Twitter has become one of the most vital social media platforms for journalists. Although Facebook and Instagram have more users, Twitter is arguably a more important one-stop shop for the media to access and disseminate instant information.
Imagine the possibility of a White House reporter deciding one day that he or she will completely unplug from Twitter. No using the site, no tweeting, no reading up on the president or any politician through the social media platform.
That’s exactly what New York Times’ White House Correspondent Glenn Thrush decided to do early last week. On Monday, Sept. 18, Thrush notified his nearly 350,000 followers that he would be vacating his account, effective the next day, Sept. 19.
While he initially tried to delete his account, he didn’t want his recorded tweets to disappear. Thus, he opted simply not to access it any longer:
Hey folks — I’ve decided to delete my Twitter account at midnight. Too much of a distraction. DM me for contact info. Thanks for reading!
— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) September 18, 2017
Five years ago, this move wouldn’t be as big of a deal. Social media was still in its relative infancy on a global scale. Reporters still called sources on the phone or emailed them. There was no talk of Facebook messaging or Twitter direct messages (DMs). Leaks occurred in person or over the phone.
Regardless, the importance of Twitter in the journalism world cannot be understated. It’s how journalists connect with sources, whether they be private citizens or public officials. It’s how a celebrity’s true thoughts can become news with the click of a mouse, and how published material circulates throughout the world in a way that newspapers never could.
MediaFile attempted to reach out to Thrush via Twitter to learn more about the rationale behind his decision to dump Twitter. While he said he would shut off his DMs at midnight, Sept. 19, he appeared to deactivate DM access a few hours earlier.
Journalists had mixed reactions upon learning of Thrush’s departure from Twitter:
You’re a journalist. This is unwise.
— Molly Knight (@molly_knight) September 18, 2017
Or is it the most wise thing he can do as a journalist? As a human who wants to be sane? I think there’s room for debate on the subject.
— Tony Baranowski (@tonyapb3) September 18, 2017
Some journalists, like Aaron Blake of the Washington Post, felt Thrush leaving Twitter carried much more significance than the act itself:
This is a massive loss for Twitter and all of us. https://t.co/yVWD7aToTj
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) September 18, 2017
On the other hand, Stephen Miller of FoxNews.com celebrated Thrush’s decision:
This is the best thing to come out of the Trump presidency so far pic.twitter.com/og0MiACdky
— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) September 18, 2017
Thrush joined the Times and MSNBC back in January after his tenure as a senior staff writer at Politico. During the 2016 election cycle, he became the subject of derision for colluding with former Hillary Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta on an article he wrote while with Politico.
“It’s not uncommon in Washington for reporters to send materials to sources for fact-checking,” The Hill’s Joe Concha wrote. “But the language Thrush used was particularly embarrassing and led to a number of jabs at his expense on social media.”
Whether Thrush’s motivation to leave Twitter is in any way related to his prior controversy is anyone’s guess. It raises an interesting question, though: Can Thrush’s career truly sustain abstention from Twitter?
Thrush has a built-in advantage in where he works. As an employee of the Times, and as one of their White House correspondents, he’s privy to information well before the general public is. Being on Twitter or not shouldn’t jeopardize his ability to contact sources and receive tips, for example.
Maybe Thrush’s name will enter the political lexicon less often now that he’s removed himself from the Twitterverse. He won’t be able to get his stories and words out there as easily or quickly. And, unless he relies on a colleague, he will no longer be among the first to see President Donald Trump’s latest thoughts visible on his Twitter account.
This could be an experiment with greater consequences. It could show that Thrush, and all journalists, must use Twitter if they want to keep up with the competition. Or it could demonstrate that journalists are beyond addicted to social media for no good reason and that his ability to report won’t change at all.
Either option, or anything in between, is possible.