Los Angeles Times

Twitter under Musk worries media

New owner’s business changes and layoffs could adversely affect journalist­s.

- By Wendy Lee

complaints, fears and angst surroundin­g changes at troubled tech giant Twitter began unraveling on its own platform by the very people who report the news — journalist­s.

It began when Twitter CEO Elon Musk suggested that he would charge additional money for Twitter users to verify their profiles, which could be costly for large news organizati­ons that employ hundreds of people. Then layoffs hit several teams at the San Francisco-based company, including employees who helped news organizati­ons promote their stories on the platform.

Now what made Twitter most relevant — a constant streaming flow of discourse from influencer­s, politician­s and celebritie­s — could be in doubt as Musk seeks to restructur­e some of the useful tools of its platform, including the verified status of newsmakers and how news articles get highlighte­d on the platform.

“There’s a lack of clarity in the plan from a public perspectiv­e, but the indicators are that there’s a lack of appreciati­on for brands and institutio­nal trust and the work of humans that go into developing and curating stories, both at the platform side and across the industry, that’s concerning,” said Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a trade group that includes the Associated Press, the Washington Post and Bloomberg. “It feels like a bit of watching a train wreck.”

His group’s members are in a wait-and-see mode on how all the changes at Twitter shake out.

For some newsrooms that have many journalist­s verified on Twitter, paying for the blue verificati­on check mark along with other

features could be costly, as Musk has said Twitter would charge about $8 a month per account. Journalist­s previously were given their verified status for free.

The charge will include priority in replies, mentions and search, ability to post long video and audio and half as many ads, Musk tweeted on Nov. 1. “And paywall bypass for publishers willing to work with us,” Musk wrote, without elaboratin­g. The rollout of the new features was delayed until after the midterm elections, according to the New York Times.

“For the newsrooms, it’s always been the leading platform, and that’s all uncertain right now,” Kint said. “There’s been a lot of work over the years to build trust in that platform, and that’s why I think journalist­s have always continued to rely on it too as a place to develop their stories, and now we’re just in a point of uncertaint­y.”

Journalist­s use Twitter for reporting purposes: to scan for breaking news, search for sources that may share informatio­n online about certain topics and pull comments from celebritie­s who tweet from their verified accounts. There is also a marketing element to Twitter, where journalist­s tweet out stories from their news organizati­on and share other interestin­g articles with their followers.

Twitter internally also had teams that worked with news organizati­ons to help promote their stories on the platform. Ryan Carey-Mahoney, a Twitter news curator on Moments and Trends, tweeted on Friday he was no longer at Twitter and his curation team “has been gutted, too.”

“Together, we helped make sense of this platform and its many conversati­ons through moments and trends,” Carey-Mahoney tweeted, which was followed by messages from journalist­s at various outlets offering him support.

Taking away another outlet for news organizati­ons to market their stories comes as the industry is feeling the pain of declining print subscripti­ons and the struggle to sign up more customers to pay to read stories online. Digital media publishers have also been challenged when platforms that help promote their work like Facebook change their algorithms.

There was mixed reaction from news publishers on whether they would pay for verificati­on. CNN told Insider that it’s “highly unlikely that CNN would cover verificati­on costs on behalf of all employees.”

Ken Doctor, CEO of Lookout Local, said his news company would be willing to pay for its brand to be verified on Twitter and then wait and see how to proceed regarding its staff ’s individual Twitter accounts.

“The interestin­g question is going to be what happens to the use and credibilit­y of Twitter with Musk taking over and whether it remains as well-used media as it has been,” Doctor said.

Twitter made nearly 92% of its second-quarter revenue through advertisin­g, and already some brands are pausing their ads on the platform amid concerns about changes.

Musk bought Twitter last month for $44 billion, and last week, he made deep cuts to the company’s workforce.

“Regarding Twitter’s reduction in force, unfortunat­ely there is no choice when the company is losing over $4M/day,” Musk tweeted on Friday. He also tweeted that the company had a “massive drop in revenue,” which he blamed on activist groups pressuring advertiser­s.

Charging for verificati­on could be a “decent revenue stream,” Doctor said, but what’s at risk is “the reevaluati­on that’s going on among advertiser­s about the nature of that platform and how safe it is and whether it’s going to be free-form chaos, or whether it’s going to have some reasonable amount of civility.”

Despite being used by many journalist­s, Twitter hasn’t generated as much traffic to news sites as other platforms, such as Google’s search engine. In 2016, a report by analytics company Parse.ly indicated that the typical news organizati­on generated just 1.5% of its traffic from Twitter, while the top 5% of publishers received 11% of traffic from Twitter, according to Nieman Lab. Twitter had 237.8 million monetizabl­e daily active users in the second quarter.

“Twitter is a really minor refer to news sites in general,” said Doctor, a veteran media industry analyst. “It’s talked about a lot among media people, and it’s great for social monitoring. It’s great for lead generation for stories, but it doesn’t have that much traffic impact on news sites.”

Charging for verified status could add more steps for reporters who look to quote people on Twitter, said Karen North, professor of digital social media at USC Annenberg School for Communicat­ion and Journalism. A blue check mark on Twitter typically signifies that the platform has verified the user’s identity, establishi­ng confidence that when, say, music star Taylor Swift tweets something, it really comes from Swift (who is verified on Twitter).

If many celebritie­s and newsmakers decide not to pay to verify their status, journalist­s will have to find other ways to verify that what they are seeing tweeted came from the real person. Or they could leave the platform altogether.

“When you start charging for the verificati­on, then some people will choose not to verify, and then it opens up the opportunit­y for spoof accounts, and therefore the credibilit­y not only of the sources, but especially the credibilit­y of the platform Twitter becomes much more problemati­c,” North said.

S. Mitra Kalita, chief executive of the URL Media network and publisher of the community news outlet Epicenter-NYC, said she’s still debating how she’ll approach Twitter.

“I feel I worked so hard for every single one of my 30,000 followers,” Kalita, a former Times managing editor, wrote in an email, adding that she’s leaning toward paying the monthly fee to retain her blue check mark. “I also think it’s worth companies offering this for their talent with large followings or government­s who want to ensure their messaging is optimized/verified for the platform.”

 ?? Noah Berger Associated Press ?? AFTER ELON MUSK took charge, layoffs have hit San Francisco-based Twitter.
Noah Berger Associated Press AFTER ELON MUSK took charge, layoffs have hit San Francisco-based Twitter.

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