“Journalists have to play the game differently to make sure their stories get noticed. It’s the same platform, just with a new set of rules.”
“It might not be the same golden era, but [journalists] won’t disappear from X,” Miriam Berg, Assistant Professor at Northwestern University in Qatar told Doha News, about Elon Musk’s latest change to X (formerly Twitter).
The social platform owner’s plans to remove headlines from news articles has enraged journalists and publications worldwide.
This shift on X will see anyone sharing a link on the platform having to manually add their own text alongside the links they share, otherwise the post will display only an image with no context other than an overlay of the URL.
The billionaire verified the widely disparaged move earlier this month, saying, “This is coming from me directly. Will greatly improve the aesthetics.”
But to date, he appears to be outnumbered by what is perceived to be a great improvement to the platform.
A drastic and damaging implication for publishers relying on social media to drive website traffic, Musk believes that articles occupy excessive space on the users timelines, sources familiar with the matter told Fortune magazine.
“According to a source with knowledge of the matter, the change is indeed being pushed directly by X owner Elon Musk. The primary objective appears to be to reduce the height of tweets, thus allowing more posts to fit within the portion of the timeline that appears on screen,” Fortune’s report highlighted.
Musk also believes the change will help curb clickbait, the source said, adding that “It’s something Elon wants. They were running it by advertisers, who didn’t like it, but it’s happening.”
Currently, news links on the fast-paced platform accompany an image, a short headline and a brief description.
Berg described Musk’s decision as one similar to “taking the signboard off a shop.”
“Well, when Elon Musk decided to take out headlines from news articles on X, it’s kind of like taking the signboard off a shop. Now, journalists and news outlets have to think more about their window display – that’s the visuals and the initial content,” Berg told Doha News.
The assistant professor added that correspondents must now be inventive with their stories, noting, “It means they’ve got to get more creative to catch people’s attention right off the bat.”
Long gone is Twitter’s ‘golden era’
Twitter was once considered a safe haven for professions in and related to journalism.
In fact, according to Paw Research Center, nine in ten journalists in the United States (94%) use social media for their jobs.
Among journalists, Twitter ranked at the top of the list with around seven-in-ten US journalists expressing, “it is the social media site they use most or second most for their job.”
The platform was widely considered to be the ‘best friend’ of digital journalists with its once revolutionary features. Its unique elements including threads, Tweetdeck, and the “read the article before retweeting” add-on aided in not only promoting media literacy but also in reducing the spread of misinformation.
However, since the acquisition of Musk, the attack on journalism has intensified.
“Twitter had become a journalist’s best friend, right? It was real-time, raw, and a go-to for news. But since Musk took over and turned it into X, things have shifted a bit,” Berg told Doha News.
“It’s not just about tweeting a headline anymore. Journalists have to play the game differently to make sure their stories get noticed. It’s the same platform, just with a new set of rules,” she added.
“Journalists have always been quick to adapt. Whether it’s the telegraph, radio, TV, or social media, they’ve always found a way. So even with the changes on X, formerly Twitter, I’d bet they’ll figure out how to use it effectively. It might not be the same golden era, but they won’t disappear from it,” Berg told Dona News.
Discussing the changes Elon made to X, specifically in relation to fact-checking and dealing with reporters, a prominent Western media outlet’s editorial team member stated, “X is no longer the credible or reputable source that it once was.”
“As a fact checker and someone who deals with reporters who bring their work to us, Twitter is no longer the credible or reputable source that it once was.
Pre-Elon, the verification process was trusted, which meant that if we’re checking information on Twitter from a journalist or someone who claims to be a journalist, we trusted the verification. Because it was authentic, it was reputable,” the source told Doha News.
In the previous “Twittersphere,” the term “verified” showcased the difference between an impersonator and an authentic profile, but the public also interpreted the verified badge as a sign of influence or authority.
In 2015, the American cable business news platform CNBC published a story that questioned whether being verified mattered.
The article concluded that the blue checkmark does come with significant perks, since it was “something that has to be granted to you from the powers that be at the company (Twitter) and cannot be requested by the public.”
“It’s especially useful when trying to get out official statements and breaking news,” the article mentioned.
Years later, the blue checkmark is no longer a status symbol can now be bought with an $8 monthly subscription.
Speaking on the matter, Areeb Ullah, a journalist at Middle East Eye, told Doha News that removing verified badges from non-paying members on Musk’s X has negatively impacted journalism.
“Some of the things that Elon Musk has done in the last few months, namely removing verified badges from non-paying members of X, has had a detrimental effect in terms of my work as a journalist because before the blue tick used to be a badge of honour and gave you some legitimacy.”
Ullah stressed that as a journalist, it is tricky to determine if someone is legitimate if they’re paying for the verification.
“Now whenever you see someone with a blue tick because they’re paying for it, it puts into doubt how reliable their information is,” the journalist said.
“Also, it makes it difficult for journalists to contact people and reach out to them because you have to kind of prove and give an extra layer of verification to your sources to make sure that they feel that they can trust you,” Ullah added.
Despite the rebranding of the platform from “good” to “worse,” Ullah believes that the contemporary unpopular changes on X will prompt journalists to consider using other social media channels more.
“For a long time, journalists especially assumed that everything and everyone was on Twitter when, in reality, over time, it did become a bit of an echo chamber for journalists and people within power, whereas everyday users they don’t use Twitter as much. They use other platforms,” Ullah told Doha News.
“And I think what these changes have created, it kind of made journalists think, okay, maybe it’s time I stop relying so much on or using Twitter, maybe I should start using other platforms,” he added before concluding with, ” I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s definitely going change a lot of habits.”