Op-Ed | Who I Follow

Who I Follow: Cathy Newman

How do the best accounts on Twitter use Twitter? How do they balance their Tweeting with their day job, how often do they check their mentions, and, most importantly, who are their favorite follows? In Who I Follow, we explore the habits of our favorite follows each month. This month’s edition is drawn from an interview with Cathy Newman, journalist, author, and broadcaster for Channel 4 News.


I remember I came back to the office [after maternity leave, in 2009] and everyone was talking about Twitter. I checked it out and I could see how it’s a really good way of getting the word out there, interacting with viewers, and also hopefully pulling in new viewers. So I became quite an early adopter, relatively, and grew my Twitter following quite rapidly. It felt like a very useful tool, and I think that there was a sort of innocence about it then.


It’s interesting to get a sense of what's making people talk. It’s like the water cooler chat in the office: You wouldn't necessarily take it as gospel, but it's really informing and interesting and diverting. I definitely use it less than I used to, because life got busier. I mean, at the moment, I present Channel 4 News, I've just started presenting a new radio show on Times Radio, and I've also just brought out a second book, so life is pretty busy.

Background texture.

I would say that I ring-fence my use of social media in a way that I didn't in the past. I've become a lot more cautious, which had to happen really, because as a public service broadcaster, impartiality is absolutely key. The benefit of social media is that there’s an informality, there's a chattiness. The problem with that is, for us, if you stray too far in the realm of opinion, you can get in trouble, so it's a double-edged sword really.


Engaging with people who want to have a rational, respectful conversation is brilliant, but when it comes to people just targeting you, they're not reading what you put out, they're not listening to your report, they just want to target you because they don't agree with you or they don't agree with what they think you stand for. Sometimes I’ll Tweet something out about the programme, and it’s very clear to me from the response that they haven't watched the report, but I also have some really great engagement with people. I’ve found out stories on Twitter that I would never have found out — I use it very often to source case studies.


During the pandemic, I had a tip-off that people were having problems logging on to request the food parcels that were being given by the government to vulnerable people. I put out a request on Twitter for anyone who had had similar problems, and I got some great case studies that way. When I'm researching my interview for the programme, especially if I'm interviewing a politician who's on Twitter, I will check out their Twitter feed. During the programme, I’ll Tweet out any interviews I'm doing — any interesting lines — and afterward, I'll Tweet out links to the interviews so that people can pick them up.


I think as a journalist today, it's very hard not to be on Twitter. There are limitations to what you can tell people about the kind of reporting you're doing with [a news broadcast], so having Twitter as a medium as well is very useful: It's an extra dimension.

Background texture.

I try to follow a complete cross section of people because I think one of the dangers of social media is that you end up following people that you agree with. As an impartial journalist, I want to follow people who I might not personally agree with. It's important to get that sort of diversity of opinion in my timeline.


So I follow lots of colleagues who I think do an excellent job Tweeting — Krishnan Guru-Murthy, for example — and I follow lots of politicians from everywhere around the world, all different political persuasions. It's always totally jaw-dropping to follow Donald Trump, but equally, I follow people on the far left, too. Other follows include The EconomistWes StreetingHillary Clinton, and Matt Haig, who uses Twitter quite prolifically but also interestingly.

Background texture.

I think #MeToo was incredible — and #BlackLivesMatter — all of those movements and hashtags have been the story of the last few years, culturally, and Twitter's finest hour. And the phenomenon of how Donald Trump used Twitter to propel himself to the presidency — and how he's still using it now to set the agenda for a second term — journalistically speaking, it’s extraordinary to watch that, and you have to be on Twitter to witness history in the making, from that point of view.


When I first started out, there was a sort of innocence, a beginner's enthusiasm, and then I went through the whole trolling business, and now that I'm out the other end, I know how to use [Twitter] in a way that I can get the most out of. I don't mind people disagreeing with me, or being quite angry with something I've put out, but I think there's always the decent way of having a disagreement and discussion, and I still think there's people out there who are just on these platforms to hurl abuse, particularly at women and women of colour.


I talk at a lot of schools and always, without fail, get asked — particularly by girls — how do you handle the abuse online? The sad thing about that is that a lot of girls are being put off from professions in the public eye or politics, because they worry that they wouldn't be able to handle the abuse. I [tell them] the truth: The first time it happened to me, it felt so dehumanizing, it was quite a painful experience. And now I don't even think about it, partly because I don't engage, but also because I'm confident in what I do, I'm happy in what I do.


I'm very lucky to have what I have, so it doesn't matter to me if there's someone sitting in their bedroom tapping away just to annoy me. It’s water off a duck's back now, but it shouldn't really have to be that way.


Illustration based on photograph by Rachel Adams.

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Who I Follow

How do the best accounts on Twitter use Twitter? Explore the habits of our favorite follows.