tweets. You guys all pay to get the wire. My master is the wire. I do live tweet events; I wouldn't consider that breaking news. It's just kind of incremental, like my eyes are here so my followers can follow that. But we don't put news out on Twitter that's not on the wire, because it's your news, you pay for it.
Ted N: I find it very striking when we did the first of this year's prime-time debates, the Cicilline and Gemma debate on Channel 12 in August, that was the first time I had been on stage. Obviously, we don't bring our cell phones on the stage. I probably looked at my phone for the last time around 7:30. Around 9:45-10 I went back to my computer to start writing and it was so stunning to see the amount of conversation that had taken place about something I had been involved in, seeing how it played with people and the real-time debate about, “Oh, is this working for this candidate? Is this not working?”
Erika N: That's all feedback you wouldn't have gotten in the old world. I think that there's a downside to all of us ruing that this world of journalism isn't the old world of journalism, because there isn't really a lot of benefit in saying that what we have now isn't what we had before. This is our world of journalism and we need to make it work. We need to use the tools we have. We say, “Oh, the death of the newspaper” – everyone here knows it's struggling. I come from that world. That makes me very sad and uncomfortable, but I also think we have incredible opportunities.
Ted N: Ian and I were both taken out of print and put into broadcast outlets, but asked to keep writing. I don't know if you'll see more of that, but you should, because if there are more resources at broadcast outlets right now and they all have websites, they should be putting news online. I don't think they do.