How mainstream media outlets use Twitter

News organizations are primarily using Twitter to distribute their own headlines, rather than engage with their audiences or curate information from other sources, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. This isn’t that surprising to anyone who follows media organizations news feeds, but it’s a bit disappointing to see how dramatic the numbers are. Just 2% of tweets from the organization’s primary news feeds were seeking views or first-hand accounts from readers. And only 1% of tweets studied were “retweets” from a source outside the organization.

The report found:

  • The news outlets studied varied widely in the number of Twitter feeds or channels offered and in how frequently they posted. On average, the news organizations offered 41 different organizational feeds. The Washington Post, at the top of the list, offered 98, more than twice the average. The Daily Caller, on the other hand, offered a single Twitter feed. The level of activity also ranged widely. While as a group the outlets in the sample averaged 33 tweets a day on their main organizational Twitter feed, that number ranged from close to 100 a day to fewer than 10.
  • The news organizations were much more similar in the focus of their Twitter activity. The vast majority of the postings promoted the organizations’ own work and sent users back to their websites. On the main news feeds studied, fully 93% of the postings over the course of the week offered a link to a news story on the organization’s own website.
  • News organizations were far less likely to use Twitter as a reporting tool or to curate or recommend information that originated elsewhere. Just 2% of the tweets from the main news feed analyzed were information-gathering in nature-seeking views or first-hand accounts from readers. And only 1% of tweets studied were “retweets” that were reposted from a Twitter feed outside the organization.
  • The news agenda these organizations promoted on Twitter closely matches that of their legacy platforms. A comparison of the top stories across these Twitter feeds and across the same mix of legacy outlets reveals four out of the top five news stories were the same on Twitter as in the legacy outlets. For the week studied, February 14-20, 2011, unrest in Middle East and the U.S. economy topped both lists.
  • Individual reporters were not much more likely than the news institutions to use Twitter as a reporting tool or as a way to share information produced by those outside their own news organization. An examination of the Twitter feeds of 13 individual journalists-the most followed at each outlet studied-found that 3% of the tweets solicited information, a similar rate as the institutions overall. And 6% of their tweets were retweets of postings from outside entities (compared with 1% on the institutional Twitter feeds).
  • Researchers also examined the Twitter feeds of one particular news beat-health reporters. These reporters made more use of the reportorial ability of Twitter, though they still produced far more tweets that disseminated their own material. On average, 6% of the health reporters’ postings over the course of the week studied solicited information. That is twice that of the most-followed journalists (3%).