Tom Brokaw gets it half right

The Poynter Institute published an interview this week with Tom Brokaw, the former anchor for NBC News. The occasion for the interview was Brokaw’s speech there marking the institute’s 35th anniversary. (Happy birthday, Poynter!)

In the interview, Brokaw says he is not yet convinced that social media are a legitimate news outlet, and he reopens the tired debate about whether journalism exists in that part of the online world. Brokaw worries that Facebook will unnerve him. He’s even less complimentary about Twitter:

I know that it’s very popular and that it’s a quick way of getting a text blast out, so to speak, but an awful lot of it seems to be … just stuff that fills air.

Later in the story, Brokaw touches on a topic that would make any journalist or educator happy, the importance of writing:

Journalists: learn to write. Text messaging is not writing. Whether you’re writing for a newspaper, online or on the air, get better at writing.

Certainly, writing — and its sibling, editing — are essential to journalism. But Brokaw fails to see that writing and editing are just as essential in social media as they are for traditional media.

Journalists today need to know how to write for social media, including blogs, Facebook and Twitter. A headline on the front page needs to be revised to work as a Tweet. A nut graf of a news story needs to be edited for use as a blurb on a Facebook fan page. That’s what news organizations like the Los Angeles Times and NPR, among others, do every day.

Effective communication in social media requires a need to understand the medium and the audience. And it requires good writing and editing.