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Editor’s Letter

How Twitter changed the face of journalism forever

John Rentoul has watched the little white bird revolutionise the industry – and quickly lose its innocence in the process

Anyone with the internet can see and respond to what journalists are up to
(Getty)

One of the luckiest breaks in my career was when Larry Ryan, who was in charge of expanding The Independent’s website, put me on Twitter in its early days in 2008. The Independent had set up a number of blogs to take advantage of the freedoms of the online world, and I enjoyed the new form of opinion journalism. 

Larry set up an automatic feed from my blog to Twitter, so to start with my tweets consisted of the headline of the blogpost and a link. It wasn’t until I bumped into Liam Byrne, who was a minister about to be promoted to the Labour cabinet, and he said he enjoyed my “cryptic” tweets that I thought there might be something in it. 

Thus I was in at the start of the Twitter revolution that was about to transform journalism. Within a year or two, most journalists were on Twitter, and it was the main way they talked to each other and the primary way that news was spread. 

There were sceptics, including John Mullin, my editor at The Independent on Sunday, who couldn’t see the point of it. It wasn’t long, though, before he was asking me to tweet about articles in the newspaper. 

My view is that it has improved journalism by giving us instant access to experts in any field and that it has also made journalism more transparent, in that anyone with the internet can see what journalists are up to. Of course, we still have our confidential sources, but the idea that Westminster journalists are a secretive cabal intent on protecting the establishment becomes impossible to sustain if you follow any of them on Twitter. 

Of course, it has lost its innocence and become a playground for trolls. I mute a lot of people, so I can’t see the pointless, negative, angry and offensive stuff they are saying, and I realise that it’s a lot worse for women. But I still love Twitter and think it is one of the best things about the online world. 

Yours,

John Rentoul

Chief political commentator