/ 11 June 2009

Twitter: Newsmakers spread their own soundbites

Thanks to Twitter, delegates to the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa are spreading their own soundbites faster than journalists can file them.

The hot ticket debate of the day on Thursday was on South Africa’s readiness to host the 2010 World Cup, as Thursday marked one year exactly to the kick-off.

I raced back to the media room at the Cape Town International Convention Centre afterwards to find that the newsmakers — including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and World Cup chief Danny Jordaan — had already broken their own news on Twitter.

“We are ready — out of 10? plus 10! — to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup,” chirped Motlanthe.

“The most important legacy of the World Cup is to change perception of what Africa is capable of,” trilled Zille.

I was impressed: the newsmakers had seized the recipe and made the cake. Also, to be honest, their chosen soundbites were good enough to convey a snappy sense of what they thought, without all the long-winded waffle. Indeed, the prize thoughts of many global leaders at this forum might best be relayed in 140 characters or less.

When I turned on the WEF’s Twitter page on Thursday morning, I discovered several more nuggets from panels, plenaries, workshops and bilaterals that I had missed overnight.

Thanks to Twitter’s brevity and informality, we can now be on first-name terms with the kind of people who are often only glimpsed in a limo-jam.

Ulla, who says she’s the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, tweeted: “People in the poorest countries are most vulnerable to climate change.” Must be nice work if you can get it, Ulla.

Robert Godsell (Bobby, is that you?) “from Eskom” ventured to suggest “Let’s price environmental damage properly.” Love it, Bobby, whatever you mean. Twitter has its limits.

South Africa’s minister of water and environmental affairs — just call me “Sonjica” — used Twitter to have a moan about how “Africa has the will but lacks the capacity when it comes to addressing climate change.”

Arguably all this newsbreaking by the newsmakers does not make journalists redundant, but rather more responsible for sharpening up our interpretive skills. On the other hand, thanks to Helen and Kgalema and Sonjica being on top of their game and mine, I can go off now and take a nap.

Follow or lead the WEF on Africa by going to the WEF’s Twitter page

YouTube it, blog it, Twitter it, stream it. Being there in person is not required.