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What today’s Twitter layoffs could mean for journalists

What today’s Twitter layoffs could mean for journalists

Elon Musk is busy gutting Twitter’s staff — and where he chooses to cut will tell us what the platform’s future relationship with news will look like.

Frankly, it's a bit of a difficult morning.

The tone of today in audience circles is very different to last week, when the news of Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter hit. There's rather fewer jokes, and rather more sympathy, as we start to see UK-based Twitter employees losing their jobs. Their US colleagues will be going through the same experience in a few hours, and the expectation is that up to half of Twitter's staff will be laid off.

I'm going to devote much of this post to what we in the journalism business should be watching for in these layoffs, but first I want to take a moment to acknowledge the humans at the heart of this.

The personal cost

These are just a few tweets I've seen from personal friends or online acquaintances who've been fired this morning:

They're all talented folks, whom I hope and expect will land on their feet, but seeing work they've invested the best part of a decade in dismantled, while being told they're personally surplus to requirements, can't be emotionally easy. My very best wishes to all of them.

Now, what does this mean for the rest of us?

The canaries in Twitter's coal mine

A million years ago and, at the same time, a week ago, when Musk took over Twitter, I realised that there were four major things to watch as Musk reshaped Twitter.  If some or all of them changed, the relationship between the platform and journalism would be reshaped for ever.

Here they are:

  1. Major changes to verification
  2. Changes to the publisher relationships in Twitter Blue
  3. Dismantling of the Curation/Moments team
  4. Dismantling of the News Partnerships team

And how do things stand now? Two have happened, one looks likely to have happened (UPDATE: Now confirmed — see below), and we're waiting to hear about the last:

  1. ✅ Major changes to verification
  2. ✅ Changes to the publisher relationships in Twitter Blue
  3. ✅ Dismantling of the Curation/Moments team
  4. ❓Dismantling of the News Partnerships team

Verification

Look, I have my issues with how Twitter runs verification and, in particular, how it creates a two tier system for journalists. But there's no doubt that being a proven, verified journalist goes some way to helping you stand out amidst the misinformation noise on the platform. Musk's move to make verification for all available for a fee will fundamentally dilute that ability. That's our first canary expired.

Twitter Blue

The publisher relationships that allowed subscribers to have access to ad-free articles via Twitter Blue, the subscription service available in some parts of the world, was killed unexpectedly by Twitter. Musk clearly wants to renegotiate those relationships:

But it's hard to trust someone who kills — on a whim, with no notice — something you put development work into supporting, isn't it?

Moments & Curation

The curation team was (and yes, it looks like the past tense is appropriate) the internal journalistic part of Twitter, curating the best news and Tweets in a way that brought value to the platform — and traffic to publishers. It was led by friend-of-the-blog Joanna Geary, late of the Birmingham Post, The Times and The Guardian.

She was the first of the “personal cost” tweets above.

If, as it looks like, this team is essentially gone, it will make it that much harder for news publishers to stand out from the noise on Twitter.

Update — 12.15pm, 4/11/22

Yup, the Curation team is gone:

News Partnerships

The major social platforms have long had news partnership teams, whose job it its to build closer relationships with major publishers. That's why journalists seem to get special treatment for things like verification — it's handled between the social teams of major publishers and the news partnership folks.

If this team gets dismantled in the layoffs today — and I've seen no evidence either way yet — then truly Twitter, like Facebook before it, is planning to leave journalism behind.

Today will be an interesting day.


Newsletters: Revue is dead

Big news from the well-sourced Casey Newton last night:

That's bad news: some publishers use Revue, and there are some great journalism-relevant newsletters on there too, not least those of Vincent Peyregne, Kevin Anderson and the lovely Media Voices team.

I'm working on a post about exit options for publishers using Revue. Look for it on the site later today, or early tomorrow.


In other news

Despite our obsession with the bird app, other things are happening in the journalism world.

Member models aren't just about news

This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone paying attention, but it's nice to see it confirmed again:

News alone is no longer the driver of New York Times subscription growth - Poynter
The company’s quarterly financial report follows what has become a trend: an operating profit margin of around 10%

This was one of the major conclusions of the INMA Light Readers report that I worked on a couple of years ago. And yes, that does mean that your editorial leaders need to concentrate just as much on lifestyle and service journalism as the exciting breaking news stuff.

For example:

Cost of living journalism is being welcomed by readers, research reveals
Trusted journalism is playing a vital role for society through its coverage of the cost-of-living crisis, a new study has revealed today.

Solidarity to my features, lifestyle and business journalism brethren. We matter!

Where should we use AI?

The Toronto Star is making a good fist of figuring this out:

What types of local news stories should be automated? The Toronto Star is figuring it out
In the case of break-and-enter stories, “everybody recognized that a poor execution of the idea would be a problem.”

I agree strongly with Kevin on this:

As I have said before, I would much rather have a robot write a basic, formulaic report than treat a reporter like a robot.

(Full disclosure: the Star is a current client)

Apple News really matters

This is a little bit of “I told you so” but quite a bit more “what you should do about this”:

Why you can’t afford to ignore Apple News
Despite all the early scepticism, Apple News is now the most used UK news app. Time to stop ignoring it.

Written by

Adam Tinworth   Adam Tinworth

Adam has been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 25. He currently works as a consultant and trainer, helping people do better, more engaged online journalism.


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