The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Memo to Dean Baquet: It’s no coincidence that leaders of thriving new media companies have been on Twitter for years

Want to innovate in media? Tweeting would probably help. (Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters)

For many journalists, Twitter has become the 24-hour diner we hang out in. It’s where news breaks first, spats happen and jokes are told. Where reporters get congratulated for new jobs or great stories.

But not all journalists are smitten with Twitter. Last month, a Buzzfeed article poked fun of the little-used Twitter accounts of some New York Times journalists. On Tuesday morning, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet responded to criticism that the paper’s editors were not using Twitter actively.

“One of the biggest criticisms aimed at my generation of editors is that we created a priesthood, that we decided who was a journalist and who was not,” Baquet told Steve Buttry, who has been critical of journalists who don’t tweet. “As I observe the criticism nowadays, you will forgive me for noting that it sounds like a new priesthood is being created, with new rules for entry. Don’t take that as saying I should not tweet more. I should. Just a warning that each generation of journalists seems so certain they know what it takes to be a journalist.”

Baquet is right that we should be careful not to obsess too much over Twitter. It can be a distraction from work and isn’t the only or best way to drive readers to our Web sites. New media darling Buzzfeed actually receives more Web traffic from Pinterest than Twitter. I haven’t seen anyone chastising Baquet for a lack of pins.

For me, whether one tweets is a solid but imperfect litmus test of one’s embrace and interest in new media. Are you curious about ways to be better at your job? Do you experiment with the latest technologies? Then you’re probably on Twitter, and have been for a while.

Baquet should take note of when top editors and executives behind rising media outlets joined Twitter. Gawker Media founder Nick Denton set up his account in November 2006. First Look chief executive Pierre Omidyar arrived in February 2007. Buzzfeed chief executive Jonah Peretti joined in March 2007. Vox Media chief executive Jim Bankoff and Re/code co-executive editors Walter Mossberg and Kara Swisher signed up in May 2007. Business Insider editor Henry Blodget came a month later.

Twitter wasn’t cool then, or especially useful. It was often mocked and didn’t have a large user base. But all of these leaders were curious enough to check it out and sign up.

The individuals I mentioned all happen to work at growing media companies. By comparison, Baquet — who joined Twitter only in September 2011 — just announced staff cuts.

Is this a coincidence? Sure, being an early adopter of Twitter doesn’t automatically turn you into a new media kingpin. But the underlying personality of an early adopter — someone who is curious and has an enthusiasm for technology  tends to be very useful for someone who wants to innovate.

For a journalist, good software and tools are something of a force multiplier. If you’ll try new things, you’ll be better off in our media revolution. As Baquet’s erudite media critic David Carr has said: “In digital media, technology is not a wingman, it is The Man.” Obviously, Baquet leads a tremendous organization that does a lot of top digital work. But they have a lot of room for improvement.

This reminds me, I should go kick the tires on Ello.