But the bottom line? All of this is much easier if you legitimately like Twitter and figure out how it’s most useful to you. Some journalists hate tweeting and manage to continually gather followers (more about them in a second), but it’s surprisingly hard to “fake it” on Twitter. Learn it, love it.
I hate Twitter. It cultivates narcissism, shallowness, and amplifies groupthink to heretofore unseen levels. If I were a better writer, like say, Ta-Nehisi Coates, I would not use it. As it stands, it’s a necessary part of my job, but my favorite thing about weekends and vacations is not dealing with my synapses exploding like malfunctioning spark plugs every time I refresh my feed. How do I stay on Twitter without going crazy? —AnonymousYikes. In Coates’s post on why he left Twitter, he wrote: “I think the sheer ease with which one could speak—to thousands of people—was a problem. It should never be that easy for me. I must be forced to think. I must remember that I don’t talk for the benefit of other people, but, primarily, for myself.” I asked Coates how his professional life has changed since disconnecting from Twitter. “I just talk less,” he says. “And for a journalist, it’s always better to talk less.” Indeed, the less you talk, the less risk you run of saying something you regret, which New York Times Magazine writer Andrew Goldman learned the hard way last week. His sexist retort to a critical tweet from the writer Jennifer Weiner prompted the Times to clarify its policy: “[W]e should always treat Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms as public activities.” Goldman has since deactivated his account.
The notion that Twitter is a rapid-fire public conversation goes a long way toward explaining both its usefulness to journalists and its dangers. Since I can’t slow down the conversation (I follow about 700 people), I try to slow down myself. I usually write a tweet and wait 10 or 15 minutes before I send it out into the world. And rather than take every single tweet seriously and rather than respond to every comment I find objectionable, I try to let most things roll off my back. I view Twitter as a stream, and I pick a few points in my day to watch it go by, and perhaps dip in a toe or two. But I don’t climb in and float on it for my entire workday. Despite the relaxing nature of this metaphor, that would be crazy-making.
What’s the protocol for responding to comments on pieces you’ve published? Thank the nice ones? Respond (eloquently) to the mean ones? Do nothing? Does it even matter? —Rebecca
If you’ve got the time, it’s always great to respond to constructive comments, both positive and negative. As for the name-callers or the people who clearly haven’t even read what you’ve written? We call those people “haters.” And we don’t respond.