News Media Today

Making the most of what little Twitter offers


I miss Twitter. I hate X. But despite all the terrible changes to the platform, I’m still posting, reading, scrolling, liking and bookmarking.

I am far from alone in the world of journalism. What’s wrong with us?

Since Elon Musk purchased the platform for $44 billion last year, every single change he’s made seems specifically designed to make X worse for journalism.

First, it removed blue check marks from verified reporters, making it virtually unusable during large breaking news events, such as the conflict in Israel. Next, it was charging to use Tweetdeck, which has become an essential tool for many reporters (soon Musk might start charging everyone to use X). The latest blow is the decision to remove headlines from stories shared on the platform, making it less likely a reader will actually click through and easier for misinformation to spread.

What does it add up to? A billionaire who speaks a great game about free speech but harbors a not-so-hidden disdain for reporters and their media outlets. Journalists “think they’re better than everyone else,” Musk posted on his account to his hundreds of millions of followers after allowing anyone with a credit card to purchase a verified account. He also throttled access to news sites and banned journalists from reporting his comings and goings using publicly available information.

Some reporters have publicly exited the platform. Veteran ESPN writer and author Howard Bryant bolted last year, proclaiming that “Twitter’s not that important” before deactivating his account. But most are just posting slightly less than before Musk’s takeover, according to research published earlier this year by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

The Tow Center found that, on average, journalists posted 3% less on the platform after Musk’s takeover. However, there was a stark ideological divide — reporters at right-wing outlets, like Breitbart and The Federalist, increased the number of daily posts on average. In contrast, journalists at most mainstream outlets, like The New York Times and CNN, posted less.

“I am using it so, so much less,” said MSNBC host Chris Hayes. “It’s upsetting in so far as there was something there that had tremendous value that, out of sheer narcissism and malice, [Musk] destroyed. And not out of any market incentives because I think he’s lost millions of dollars while doing it.”

While Hayes said he mostly used the platform formerly known as Twitter to aggregate information and expertise from a news perspective — functionality that Musk has essentially broken — most of us justify our efforts out of a desire for people to find and read our story. But that has always been a mirage.

About seven months ago, NPR left Twitter after the platform labeled the network “U.S. state-affiliated media,” lumping it in with propaganda outlets like Russia’s RT and China’s Xinhua. The impact on the news organization’s web traffic has been minor, dropping just 1%, according to a memo circulated to NPR staff and obtained by Neiman fellow Gabe Bullard.

NPR’s main account on X has nearly 9 million followers. However, the memo said, “The platform’s algorithm updates made it increasingly challenging to reach active users; you often saw a near-immediate drop-off in engagement after tweeting, and users rarely left the platform.” Bullard wrote the numbers confirmed “what many of us in news have long suspected — that Twitter wasn’t worth the effort, at least in terms of traffic.”

At the Philadelphia Inquirer, where I work as a reporter, X currently accounts for just 4% of total web traffic, unchanged since the pre-Musk Twitter days of 2021. The company’s response to the platform’s changes is more automation and a shift to making the story’s headline the main copy of the post. The Inquirer will still devote manpower to breaking news, big sports events and large enterprise stories, but as the platform becomes less useful and reliable for news distribution, they will put less effort into it.

These traffic scores underscore another critical point — most of your readers aren’t on X. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey, just 23% of adults in the U.S. said they used Twitter — less than YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and even LinkedIn. Earlier this year, a new Pew survey found that six-in-10 Americans said they have taken a break from the platform.

“Hyperfocusing on Twitter distorts news coverage by amplifying stories that strike a chord on the platform but matter less to people in the real world,” Kai Falkenberg (a newsroom lawyer who is currently the general counsel at G/O Media) wrote in a column for Poynter.

Ways to make X better for those sticking around

So, you haven’t left X yet and plan to remain until the lights get turned off? Fine. Here are a couple of ways you might be able to improve your experience slightly.

First, download the Control Panel for Twitter browser extension, an excellent free tool that lets you roll back many of Musk’s terrible changes. You can restore headlines to links, hide posts quoting accounts you've blocked or muted, and even bring back the little blue bird logo. The best feature is the ability to delete the “following” timeline and enjoy a chronological timeline of accounts you actually follow by default.

I wish there were a way to roll back the changes made to TweetDeck, but I've yet to find anything that makes it worth the $8 Musk is charging (though I don’t often schedule posts or use many functions beyond just scanning multiple lists at once). Why hasn't an alternative been created? Another of Musk’s changes was to the company’s API pricing structure, making it prohibitively expensive for a third party to develop a similar tool.

There’s HootSuite, but at $99, it’s hardly an alternative to paying X. Some free web browsers — The Browser Company’s Arc browser and Vivaldi — will allow you to tile windows to mimic TweetDeck’s appearance, but in my testing, it was a bit clunky.

I've settled on a hack using the many lists I’ve created and curated over the years. First, go to your Lists and select the one you want to follow. The URL will look something like this:

Select that long number, and in Twitter's search field, write “list” followed by the number. Select latest, and bookmark that URL for use later. Rinse and repeat for all the lists you want to follow. It’s not as convenient as having them all side-by-side in one panel, but nothing on the platform is easy to use anymore.

Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor and Publisher, where he writes about trends in digital media. He is also a digital editor and writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Reach him at


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