Besides the fact that Twitter is fast and newspapers are—let’s face it—less fast, Twitter is built for much more specialized and flexible purposes. I’m comparing them (and I’ll keep doing so) because I think Twitter is worthy of mention as a journalism standard.
So: Twitter:taxi::newspaper:bus. There are good things and bad things about all those and it all depends on what your purpose is.
Twitter is a taxi
…it’s fast, nimble, takes you wherever you want to go and all you have to do is point. There are downsides, too: Taxis can be loud, messy, annoying and occasionally untrustworthy. But if you take some time to learn from your early mistakes, you’ll soon know what you’re doing and you’ll know how to spot an untrustworhy cab when you see one.
Like taxis, Twitter is extremely customizable. There’s nowhere you can’t go and your experience is entirely predicated on what you put into it. (Ever been in one of those cabs where you don’t talk to the guy except to pay him? Ever been in one of those “party cabs” where it’s like 3 a.m. and you get the cab driver to sing Biz Markie with you and your friends? That’s what I’m talking about.)
Newsprint is more like a bus
…been around forever, rarely late and offers a diverse mix of people that you’d probably otherwise miss. Downsides: Sometimes you know roughly where you want to go, but the best the bus can do is drop you off five blocks away and the bus driver can only give vague directions as to where this place is once you disembark. Some bus drivers don’t even know anything other than their routes.
Translation: Newspapers are highly generalized. You can read a newspaper and get a great one-off report of an instance taking place within a topic (i.e. a roadside bomb that went off in war-torn Iraq), but if you want to know anything else, you’re on your own. Where do you go for that type of thing? Wikipedia? The library? Hope you know, because the newspaper usually isn’t telling you.
On the other hand, newspapers and busses are great for people who don’t want to have to go looking for their information in the first place. Sure, the first time you jump on a bus, it may seem a little weird and confusing, but it’ll be back at the same time every day and after you’ve been riding it for a couple weeks, you’ll feel like a regular.
It all depends on who you are or who you’re writing for
Don’t try to give up-to-the-minute reports in a newspaper. Don’t try to go in-depth on Twitter. It’s not insanely difficult. Just realize what it is you’re using and what your chosen method is used best for. Know your audience, too. Your Twitter audience isn’t the same as your newspaper audience … (etc.).
Every communication platform has a journalistic use to it; if it all goes down in flames, it’s on the user.