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WGLT is joining NPR in quitting Twitter. A media expert says the silence may have broad impacts

NPR announced it would cease posting to Twitter after the social media platform labeled the nonprofit "Government-funded Media."
Charles Dharapak
NPR announced it would cease posting to Twitter after the social media platform labeled the nonprofit "Government-funded Media."

NPR's decision to go silent on Twitter after the social media platform inaccurately labeled it as “state-affiliated” could have broad ramifications, according to one media expert.

“These labels have been developed and inserted and evolved over time, but really they’re there to help users make sense of information,” said Stephanie Edgerly, a professor and associate dean of research at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Stephanie Edgerly
Northwestern University / Medill School of Journalism
Stephanie Edgerly

“What we're starting to see now is some tinkering with those labels that don't necessarily help users make sense of information. They aren't necessarily helpful in understanding key differences among organizations.”

While Twitter changed the label from “state-affiliated” to “government-funded,” NPR announced Wednesday it will no longer post fresh content on its 52 official Twitter feeds. NPR is the first major news organization to stop posting on the social media platform.

“That's where I think you get into the sticky territory is: How does NPR protect its reputation, its credibility? There are some really key differences that that I think NPR is trying to enforce here, if Twitter is not,” said Edgerly.

As a member station, WGLT has opted to follow NPR’s lead and stop posting fresh content on Twitter. General manager R.C. McBride said the station will not delete its account, but will refer users to other social media, its website and other means to access station content.

“We don’t know what the future holds and we don’t want to open up the door for imposters, but we’ve decided to do — much like NPR has — just to stop posting new material for the time being,” said McBride, who also serves on NPR’s board of directors.

“We didn't want to make a knee-jerk reaction or do anything hasty, and at the end of the day I think this is probably the best thing to do in light of a bad situation that we did not create.”

McBride said as Twitter and other social media platforms have expanded their reach, it has created a conflict for many news organizations.

“At some point, we hit a tipping point — whether it be Twitter or other social media — where we, instead of being dependent upon ourselves and our own channels to get out information, we became dependent on these third parties to reach an audience,” said McBride.

R.C. McBride
R.C. McBride

“I don’t know that anybody has the answer for that; it’s just the way things have developed and the way things are. But it is problematic, not just for instances like this but for other things that are beyond our control.”

NPR is allowing its reporters and member stations to make their own decisions about posting to Twitter. Edgerly noted that while Twitter’s reach is comparatively small, it remains popular among journalists.

“I think you're seeing a little bit of the complexity here in an organization not wanting to exist in a place where their differences are not being reflected in the labeling process but still allowing journalists (to post),” she said. “I think journalists are going to have to be even more aware of this space that they rely on for sources, for tips, to see what's trending. It's becoming increasingly a weirder and weirder place.”

Edgerly said Twitter’s labeling of NPR is more confusing than helpful for users of the platform. She added it’s difficult to speculate on whether other news organizations also might back away from Twitter.

“It's complicated. Not all media are the same, but at the same time, we don't want to paint wide brush strokes,” she said. “I think it's really important to help users of your site make sense of the different accounts that they will encounter."

Edgerly said NPR is taking the right approach in emphasizing that it receives less than 1% of its $300 million annual budget from the federally-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting. NPR and its member stations also maintain editorial independence.

“One of the positives, I think, coming out of this is that there's more of a discussion about what funding models look like, and trying to distinguish what it is that NPR does compared to other organizations,” she said.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, billionaire owner Elon Musk responded to the news with a call to "defund NPR."

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.
Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.