Twitter is readying itself to emerge as a true news operation organization.
Globally jobs in traditional journalism are becoming fewer and fewer, but just about a few days back an ultimate job was posted. According to a report by Michael Wolff in The Guardian, Twitter, fast becoming the basic source, tool, and distribution point in news, is looking for someone to run its news operation:
“You will be responsible for devising and executing the strategies that make Twitter indispensable to newsrooms and journalists, as well as an essential part of the operations and strategy of news organizations and TV news networks. You should have a strong vision for the broad potential of Twitter and news, while also being able to rigorously manage and scale the news team’s daily impact.”
Well, there. The whole ball of wax.
This is, arguably, a bigger news job than Jeff Zucker’s job running CNN. Given the choice between being the executive editor of the New York Times or being the first Twitter news chief, you’d be well advised to think twice.
It is, very possibly, a job on the order of running a network news division in the 1970s or 80s, the biggest job that there has ever been in news. There are the historic, possibly even Murrow-like, implications to this job. This is the first time a technology company and platform has decided that one of its primary functions is news. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, have all, to varying degrees, devoted resources to news and seen opportunities in it, but as an information commodity, redistributors instead of shapers. They never saw themselves as having a news gathering and filtering function.
Unless this is a run amuck HR job description, that seems to be precisely what Twitter is proposing it wants someone to do: figure out the relationship of the world’s central real-time information tool to the news business, hell, to the very nature of what news is.
Actually, there is more. The notion here in this job description is that Twitter is both a front end for news, a first responder, a first draft of the first draft of history, and, as well, a back end, the fundamental instrument of all journalists, a wire service killer (the AP is still one of the significant costs in most news operations), a dedicated pool of eyes and ears on the ground.
It’s a visionary-slash-deal-maker job. That is, you have to imagine it, and then put it together.
I think the view here is that Twitter’s opportunity is to become some sort of combination of content provider and distributor, a kind of merging of the AP and the printing colossus, RR Donnelley. That is, the necessary third party player for all news organizations. In a way, it is that now, but the job, I infer, is to turn that into a major seat of leverage and power in the news world. Twitter become to news what iTunes is to music.
So who gets this job? And who gives it?
The intersection of technology and news (or content of any sort) has been, for almost 20 years now, an incredibly awkward one. These are skill sets and cultures remote from each other. Technology companies when they flirt with the content businesses tend to hire hustlers and worthies, Hollywood types or those looking for a sinecure, or the eager and callow, ambitious young men and women with a suck-up I-love-tech shingle.
But, Twitter, take my advice, don’t go with your gut or your head hunter’s recommendation. You really don’t want an entertainment-media complex agent type, nor a former newspaper or TV executive, nor a talk-the-talk nerd. You want someone who is seasoned enough to have worked for an actual news organization, but astute enough to have migrated into the new news space – Politico, the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, DNAinfo, or the major legacy news sites, CNN, the New York Times, NBC (formally MSNBC), might do. But, even here, the trick, on which you live or die, is to distinguish between the bureaucrats who fill the news business as much as the technology business and … the next Roone Arledge or Roger Ailes. This is the point, alas, the wrong choice, the predictable choice, at which greatness founders.
Technology companies, most having unhappily experimented with content, almost invariably retreat from it, finding it safer to be the conduit for someone else’s stuff. For all the reasons that got them into the technology business in the first place, they shortly get irritated by content’s qualitative quagmire.
Still, I read something different in this ad. Twitter, uncertain since its inception about what it would or should become, a multifaceted tool without a precise function, has found itself, for better or worse, in the news business. Whether it planned to or not, news is the business it’s disrupting and transforming.
Like television before it, it’s been handed a historic opportunity. I read this in a way as a plaintive ad: help us please not to blow it.