The Culturality of Twitter

As Twitter gradually seized the State Capitol, it affected not only journalistic professionalism but the dynamics of political communication in New York State. The most tangible impact of this digital formation manifests in the interaction between spatial-temporal orders of digital and non-digital (Revers 2015). One episode in early 2012 elucidated this circumstance. Its central protagonist subsequently described it in his column. Bill Hammond (New York Daily News) attended an education hearing and was dissatisfied with how Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan led the debate:

The situation was so odd that I posted a Twitter update from my seat in the hearing room: Nolan “isn’t asking Walcott about the hottest topic in city schools—teacher eval,” I wrote. The comment was passed along by a few of my equally curious fellow journalists. Imagine my surprise when Nolan reacted to that message about half an hour later, just as Walcott was about to wrap up his testimony. (Hammond 2012)

Assemblywoman Nolan’s reaction was to ask New York City Education Commissioner, Dennis Walcott, the following question: “The twitter- verse wants me to ask you about teacher evaluation.” Although expressed sarcastically, she reacted to Hammond’s criticism. Most significantly, Hammond was able to interfere in a political debate that usually bars members of the public. In this moment, Twitter served as a stage to claim accountability, which penetrated a delimited political space by generating a sense of instant publicity.

Like other electronic media before (Meyrowitz 1985), Twitter permeates spatial boundaries. Permeation is enabled by the way journalists perform on Twitter, and the information flows this entails. This implication of Twitter may be framed as its “materiality.” Semantically, I prefer to think of it as its culturality, because the causal agents are the cultural attachments of Twitter, that is, engagements, speech conventions and communicative roles which are not just there but promoted by associated meanings and symbolic hierarchies. The imperative to be always-on, open and personal constitute such attachments which particularly resonate with journalistic professionalism. They are brought to life in performative action, which emphasize instantly sharing insights, assessments and critiques and appreciating journalistic accomplishments (including those of competitors).

As another consequence, Twitter furthers a defining feature of onsite reporting, which is to not only witness events but to anticipate them before they occur (in order to then witness them). Hence, Twitter helps journalists to deal with what Michael Schudson has termed the “anarchy of events” (Schudson 2007). The immediacy of Twitter enhances awareness and the capability of coordinating the immediate future (Tavory and Eliasoph 2013), while requiring coordinative efforts in order to avoid inconsistencies and misperceptions between different, digital and nondigital, layers of communication.

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