Technology

Twitter: Friend And Foe

Media outlets use it, and get scooped by it 8/09/2009 11:00:00 AM Eastern

Twitter ruffled a few more journalistic feathers this week when American Idol judge Paula Abdul became the latest household name to usurp the breaking news power of traditional media by making a big announcement on the social networking site.

“I think it's kind of a watershed moment,” says Rob Silverstein, executive producer for Access Hollywood. “The biggest show in the history of television; one of the biggest stars of the show decides to leave via Twitter.”

Abdul's scoop came on the heels of the July 27 announcement that Ben Silverman would be departing NBC. The news broke via the Twitter page of Silverman's good friend Ryan Seacrest, who alerted his 2 million followers well ahead of an NBC press release.

“It's the democratization of media,” says Brad Adgate, senior VP of research for Horizon Media. “This is just going to continue. You follow Paula [on Twitter], you knew she was leaving before it was announced.”

While programming executives at the newsmagazines told B&C they don't think Twitter will make their shows obsolete, it's clear the social media tool is putting them on edge. But they hope it will actually help in the end.

“I think it's great when celebrities break stories on Twitter,” said Entertainment Tonight Executive Producer Linda Bell Blue. “What we have found is [our] viewers are watching Twitter all day long...All it does is whet the appetite for viewers to come to us to get the full story.”

Shari Anne Brill, senior VP and programming director for ad buyer Carat, agrees that Twitter is enabling celebrities to get news out without the shows that pander to them (“They can pander all on their own,” she quips). But she believes there are still entertainment news consumers who haven't heard a chirp about Twitter.

“A lot of people who are not in [the media] business don't seem to understand why it exists,” Brill says. “They just can't grasp it. Those who work in the media or who are interested in media, they get it.”

TV companies and programming execs are also finding themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to balance their social networking footprint, which drives viewers to their shows, with controlling the message of the company.

Last week ESPN sent out “Social Media Guidelines” for employees, which were quickly maligned by some of the network's personalities (a “Taliban-like decree,” Kenny Mayne tweeted). “ESPN understands that employees may maintain or contribute to personal blogs, message boards, conversation pages, and other forms of social media such as Facebook and Twitter,” the memo stated. “If an employee posts ESPN or job-related information, they are required to exercise good judgment [and] abide by ESPN policy.” —With additional reporting by Marisa Guthrie

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