The pros and cons of newspapers printing tweets


As you’d be aware, Dear Reader, I am a champion of social media.

(Don’t misread me. That doesn’t mean I am a champion, per se. Don’t cue Queen music. It means I like to stand up for social media. Mmmkay?)

So I think it’s a good thing when the ‘traditional media’  (newspapers, TV, radio) takes notice of social media and tries to use it. The more, the merrier.

But I’m in two minds about a new trend of printing tweets.

AdelaideConfidential recently joined The Adelaide* Magazine in printing selected Twitter status updates. In the case of AdelaideConfidential, this began just yesterday – 4 January – with a single reprint of a celebrity tweet. The Adelaide* Magazine has been doing this for some months, and tends to reprint a range of South Australians’ tweets.

The Australian’s @sally_jackson has been writing a Twitter column for some months now. Printed in the Media section, Sally’s column analyses Twitter trends, major topics of the past week and often reprints tweets. These are however all within context and make for educational and snappy reading.

I think there are some pros and cons to reprinting tweets …

Pros of printing tweets:

  • Raises the profile of Twitter and social media
  • Raises the profile of the Twitterer
  • Draws another community of thought into mainstream media
  • Twitter becomes another source for the media, and it’s a positive thing for them to have many and varied sources to draw upon

Cons of printing tweets:

  • Tweets may be out of context and lose all meaning
  • Tweets out of context can cast ridicule on the Twitterer, on Twitter and social media in general
  • Tweets are usually part of a very  topical conversation – most don’t translate well,  especially printed weeks later
  • While tweets are ‘published’ and in the public realm, I’m  not sure that many authors would expect to see their tweets in the mainstream press. Within a different context, platform, and before a different audience, it has potential to unfairly embarrass the author.
  • They have the potential to annoy non-Twitter users (this may be a Pro point).

What about ownership of content? Who owns the tweet? While a tweet is in the public realm (unless it’s from a locked account), most social media platforms have terms and conditions which state they own the contributed content. But interestingly, this is what Twitter has to say:

“This license is you authorizing us to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same. But what’s yours is yours – you own your content.”

Twitter also says:

“We encourage and permit broad re-use of Content. The Twitter API exists to enable this.”


“Twitter respects the intellectual property rights of others and expects users of the Services to do the same. We will respond to notices of alleged copyright infringement that comply with applicable law and are properly provided to us.”

So, is the mainstream press ‘allowed’ to print our tweets? I don’t have the answer, but am keen to receive your comments.

Do I need to add a disclaimer? Maybe. One of my tweets was printed in The Adelaide* Magazine’s latest summer edition. After a straw poll among some non-tweeters, it was evident they didn’t have a clue what my tweet meant. My tweet was a comment on a trending topic and had lost context when printed weeks later. I am not complaining –I was happy to be in there – but it probably didn’t work for the magazine’s wider, non-tweeting readers.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Guy Turner says:

    Nice post Prakky.

    The lines between traditional and social media will by necessity continue to blur. They most certainly have the potential to enhance one another…but like any new relationship may undergo some storming it the short term whilst the lines of engagement are worked through.

    Social media draws strongly from traditional media, which still serves more often than not to set the agenda, and particiapates (albeit it at this point mainly still in a broadcast capacity rather than a conversational capacity) in enhancing most feeds.

    The ability to share stories of interest from newssites to social sites is for some major US sites now driving in excess of 10% of their total traffic (18% in the case of the Huffington Post, although it probably fails to qualify as ‘traditional’ but does fit ‘broadcast’)

    This is mutually beneficial – social media sites receive an incalculatable amount of editorial realestate in all forms of traditional media free of charge – which has played a major role in catapulting facebook and twitter to the numbers they enjoy today.

    As for the intellectual property rights of a Tweet – whilst it is Americocentric, Brock Shinen poses a good treatise on why there is no copyright on tweets at – to date in my experience the use of tweets in mainstream media have been accompanied by the author’s citation in recognition of the ip in the statement.

    Live twitter feeds are now not uncommon to enhance the relevance of a journalist’s story – the best example I have seen recently was the use of this on a number of sites for the Chilean miner’s story with touching tributes from around the world. Unfortunately sometimes this technique is limited to closed lists due to the fear from traditional publishers of not having control over the content, which can result in a contrived and non-representative outcome.

    Ensuring context is the role of the professionals employed to write the stories – for the journalist twitter is simply another resource to disseminate the value and validity of and present in another form.

    Some short term contextual teething is probably not a large price to pay for the (hopefully) eventual symbiotic relationship between traditional & social

    1. Prakky says:

      Thanks Guy, what a legendary response.

      I agree – it is up to professional journalists to ensure context and we are probably in the teething stage. With more journalists engaging regularly in Twitter themselves, this could only improve.

  2. yaniism says:

    My issue with printing tweets is kinda threefold…

    Firstly, as you pointed out, who owns the tweet? I would suggest that the print media in question should be required to at least contact the tweeter to ask permission. Whether that would hold up in a court of law is for smarter minds than me to work out.

    I would say that the same doesn’t holds true for things like Q&A where you post your tweets with the #QA hastag with the knowledge that what you write may appear on the bottom of the screen. TV and radio are a lot more immediate than print (at least as far as news in concerned).

    Secondly, I agree that because of the time it takes between writing and distribution of things like magazines, tweets have totally lost all context by the time they come to print, even if they stand on their own. I think I read somewhere that the average lifespan of a tweet is about 90 minutes (or some other ridiculously short timespan), so it definitely feels like old news even if it’s printed the following day.

    Thirdly, this feels very much to me like traditional media showing off “look, we’re hip… we know what the cool folk are doing… it’s all about the Twitter and the Facebook and the iPads” and then proceeding to make social media and other new tech conform to their traditional (print) media way of doing things.

    I also have to add that in the case of The Advertiser, they still struggle with Web 1.0 on occasion… over the weekend they printed a story about a website without printing either the web address or the website name.

    1. Prakky says:

      Another thought-provoking response! Thanks Yaniism, this is fantastic.

      There is a bit of a cringe factor with some traditional media using tweets – but I tend to come down on the side of “at least they’re taking notice” and “points for trying”. And again, as Guy points out, this may be the teething/learning/experimental stage. Let’s see how it progresses over coming weeks!

  3. Ash Simmonds says:

    If the tweet they print is funny and poignant I’m going to photocopy it and give it to 1,648 people.

  4. Mikael Liddy says:

    Some interesting points, read another blog recently about the legal implications of re-tweeting something potentially defamatory, and how it could affect the re-tweeter as well. Could the print media be opening themselves up to a legal minefield as well if they’re not careful?

    1. Darrin Johnson says:

      Some great comments.

      I see the blurring of the lines as inevitable and over time I think tweeters will get better at knowing what not to say and traditional will be more balanced in re-producing the context to the comments.

      After all as more people join channel like social media they will be able to look the original context themselves, and of course the unfairly quoted author will have a good platform to defend their comments.

      Trying to enforce some form of delineation between the channels won’t work in my view. Sort of reminds me of the recent Gerry Harvey attack on online retail as unfair and wanting walls put around it. The game has changed, the players are all just still learning the new game.

  5. Cate Pearce says:

    I think if the tweet stands alone as a clever or witty observation and is not taken out of context, it is assepable. (Did I spell it right?)

  6. Nesta Finch says:

    i see no point in publishing them. As you say, they are of the moment. It’s just an ‘old’ media outlet trying to look cool and in touch, and that’s just embarassing.

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