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March 29 2013

15:00

The coolest Canadian

Screenshot 2013-03-29 at 9.27.41 AMI had the great pleasure last night to watch one of my favorite interviewers on one of my favorite shows, live in New York. Jian Ghomeshi [except for an excess H it sounds like it's spelled] is the host of the CBC’s Q, which I’ve listened to for years. You can — no, should — listen to him online, on Sirius (channel 159), or on some smart public-radio stations like WNYC, which have started carrying him.

Ghomeshi runs a radio variety show, but not like one of the late-night TV shows in America. It’s a smart variety show. It doesn’t try to be funny or hip but is both. Ghomeshi’s opening monologue is a written essay/soliloquy/riff that sets the pace for the show; it says, “keep up now.” He gets great musical bookings and gives them time. He knows how to speak with them because he was a rock musician himself. But the heart of the show is his long-form interviews with musicians, authors, actors, and divas; he’s comfortable with them all.

Last night I was thinking about my favorite interviewers: Howard Stern, Jian Ghomeshi, and WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, each live and uncut. And I started to understand, I think, what makes them great. They treat interviews like music.

That’s not my thought. At the after-party — an understated Canadian affair — I was talking with an American public-radio executive who was also a musician and a jazz producer and he said he saw Ghomeshi’s experience as a musician play out in his interviews: playing over the occasional wrong note, going with the flow of someone else’s solo. When Jian arrived later he, too, talked about getting into the right rhythm with a guest. It is musical, he said.

03-25-13---James-FrancoRight. In the car on the way home, I listened to a replay of Stern’s hour-and-a-half interview with James Franco this week. When I first heard the start of it, live, I thought Stern was being slightly ADD. He’d get Franco to go down a path; Franco would get ready to launch into a story; Stern would get distracted by a squirrel or perhaps he’d worry that Franco would spend too long and he’d deflect him to another subject; there was a bit of Mexican jumping bean to it. But last night I heard the rest of the interview and it was amazing. They got into sync. They were comfortable and out of that comfort came the surprising candor Stern can get even from jaded, over-interviewed stars. He truly is a genius at it. The real advantage of Sirius is not that he can say “fuck” but that he has the time, uninterrupted, to find that rhythm.

Ghomeshi has the similar advantage of being on public radio in Canada with two hours to devote to his guests. I’ve had the privilege of being on the show a few times. It’s shocking to my American media biorhythms to find myself in an interview or debate that doesn’t end in 2:30 — a race to the finish of the sound bite — but instead can turn into a real discussion. That contrast was apparent last night in Q’s media panel — one of my favorite parts of his week, but this time with American guests: The New York Times’ David Carr, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, and right-wing CNNer Will Cain. Though Goodman decried the sound bite, the truth is that they were all trained to recite theirs in sparse minutes while Ghomeshi was trying to get them to actually arrive at least at a clear statement of disagreement about gun control. Good luck with that. Cain wouldn’t play. Still, it made for fascinating radio/video/theater.

His other interviews each had their own cadences. Cyndi Lauper, who is approaching diva status, talked about her Broadway show with Harvey Fierstein, Kinky Boots, and about her childhood and, God help us, the Dalai Lama. Ghomeshi let her go. At his usual pace, with fewer guests than he had on stage last night, the interview would have gone on longer but the clock got in the way. Still, leaving us wanting more is not a bad thing.

Alan Alda tried to show Ghomeshi who was boss (“You grew up in the Bronx,” said Ghomeshi. “No I didn’t but I can tell you’re a Wikipedia reader,” said Alda) but that turned into a pleasant chat about the impact of M*A*S*H and about science (Alda is challenging scientists to define a flame and time so 11-year-olds could understand).

Vampire Weekend played three songs, a luxury the crowd enjoyed. Actually, they played four, asking to come back after the taping was done to rerecord their first. That provided a post facto punch line; now I understood the sly grins they shared when Ghomeshi — obviously aware of the redo that was coming up — asked Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij whether they were perfectionists.

The highlight of the night for me was David Cross talking about the return of Arrested Development. At the party, Ghomeshi said the two of them had hit that certain rhythm; watch how they did it at the start of the second hour, below. Cross began, like Alda, testing the line. He asked Jian whether he was that guy who had that interview — famously strange — with Billy Bob Thornton. “He was just such an insufferable prick,” Cross said. “We’re not going to replay that now, are we?” Ghomeshi asked. That could have gone either way. But then Ghomeshi exhibited real knowledge of Cross; he’d seen his stand-up act and knew his shows and had insightful questions and Cross responded with both candor and great comic timing. In only a moment, they became an act together.

After the show, I talked with a bunch of public-radio people and asked whether there was anyone in the U.S. market like Ghomeshi. They couldn’t think of anyone. Neither can I. We’re lucky we get to listen here. I asked his producers what the Canadian reaction was to Ghomeshi’s growing American fan base — did they wonder why he needed us. No, they said, but Canadians did worry that the show would become — like surely too much else from their perspective — too American. I don’t think that can happen. The acts and the subjects are shared. The attitude isn’t.

Ghomeshi is quite Canadian. He embodies what I like about the place — and why I indeed almost moved there three times (I am the rare Canadophile, but that’s another story). The Venn diagram of his and Canadian’s characteristics has many overlaps: calm, charming, self-deprecating, witty, easy, smart, never too hip, quite comfortable…. Hear for yourself.

I have just one wish: that Sirius and public-radio stations here would give his Q’s full two hours. We’re almost as smart and patient and interested as Canadians. Really.

April 20 2012

20:42

The inside story of a local newspaper’s cafe project

At ISOJ, John White, deputy editor for online, Winnipeg Free Press, Canada, outlined the paper’s News Café.

A year ago, the Free Press created the café downtown, a space co-managed by a news organisation with a journalist in residence.

Part of the reason was that the paper itself moved out of town to an industrial park. But another reason was to broaden the audience for the paper, which is mostly 55 plus.

However, White noted that not everyone at the paper was behind the idea of a news café. He said resistance came from the board of directors and owners of the paper.

So he worked on a business plan to sell the idea to the Free Press. The plan stressed that the café had to be unique. The harder sell, though, was convincing journalists to work in the cafe and meet with the public.

The café would also break down barriers with the public, but also be a place to cultivate sources and get story ideas, given its central location downtown.

The location was also important as the café is in what used to be the newspaper centre of Winnipeg, so it was a good opportunity to reestablish the paper as a community focal point.

“Our readership is dying, literally dying,” said White, so the café was seen as a way of reaching a different demographic.

White admitted that despite his business arguments, the café was a hard sell. The turning point was meeting a restauranteur who wanted to open a new outlet.

The lure for the restauranteur was a link with an established brand in the city, with built-in marketing reach.

Today, the Free Press news café will host comedians or bands, and events will be streamed live.  The place will be packed, said White, and journalists can conduct interviews and create content.

 

April 19 2012

16:24

July 28 2011

04:47

BBC iPlayer goes global with iPad app launch in 11 countries

Guardian :: BBC Worldwide has launched its global iPlayer service, via an iPad app that will be made available in 11 countries in Western Europe. The US, Canada and Australia will follow later this year, as part of what is intended to be a one-year pilot.

The service will offer a limited amount of content for free, supported by pre-roll ads and sponsorship, but its core business model is subscription, with users paying €6.99 a month or €49.99 a year.

Continue to read Stuart Dredge, www.guardian.co.uk

July 24 2011

05:06

1 billion opportunities - Google+ off to a fast start with 20 Million visitors in 21 days

comScore :: Google does have a built-in visitor base of more than 1 billion to work with, so there is clearly potential to convert a high number of users to its new social tool Google+ – even if it is still invite-only. What is also interesting about the rapid growth of Google+ is its proliferation on a global basis. While the U.S. leads in Google+ audience, it currently accounts for 27% of the total worldwide audience. Interestingly, India holds a strong #2 position with 2.8 million visitors. The UK (867,000 visitors), Canada (859,000 visitors) and Germany (706,000 visitors) round out the top five.

Facts & figures - continue to read Andrew Lipsman, blog.comscore.com

June 14 2011

19:35

6m in the U.S, 1.52m in Canada, ... . Facebook's losing customers

Business Insider :: Something strange is going on: Facebook is losing customers. Lots of customers. According to Inside Facebook's data service, Facebook lost 6 million users in the U.S. in one month, dropping from 155.2 million to 149.4 million. It also lost 1.52 million users in Canada, dropping to 16.6 million -- that's an 8% drop, and 100,000 each in the U.K., Norway, and Russia.

Matt Rosoff, Business Insider: "But big drops in the countries where Facebook first became popular can't be good news -- it suggests that there is a saturation point where people begin to burn out on the service."

Via @GibranAshraf

Continue to read Matt Rosoff, www.businessinsider.com

June 11 2011

20:50

YouTube EDU - Google's plan to build "Global Classroom"

Beet.TV :: Having launched just over two years ago as a hub for college and universitie YouTube channels, YouTube EDU has become a destination for education, providing an index for a broad range of topics and campus activities, says Angela Lin who manages the education program at YouTube. The YouTube EDU site integrates content from 400 colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Europe, Israel and Australia.

Watch the video interview Andy Plesser, www.beet.tv

May 31 2011

11:05

Canada - PostMedia Network's paywall experiments: the problem of selling news

Huffington Post :: Canadians living in the bustling metropolis of Montreal and the picturesque city of Victoria are getting a taste of what some media executives hope may be the future -- paying for the news online. The Gazette in Montreal and the Victoria Times-Colonist on Vancouver Island have become the latest testbeds to see if people will pony up to get their local news on the web.

[Alfred Hermida:] Print organisations were never in the business of selling news. They were selling something that people are willing to pay for -- service and convenience.

Continue to read Alfred Hermida, www.huffingtonpost.ca

May 30 2011

14:48

Newspaper paywalls post on Huffington Post

There were two significant developments in the media in Canada last week.

The Huffington Post crossed the 49th parallel to set up Huff Post Canada and one of the largest newspaper groups, the PostMedia Network, dipped its toes into paywalls.

In my first post for the HuffPo, I discuss the metered model being tried out by PostMedia at two of its newspapers.

In the post, I take issue with the philosophy of charging readers for the news:

However, there is a more fundamental issue at play. People have never really paid for the news. By news, I mean the political infighting in city halls or the violence in faraway foreign places — the news that is important and matters but can be challenging to make relevant to a broad audience.

Readers were paying for the sport results, the lifestyle section, diversions like the crossword and horoscopes. The cost of producing “the daily miracle” as Canadian playwright David Sherman put it was largely borne by advertising sales. The subsidy model worked when mass media was the dominant model for distributing the news. The business of newspapers was delivering large audiences to advertisers, and they were pretty good at it.

I hope the post adds to the discussion on funding models. Head over to the Huff Post to read the full post and add your thoughts.

May 11 2011

17:20

Trust in mainstream media outdoes social media

You can almost hear journalists across newsrooms in Canada breathing a sigh of relief.

Canadians still trust the mainstream media, despite the rise of social media, according to the latest Canadian Media Research Consortium (CMRC) report.

According to a recent online survey of 1,682 adults, nine out of 10 Canadians judged information provided by traditional news media to be reliable and trustworthy. This compares to only one in four who say information from social networks is reliable.

It is the latest in a series of studies by researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, including myself, into the changing news consumption habits of Canadians.

“In an era of increasing fragmentation and competition for established news media, this is good news for traditional journalism,” said Fred Fletcher, UBC Graduate School of Journalism adjunct professor and lead author of the study, Even in the Digital Era, Canadians Have Confidence in Mainstream News Media (PDF).

The study did show that younger Canadians are more likely than their elders to have confidence in non-traditional news providers. But they still retain strong confidence in the mainstream media as well.

Our findings also suggest a difference in attitude towards social media between those who are immersed in this media ecosystem and those who are not part of this world.

Confidence in the information found on social networking sites is higher among frequent visitors to social networks. Among Canadians who visit social networks at least daily, some 40 per cent regard the information found there as reliable.

In contrast, virtually everyone surveyed who doesn’t use social media ranked it as not reliable as a source for information.

Given the growing influence of social networks in the distribution of news, it will be interesting to track how levels of confidence evolve over the coming years as a generation grows up with social media woven into their daily lives.

The Canadian Media Research Consortium report is based on an online survey of a representative national sample of 1,682 adults conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. The results were statistically weighted according to the most current Statistics Canada data on age, gender, region, and education to ensure a representative sample.

May 04 2011

14:31

Globe's Live Election Results Dashboard powered by the Open Web

The Globe & Mail's Live Election Results Dashboard

The election results are in for Canada.

But how did those results come in for the growing number of Canadians that don’t have televisions or radios in their homes? That’s what I was curious about on Monday night when I started to review what each of Canada’s national news organizations was up to online.

Social media was a big source, obviously — possibly the primary source for many? — and lots has already been said about it. Most interesting for the social media channels is Canada’s curious rules about reporting on the election, which are easy to run foul of, it seems.)

However, I wanted to look at what was being offered up on Canada’s national news Web sites. Specifically, how each organization approach the information design, the tension between live results and background stories, and what Web technologies they employed behind the scenes. It’s quite educational.

I should probably put together a little chart of features and a ranking for how well they were implemented, but that would possibly require some real effort, and everyone knows that I’m pretty lazy. But, hey, who knows!

Either way, I did want to highlight the excellent work by the team at The Globe & Mail online. The Globe’s “Live Election Results Dashboard” is a study in well-presented data. It’s not only easy to read, but it’s delivered using only the basic building blocks of the open Web — HTML & JavaScript — making it just as useful on my tablet or smart phone, as it is on my laptop.

I’ll be following up with colleagues there to get the full breakdown, but it looks like they converted the live results into a JSON feed that they then used to update the pages in real-time.

Classy.

What election-night Web site(s) did you rely on for results?

May 02 2011

17:30

Canadians Prefer to Get News from Friends (not Editors) on Social Media

Journalists today are expected to be active on social media, sharing observations, anecdotes and links with their audience. Facebook itself is reaching out to newsrooms, recently launching the Journalists on Facebook page as a resource for the media.

But a study from Canada suggests more people prefer to get their news via their friends and acquaintances on social media, than from a journalist or news organization. And there are mixed signals as to whether audiences think journalists should be using Twitter in their professional work.

I was the lead author of the study, "Social Networks Transforming How Canadians Get the News," from the Canadian Media Research Consortium (CMRC). It gave further evidence of the impact social media is having on how people get the news and from whom. Social media services are turning into personalized news streams for Canadians of all ages, who rely on their digital circle of friends, family and acquaintances to alert them to interesting news and information.

The CMRC study is based on an online survey of a representative national sample of 1,682 adults conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion. The margin of error -- which measures sampling variability -- is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

Keeping up with the news was one of the attractions of social networks for more than two-thirds of social media users. Every day, almost half of social media users in Canada get some of their news every day via links and recommendations from friends, family and colleagues who broadened their horizons, the study found.

A study by Pew Research last year found a similar trend taking place in the U.S., as news consumers increasingly shared links and recommendations in their social networks.

Your friend as your news editor

People have always shared the news, from discussing last night's news bulletin to sending a newspaper clipping. But social media is extending the ability of audiences to influence the distribution and reach of news.

The CMRC study points to the growing influence of users to decide what is seen and read, as newsrooms jump onto social media platforms as a new way to distribute content and reach a bigger audience.

The survey showed that Canadians were twice as likely to get news from friends on social networks than from journalists or official news accounts. Only one in five said they receive news from a media outlet on social networks. For Twitter, only one in ten get their news from tweeting journalists.

cbc news alerts.jpg

The figures signal that it is more important for a newsroom to get others to share and recommend content than to do it through an official account. The study suggests that the more than 18 million Canadians on Facebook and almost 5 million on Twitter are becoming the news editors for their social circles, deciding whether a story, video or other piece of content is interesting enough to recommend.

Should Journalists Tweet?

As journalists increasing use Twitter and tap into social media for reporting, networking and storytelling, the CMRC study strikes a note of caution. Canadians were evenly divided on whether news organizations should include information gleaned from social media into their reports.

There was a similar ambivalence when it came to whether journalists should even use Twitter to report the news. While 39 percent said yes, 34 percent said no and 26 percent were unsure. The ambiguous results suggest that Twitter may just be too new for audiences to decide whether it is a good or bad thing for the media.

Journalists_Twitter.jpg

Perhaps more significantly, younger Canadians were much more comfortable with a more social type of journalism, which is not surprising given how social media has become woven into the fabric of their lives.

The CMRC study found that a majority of under-34-year-olds in Canada use social media regularly, and that younger adults tended to be heavier users. Students, in particular, were much more comfortable with the idea of journalists integrating social media content into their reporting.

Similarly, just over half of students agreed that journalists should use Twitter to help report on trends and issues. The figures suggest a generational divide in attitudes toward social media and journalism.

For example, the study found that virtually no one over 55 follows journalists on Twitter. But kids who have grown up with the social web seem far more accepting of news organizations and journalists integrating these new services into their daily routines.

The conundrum for media organizations

Social media presents tremendous possibilities for journalists to reach audiences, expand their range of sources and engage with communities. The changing consumption patterns for news also raise questions for media organizations.

younger use of social nets.jpg

Sharing the news is becoming an important part of how people experience the news. The CMRC study found that 64 percent of news consumers value being able to easily share content, rising to 83 percent for those under the age of 34. But those "share" and "like" buttons tend to point users towards Facebook or Twitter, undermining existing mass media business models based on delivering large audiences to advertisers.

While social media creates new opportunities for the news industry to reach and engage audiences, particularly younger Canadians, it also represents competition for consumer attention and revenue. It further fragments the audience and potentially could signal a shift in reader loyalty from a news brand to their social circle.

Alfred Hermida is the lead author on the CMRC report on social media. He is an online news pioneer and digital media scholar. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

April 20 2011

14:00

The writing on the wall: Why news organizations are turning to outside moderators for help with comments

When a news organization decides to have someone else to deal with their online comments, it’s sometimes seen as waving the white flag or the equivalent of dumping a problem child at a boarding school. (And that’s before the word “outsourcing” starts getting thrown around.) But look at it from the angle of time and resources in a newsroom: Would you rather have online staff spend their time playing traffic cop in the comments or producing work for the site?

It’s straightforward arithmetic, though somewhat slanted depending on the value you place on comments (i.e., whether you think they contribute to your site) and whether you have money. To borrow a line from The A-Team, “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…comment moderators.”

Most recently, The Boston Globe joined NPR and the San Francisco Chronicle as clients of ICUC Moderation Services, a Winnipeg-based company that deals in, as the name hints, moderating online content. The sacrifice in going outside is giving up the hands-on approach to building online community — but some news orgs probably don’t want to put their hands into something they consider a cesspool.

Keith Bilous, ICUC’s president, says hiring outside help with comments not only frees up newsroom resources, but also makes outlets consider what they want out of comments. “The focus is on getting more better-quality comments and conversation on sites instead of ‘let’s just get as much comments as we can,’” Bilous told me.

Defining the goals of comments

And that’s because the first order of business when you hire a company like ICUC is to layout your commenting guidelines and procedures — essentially what Bilous calls “the Bible to how we manage the content and community.” While this is a necessary step for ICUC’s moderators to know what’s fair or foul, it’s also a chance to clarify why to have comments and what role they play on a site, he said. There’s a need to guard against slander or libel in your comment threads, not to mention the ever-swelling and always creative list of naughty words — but beyond that things start to vary.

“Moderating for the CBC is different than moderating for The Boston Globe or The San Francisco Chronicle,” he said. “They’re all very unique in the way their content is managed.”

One area where sites diverge is on whether to moderate comments before or after being published. There’s a case to be made for both approaches — the idea of honoring the audience’s ability to have their say immediately versus the ability to carefully tend the garden as it grows. Bilous argues either can work.

“Look at TSN, by volume of comments that come to the TSN website and CBC site — which are through the freakin’ roof frankly — they’re all pre-moderated and going up every month,” he said.

If there’s a more pressing question news sites should be dealing with, it’s knowing when to throw the off switch on comments. Not in the “Christmas is canceled” way, but in the “maybe this isn’t the best story to include comments on” way. Bilous calls it “situational comments,” because he’s seeing more sites become selective with what stories they’ll allow comments on. A number of newspapers, like the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, automatically turn off comments on stories about topics like suicide, race, or gay rights. The challenge for editors, Bilou said, is knowing when stories can lead to useful community discussion and when they’ll descend into chaos.

With that in mind, Bilous has three pieces of advice for editors and managers to consider about comments: Be transparent about your policy and decisions. Always be willing to ask if comments are needed on an individual story. And, maybe most importantly, don’t be afraid to take a hit if bad things are said about your publication.

“We’re never going back to a web that is static, as in ‘here is a story no one can comment on,’” he said. “The audience is only being encouraged and conditioned to participate.”

April 14 2011

18:00

What works for news orgs on Foursquare? Opinion, reviews, evergreens, but maybe not the news

Editor’s Note: At the International Symposium on Online Journalism earlier this month, one of the most interesting papers presented was from Tim Currie, an assistant journalism professor at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Canada. His subject was newspapers’ use of the tips function in Foursquare to spread their content — what works and what doesn’t? And what does “works” even mean? I asked Tim to write a summary of his findings for the Lab; you can download the full paper here. I’ve also embedded his slide deck below.

Many news organizations, including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Canada’s Metro chain of free dailies, began experimenting with the location-based social network Foursquare in 2010. They were adding editorial content — mainly restaurant reviews — as tips at locations that people could check into using the Foursquare app on their smartphone.

The newspapers were trying to explore what some social media editors have called a promising tool for news organizations. These journalists say Foursquare offers the possibility of targeted news distribution and finding on-the-scene human sources during breaking news events.

Online editors at these outlets were putting only a fraction of their paper’s editorial content into Foursquare; the number of tips left by each of these newspapers in early 2011 numbered, at most, in the low hundreds. So I was interested in determining what it was about the articles they did choose that editors thought worked well in this location-based service. I also wanted to know how editors were crafting the tips and what their goals were.

I chose Canada’s Postmedia Network as a case study subject because its member newspapers were among the most active in North America for placing editorial content into Foursquare. As of early March, Postmedia newspapers had 1,901 tips cumulatively in Foursquare. I studied three newspapers — the National Post, the Edmonton Journal and the Vancouver Sun — through in-depth interviews with the online editors that were responsible for putting content into this social network.

Asked to characterize the articles they placed into Foursquare, the editors used phrases such as “feature-y”, “evergreen”, “opinion”, “not hard-core news” and “useful to people over a longer period of time.” They cited successful efforts in using editorial content such as a film festival guide, a commentary on transit users and reviews of hip urban restaurants.

In general, the newspaper content they placed into Foursquare had at least one of these five characteristics:

An opinion, review, guide, or first-person account: The articles had a strong narrative voice and usually offered recommendations. The editors said they were using lots of restaurant reviews — but also travelogues and commentaries.

Described with the goal of inspiring action: The articles contained opinions selected specifically to inspire interaction. The editors chose editorial content likely to spark an emotional response in readers. They hoped this response would lead users to click the “I’ve Done This” or “Add This To My To-Do List” buttons in Foursquare — or begin a conversation in other social networks such as Twitter or Facebook. The editors said they crafted their tips to highlight these opinions. One or two worked specifically to link editorial content with Foursquare’s interactive buttons. Some editors cited relatively weak functionality within Foursquare for discussion and traffic measurement. Consequently, they looked to push conversation to social services that had more robust support for interaction — and analytics.

Timeless — or about an event lasting more than 2 days: The editorial content had an “evergreen” quality” about it that made it relevant for a long period of time. Foursquare users value immediacy, the editors said, and articles about long-past events have little appeal. The editors said they rarely placed articles into Foursquare concerning events that took place on a single day. Some said they had initially placed profiles of single-day concerts at clubs or concert halls but ultimately found the workload demanding in light of low user response. One editor had also come to worry about “clogging up” entertainment venues with multiple tips. A majority of editors said they used articles about music festivals or sporting events — as long as the events ran for at least three days. One editor said that’s enough time to attract adequate attention within Foursquare and to use other social media services such as Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic to Foursquare.

About a specific location or an activity typically done at a location: Articles left as tips were about locations with a street address, such as a restaurant or a school offering a cooking class. However, they were also about activities typically done by people at a specific kind of location. For example, they were about things people do at light rapid transit stations or about issues of interest to people who shop at an Apple Store.

Placed at a location where people gather socially: Editors rarely placed articles at venues such as homes or small businesses. Instead they placed tips at venues where people gather in groups: at music and theater festivals, sports events, transportation hubs, educational classes — and restaurants. These are places where people interact in the real world and where the editors guessed people are likely to interact online as well.

News content rarely used

While most participants said they were open to the idea of putting news stories into Foursquare, few cited instances of doing it. One said it would be “jarring” to know someone had been robbed or beaten recently near where they were. This editor added that Foursquare’s nature as a tool for exploration (“unlock your city” is its slogan) was at odds with violent news content: “I think indicating where there have been shootings and where there are robberies would be indicating why you should stay in.”

The editors drew almost all of their articles from the newspaper or the website. They frequently used the headline or deck of a published article as their 200-character tip in Foursquare. Some, however, said they searched an article for vivid descriptions of physical surroundings or distinct flavours in a restaurant dish. They subsequently used these descriptions to craft a custom tip aimed at attracting a user who might be holding a menu or gazing around them.

A small number of editors said they were working with reporters to create content specifically for Foursquare — such as a guide to Christmas light displays in town or a list of travel tips integrated with Foursquare’s To-Do List. The aim was to prompt users to click Foursquare’s “Add This To My To-Do List” button or “I’ve Done This” button on each tip screen. However, some of the editors described these button-clicks as weak measurements of engagement. As one put it, “It’s an inaccurate term for what we have [published] because it isn’t really a ‘to do.’”

Here at the Lab, there’s been discussion about news organizations’ discomfort with the awkward nomenclature of social media sharing buttons, such as Facebook’s Like button. Buttons that signal agreement can be a tough fit with content from news organizations, which have been “traditional bringers of bad news.” There’s also been some emerging research, conducted by my colleagues at Dalhousie University and others, suggesting a link between positive emotion and online sharing.

The results of this study suggest editors have acknowledged this association. Their goal of promoting engagement seems to have influenced their selection of articles for use in Foursquare. They chose a narrow range of content that supported the mood of people out on the town, having a good time and looking to explore. In general, they indicated they looked for light-hearted recommendations users could mull over, not weighty, impartial reporting to digest.

This choice reflected an observation made by former NPR CEO Vivian Schiller at the conference at which this paper was delivered. She called the notion of platform agnosticism “misguided.” News organizations need to tailor their content to specific platforms, she said. In this study, there was indeed a certain type of newspaper content that Postmedia editors thought was suited to this particular social platform.

In other findings:

— Some editors said they formatted key points with bullet lists to help users view recommendations on small screens.

— None of the participants used Foursquare to find sources for stories.

— A majority said they regularly removed tips from Foursquare to avoid presenting users with out-of-date articles.

Goal is engagement, not monetization

None of the editors I spoke with had made any attempt to monetize Foursquare content. They all cited engagement as their primary goal, with one saying, “The ROI on this stuff is going to be five or 10 years. It’s getting people reading your stuff [now] who would never normally read it in any way, shape, or form.”

This study did not investigate audience numbers. All of the editors suggested their Foursquare audience was relatively small — in keeping with a study that pegged the number of Americans who use a location-based service with their mobile phone at 4 percent of online adults.

In general, the editors said their main goal was simply to be present where people interact with each other. They framed this presence in geographic terms: at venues where people use their phones while eating, playing, shopping, and travelling. They also said it was simply important to be present in the social media spaces populated by young, connected adults — such as Tumblr or Foursquare — even if those spaces aren’t yet crowded with users.

This study used a very small sample size — five editors at three news organizations controlled by a single company. One can’t extend these results to other location-based social networks or to the use of editorial content in location-based services generally. Much more research is needed.

March 30 2011

20:00

Canadians are also hostile to paywalls, survey finds

Twelve percent of Canadians are willing to pay for ringtones, but only 4 percent are willing to pay for news.

A survey of almost 1,700 adults by the nonprofit Canadian Media Research Consortium (summary, pdf) finds its hard to get people to pay for any kind of digital content, but that news ranked behind movies, ebooks, music, games, and yes, ringtones in willingness to pay. If their favorite news sites started charging, 92 percent said they would simply find a free alternative — with no significant differences among age groups or education levels.

Southward-focused Canadians got a head start on the paywall experience this month when they were the first to come under The New York Times’ paid-content umbrella. Interestingly, the CMRC study found that — if there were absolutely no free news sources available, something unlikely in the land of the CBC — the type of news Canadians would be most willing to pony up for is breaking news — which the Times has said will often be made available without restrictions to Times readers, even those past their monthly article quota. (What does “breaking news” mean? The survey doesn’t say. I suspect the respondents would have provided about 1,700 definitions.) “Hard,” international, and investigative news were also more likely to be judged payment-worthy, with entertainment news a tougher sell.

Men were more likely than women to pay, and French speakers more likely than English speakers, the survey found. As for how they’d prefer to pay (if they had to), 34 percent of the willing adults would prefer a flat-rate subscription model, with the Times’ metered approach (free until you hit 20 articles a month) in second place. Very few respondents said they would pay per article or per day.

Of course, this is a survey about how people feel, not what they do. The New York Times has not released digital subscription data since putting up the wall. The other Times, The Times of London, on Tuesday released data indicating at least some people are paying, citing 29,000 new digital subscriptions in the last five months — even as higher-priced paper subscriptions continue falling.

“If only consumers were as comfortable paying for content as owners would like them to be, the future would be a lot rosier,” the report concludes. “Paywalls might work for selective publications, such as The Wall Street Journal and the Times of London but given current public attitudes, most publishers had better start looking elsewhere for revenue solutions.”

March 11 2011

16:23

Help wanted: Canadian media organization to lead on open data.

"Freedom of information is often thought to be about "the Press." Open Data, however, is about citizens"

Here's the 30-second version of this post:

  • The Guardian UK played an important role in pushing the open data and transparency agenda;
  • They did this, in many parts, by simply being a meeting point for the open data & transparency conversation;
  • Ultimately, it was probably timing -- an election -- that helped most to put open data on the UK government's radar;
  • With elections coming in Canada, what can open-data advocates of all stripes -- individuals, grassroots groups, and media organizations -- do to push this critical issue into the spotlight?

Last Friday morning, Emily Bell spoke to a small group gathered at the Samara offices on Prince Arthur Avenue. Over breakfast, she explained why the Guardian UK has invested so much energy into being the meeting point for the Open Data conversation.

Specifically, she described how the Guardian partnered early on with the pioneering open data efforts of Tom Steinberg and his merry band of open-data hackers at MySociety, and also how the Guardian was quick to adopt the idea of organizing "hack days," which sought to bring outside ideas inside. Early efforts like these led, in part, to the Guardian being invited to Downing Street to meet with the likes of Tim Burners-Lee and to discuss the benefits of open data with the UK government. "You have to do it," Emily implored those gathered at Samara, and -- ultimately, she proposed that "Wikileaks data would not have gone to the Guardian if not for their demonstrated skills in working with data."

It certainly left me asking, who will play the Guardian's role here in Canada? Who will be the lightening rod for the open data conversation?

Interestingly, most major Canadian news outlets already have at least one software developer working in the newsroom. More than that, David Skok shared that GlobalNews.ca had recently taken part in the Random Hacks of Kindness event at the University of Toronto -- an event that aimed to bring together "developers, geeks and tech-savvy do-gooders around the world, working to develop software solutions that respond to the challenges facing humanity today." However, it still feels like the most tangible open data efforts in Canada are coming from citizens like David Eaves, Russell McOrmond, and groups like Civic Access.

Ryan Merkely -- currently, Mozilla Foundation's director of programs & strategy, previously an advisor to the City of Toronto -- was quick to point out that most of the open data initiatives in Canada are coming from the municipal level, either through official efforts like www.toronto.ca/open or data.vancouver.ca, or through grassroots initiatives like Open Data Ottawa Hackfest and Montreal Overt. And, while there are challenges to getting provincial and federal data, that's not to say it doesn't happen -- one recent example is OpenFile's "Baby File" story, which asked the province of Ontario to hand over years of birth records. Where there's a will, there's a way, it would seem (at least if you're Patrick Cain).

Back to Emily Bell: asked about the launch of data.gov.uk in 2010, she was quick to point out that elections present an opportunity for movement toward greater transparency. (However, it's becoming ever-more clear that you have to hold elected officials accountable, or they'll actually do the opposite of what they campaigned on.) Often an upcoming election is incentive for the incumbents to make a bold move to win support, or for the challengers to make commitments that the incumbent refuses to address, and -- let's face it -- open data is an inherently non-partisan issue. So this all begs the question: how does open data become an election issue in Canada?

Even though Emily believes that the jury is still out on data.gov.uk, it's clearly a move in the right direction. It sounds like the big push for data.gov.uk came before the 2010 general election, and it came from people like Tim Burners-Lee and Tom Steinberg, both individuals who have been campaigning for open data for more than a decade. In Steinberg's case, he's taken the pragmatic hacker approach of continuing to innovate and demonstrate what's possible -- standing on the virtual Speaker's Corner and shouting "Hey, look at what I can do with this open data!" So the next question for Canada is, who is our Steinberg or Berners-Lee, who is constantly banging the drum at the federal level for more open data, and more transparency?

The movement for open data in the UK appears strong and vibrant, and it's likely that the Guardian played an important role by investing resources, providing space, and convening ideas and people around the issue. According to Emily, the first step was simply to set-up what is now known as the Data Blog; It became a gathering point for the broader conversation, and made it possible for disparate voices to find each other. The Guardian has called Canada an "open data and journalism powerhouse," but Canada still lacks this simple piece of the puzzle -- one visionary media organization to pick up the flag and say "We care about open data, we're going to convene the conversation."

Some will say that it's not the media's place to play a role here. However, at the end of breakfast last Friday, Emily Bell pointed out, in her perfect British accent, "The public gives the media permission to act."

So, let's give Canadian media permission to act on open data.

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February 10 2011

05:23

Advice from Canada’s promising young journalists

Figuring out how and whether you want to get into journalism can be a challenge for students as they embark on their college education.

We had several questions around this topic in the first-year undergraduate course at UBC in new media and journalism that I teach with my colleague Candis Callison.

In particular, students wanted to know about promising, emerging journalists in Canada who they could look to as role models.

Our TA, UBC j-student Fabiola Carletti, took it upon herself to get in touch with a bunch of new journalists and publish their advice online.

The site is a treasure trove of gems, from take every opportunity to being relentless to living an interesting life.

Please take a look at So, you want to be a journalist?, recommend it to students or let us know who we should add.

December 08 2010

18:25

How Calgary's Mayor Used Social Media to Get Elected

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

Naheed Nenshi became mayor of Calgary at the end of October not by outspending his rivals or hailing from the incumbent political class in Canada. Nenshi didn't plaster his campaign message across the television, and he didn't even buy a single newspaper advertisement.

Nenshi elected.jpg

Instead, Nenshi led a grassroots effort that mobilized soccer moms and utilized online activism on a Facebook page, on Twitter and on YouTube.

Other politicians have used Facebook and Twitter with success. So what was different about Nenshi's campaign?

Stephen Carter, who helped craft the online campaign strategy for Nenshi, credited "complete integration" for the success of the campaign's Internet efforts.

Integration

"It's one thing to have a social media policy, but frankly just having social media activity doesn't go far enough to actually making a campaign structure work," Carter said. "It's the integration of the online strategy, and we integrated our online strategy completely."

Calgary had just received a fresh batch of snow when I spoke to Carter, who runs the BBold PR new media public relations company in the city. During our phone conversation I asked him to elaborate on his integration strategy and identify what made the Nenshi campaign so special.

"If we were going to do something online, we would partner that online participation with everything else so that it was all supported," he said. "Our media relations strategy frankly became a social media strategy. If we wanted something to get really covered in the media, we launched it online. We wouldn't even send out a press release."

Carter said journalists now pay close attention to social media, which made a traditional press release a waste of time.

Nenshi iphone.jpg

"Actually, social media became the story more often than not," Carter said. "When we launched our iPhone app that became the story. It really wasn't that innovative. In every election there's this desire to look for the magic bullet. Was social media the magic bullet for us? Absolutely not."

Authenticity

So if the Nenshi campaign shouldn't be regarded as pioneers of social media, what was so special about what they did? Put it this way: They didn't just use social media -- they actually used social media correctly.

"When Nenshi and about six of us around the table were talking about social media, we talked about integrating the message into social media so that Nenshi would be always authentic," Carter said. "The only person who had the password to Nenshi's Twitter account was Nenshi. There was no second account set up for the campaign. Everybody was real. Every person that worked for the Nenshi campaign had their own Twitter account, which allowed us to have authentic communications across the medium."

Nenshi campaign staffers also worked hard at starting online conversations. Whenever anyone from the campaign posted a message on Facebook, they set goals to see multiple comments underneath it. And as often as possible, Nenshi himself would answer questions posted on Facebook or Twitter.

All About the Data

Being authentic is one thing, but how do you know if your authenticity is being well received? Another major component to Carter's strategy was to gather data and constantly measure and analyze the campaign's online efforts.

"We trended on TrendsMap [which we used to perform] local tracking of our Twitter trends from the first day Nenshi announced he was running and basically every day thereafter to make sure we were tweeting and retweeting and pushing out our message every single day," Carter said. "The beautiful thing about social media is that it is entirely measurable.

Being able to measure the impact of social media through retweets and shares on Facebook helped guide the campaign when things didn't go according to plan -- such as during a dust up with Rick Hanson, Calgary's chief of police, over a pre-approved police budget.

Advertising Using Social Media

The final piece of the puzzle for Carter was advertising on Facebook. The campaign put out several different Facebook ads and regularly tested which ones worked.

Stephen Carter.jpg

"With our Facebook ads we decided we were going to try and appeal to middle aged women between 40 to 55, who live in the suburbs, have two kids and who have been or are soccer moms," Carter said. "Everyone has this impression that social media is a young person's medium. It's totally not. We knew that we could get social media activism from that particular group. We targeted them on Facebook and put out a number of messages that appealed to their demographic."

At the start of the Calgary election there was a total of 12 candidates. After raising about $60,000, Nenshi demonstrated he was a viable candidate. In August, Nenshi started at one percent support; he ended with 40 percent on election day.

Carter said the total amount raised during the campaign was about $300,000. Not bad considering how expensive large city elections have been for recent candidates.

"The biggest surprise was that the strategy was implemented exactly as planned," Carter said. "It is ridiculous. That never happens. We certainly didn't go into the campaign thinking that the strategy would work exactly as we wrote it, but it did."


Steven Davy is the web content editor at The World, a BBC, WGBH, PRI co-production. He is also the developer of Exploring Conversations, a multimedia website examining the language of music. He is the politics correspondent for MediaShift.

news21 small.jpg

Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

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November 23 2010

19:00

Catalysts: The Globe and Mail’s community brain trust

One of the Big Existential Questions facing journalism right now is the extent to which news organizations are just that — organizations that produce news — and the extent to which they’re also something more: engagers of the world, curators of human events, conveners of community. Should news outlets focus on news…or should they also be sponsoring conferences and creating film clubs and setting up stores and selling wine?

There’s a lot of variation in the way they answer that question, of course, but many news outlets are currently skewing toward the “community” end of the continuum, preparing for the future armed with the idea that news production is only part of their mandate — the notion that to succeed, both journalistically and financially, they’ll need to figure out ways to cultivate community out of, and around, their news content.

One particularly interesting experiment to that end — a worthwhile initiative, you might say! — is playing out in Canada, where The Globe and Mail, the country’s paper of record, has convened a community of users to help guide its engagement policies. The Globe Catalysts are a kind of external brain trust for the outlet, a community charged with helping to ensure that the paper’s path is the right one for its users.

“We wanted people to know we’re taking this seriously,” Jennifer MacMillan, the paper’s communities editor, explained of the project. And at its core, the Catalysts experiment is about demonstrating that engagement is a mutual proposition. “We wanted to make sure people felt valued.”

The paper came up with the idea over the summer, MacMillan told me — as a project that would be a part of the paper’s print and online redesign that rolled out this fall. (The idea, actually, was Mathew Ingram’s — the Lab contributor who, before he became a writer at GigaOm, was the Globe’s communities editor.) To test the waters of user interest, MacMillan and her team sent out a Catalyst invitation to the users who subscribe to The Globe and Mail’s e-newsletters (“people we knew were engaged, and who might have an interest in helping us shape where we’re going”) — a form asking for basic info like name, postal code, gender, and profession. And they got, to their shock, floods of replies in return — “several thousand,” in fact. Which was not just a surprise, but also “really encouraging,” MacMillan notes — a show of users not just expressing interest in the paper’s future, but acting on it. “A sign that they wanted to play a bigger part in the experience of the Globe.”

From there, the paper streamlined further, asking respondents to write a short explanation of their vision for the paper. Looking for a cross-section of background and location, interests and perspectives — and employing the services of the digital communications firm Sequentia Environics for help in whittling down the applications — the paper selected a group of users who are charged with helping to oversee the community elements of the paper’s content. A group of 1,000 or so users, in fact, MacMillan told me. (And, of those, about 800 accepted the offer to be Catalysts.) From there, they created a special, members-only section of the Globe and Mail site and then “just started chatting” — about the paper’s future and about the best way to cultivate community around it.

And a big part of that community is the content that it generates: the comments that flesh out a story’s life in the world beyond its text. Per MacMillan’s introduction of the Catalysts project, its members will:

— Help out commenters when they need a hand

— Help keep discussion on-topic

— Intervene when discussion becomes immoderate or personal

— Bring particularly poor behaviour to the attention of Globe staff

— Act in any manner that is representative of a community leader

— Add thoughtful posts that add background info, perspective

— Recommend/vote on comments that add insight and contribute to the discussion

It’s a broad mandate that’s along the lines of Gawker’s starred commenter system and HuffPo’s “Moderator” badge. And so far, it’s yielded good results: “We’ve had very good feedback,” MacMillan says, “and I think a big part of that is that we’re giving readers what they were looking for.” The paper’s recent series, “Canada: Our Time to Lead,” made use not only of Catalyst moderation, but also of the Catalysts’ connection to the newsroom. Globe reporters waded into the Catalyst forum, which led to conversations and new (crowd)sourcing opportunities, MacMillan notes. “We’ve never really done something quite like this before, where the contact has been so direct” — and “it was a really fruitful discussion.”

As for the comments, their volume has held fairly steady since the Catalysts started doing their thing in early October — a recent piece on Canada’s failed bid for a seat on the UN Security Council garnered over 2,000 comments — but their overall value, MacMillan says, has risen. Which is a trend we’re seeing among several of the news organizations that employ a select group of users to do their comment-moderation: investment leads to accountability leads to higher quality. (And to add a bit of incentive, the paper has made a practice of picking a particularly punchy quote from a user comment, and running that quote, via its “You said it” feature, across its homepage.)

But what’s the incentive for the Catalysts themselves? The fact that the community has a high barrier to entry, and no financial reward, begs the question: Why? Why are people willing to take time out of their presumably busy lives to participate in a project whose work isn’t compensated? Is this the cognitive surplus, playing out in our news environment?

To some extent, yes. Financial gain is by no means the only incentive for participation, of course — and there’s something inherently rewarding about seeing your ideas play out “in living color,” MacMillan notes. And togetherness — being part of something — can be its own compensation. One benefit of the Catalyst approach could simply be that it’s making its members part of a community; and in this fragmented world of ours, that alone is a value. And though the project is a work in progress, it’s been gratifying to see what can happen when put some effort into transforming your users — anonymous, atomized — into something more meaningful and productive: a community. “They’re interested in seeing where this is going,” MacMillan says — “just as we are.”

November 03 2010

21:28

Canadian Murder Trial a Crucible for Real-Time Coverage

Late last month in a Canadian courtroom, Russell Williams, a former high-ranking colonel in the Canadian military, pleaded guilty to the murders of two young women as well as 86 counts of break and enter, sexual assault and other crimes. His sentencing hearing was widely covered by major Canadian media. Here, Canadian online journalism professor Robert Washburn explains how journalists tackled the story, in real-time.

Using social media in journalism is like watching lightning. It can be explained as a physical phenomenon using the laws of physics. Scientists study it and forecast when it will happen. But nobody can predict where it will hit. Nobody can predict the results. More than anything else, nobody can make it hit the same spot twice.

Social media played a significant role during the Russell Williams hearing, as it became a news ticker from inside the courtroom, sharing vivid, often disturbing details of his crimes.

More and more, newsrooms are recognizing the importance of the use of social media like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and so forth. The American Journalism Review in March reported the influx of social media editors working with citizen journalists, engaging audiences. NYTimes.com and CNN.com, for example, experienced a 300 percent increase in unique visitors via these media.

Yet, social media continues to confound those who want to see reproducible results. Social media is viral and uncontrolled; messages get reworked, reshaped and retweeted, as Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias pointed out in her post-G20 analysis of the use of Twitter during the protests in Toronto in June.

Robert Picard, a fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, said it best in a recent article in Nieman Reports.

"So this may not be the ideal time to suggest that the social media landscape is continuing to be transformed in ways that journalists and news organizations will find confounding," he wrote.

Already there are analyses starting, looking into the ethical dimensions of the use of Twitter during the Williams hearing. It will be up to the media ethicists and other scholars to dissect the content and provide analysis. This article is meant to be an early examination of the role of social media technology and the lessons learned for future applications in journalism.

BlackBerry Ban Lifted

Immediately, it is important to understand the unique context of the Williams hearing. First, a judge lifted a BlackBerry ban and allowed reporters to bring laptop computers and smartphones into the courtroom. This is not always the case in Canada, and is determined by each judge for each case. Hence, this was unusual.

These tools allowed instant communication with the newsroom. It also gave reporters the ability to instantly publish what was going on. Twitter was a popular tool, as some organizations allowed reporters to post to individual accounts or to use aggregator technology like CoveritLive, where a number of reporters, commentators and editors were presenting a stream of information via text and images.

The content was very raw in some instances, as reporters became stenographers, passing along details with little -- if any -- context or forethought. Twitter technology constrains journalists in this manner, according to Mark Walker, business team leader at Toronto-based real-time content management system ScribbleLive. For one thing, he said in an email to me, messages are limited to 140 characters. It's also push technology, meaning the audience subscribes and then automatically receives information. It is unedited, unauthenticated and unverified, he argued, breaking three of the major protocols of good journalism.

Sure, the contents of the hearing were compelling. Certainly, there were members of the audience and journalists who found the content repulsive. Still, the way crown attorney (prosecutor) Lee Burgess walked the judge through the evidence, building layer upon layer of detailed evidence, made a word-for-word reporting pretty enticing. This, in turn, became more shocking as it unfolded. It was a challenge for journalists to stop and use news judgment due to the momentum created by this legal strategy. The evidence was presented in such a way as to create a very dramatic narrative as the nature of the crimes and violence escalated. While the technology made it easy to publish, the content smoothed the process as well. Neither the technology nor the news media needed to add anything to make this case sensational. It was inherently sensational.

Beyond Social Media

The high news value of the Williams hearing meant additional resources were given to the coverage. And the technology went beyond social media. While some reporters were alone in the courtroom, platforms like CoveritLive allowed editors and other journalists to contribute to the information stream. Reporters back in the newsroom included contextual background, uploaded photo galleries and provided filler when the streams were slow. In the courtroom, illustrators uploaded their drawings directly to the newsroom's live feed. CoveritLive also enabled news organizations to incorporate what readers and other Twitter and social media users were saying.

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In other cases, CoveritLive was used to hold live, interactive chats with audiences to discuss aspects of the trial. For example, the CBC invited trauma specialists and psychotherapists to discuss the impact of the trial.

Another factor was the high public interest in the case. The coverage of the murders, the investigation, the arrest and the pre-hearing reporting laid the foundation for a large audience seeking more information. Social media was a good channel for audiences because it allowed them to follow details instantly and from anywhere.

Expect To Be Confounded

Twitter is useful to journalists as a form of news ticker, a steady stream of information for audiences. It is good at letting people know up-to-the-minute what is going on in the format of short snippets. But the use of CoveritLive by the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and CBC (and ScribbleLive by the National Post), among others, mitigated some of the issues raised by using Twitter alone.

In these cases several techniques were used. For example the blending of several Twitter feeds provided varied points of view. In other cases, Twitter messages were combined with other journalists and experts outside the courtroom and in the newsroom, who were able to provide context, images and other information. This added context in some cases and other perspectives, as well. It also made for a single delivery platform for audiences, giving them one channel to receive a wide range of information.

Toronto Star reporter Joanna Smith, who distinguished herself as one of the better Twittering reporters in the country when she used the platform to report from Haiti, was quoted by her own paper in a story about using Twitter to cover the hearing.

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"The immediacy of Twitter has a power that both news consumers and journalists are still getting used to harnessing,'' she said. "I think of my tweets from Haiti and how crafting a single 140-character tweet that worked as a complete narrative had a power that gave me chills, sometimes, in a way that the same amount of text in a newspaper story would not. I think many of my followers felt the same way about it. I think the same dynamics are at play here, but the content is so graphic that almost any tweet can blow someone away. We have to respect that, and work hard to check and balance ourselves accordingly."

Is Twitter a useful tool for journalists? No doubt. And, should journalists continue to use social media? Of course. But, as Picard rightly said, we must expect to be confounded. What is most important is journalists should be free to experiment with these new technologies. The Williams hearing was an important crucible to test the use of social media in news coverage in Canada.

We are in a period where innovation can happen spontaneously. New standards are yet to be formed. Journalists must remain open to the possibilities. Still, it should never be viewed as predictable or controllable. Like lightning, journalists will need to understand it, but also stand back and watch.

Prof. Robert Washburn instructs in the new Journalism: Online, Print and Broadcast program at Loyalist College in Ontario, Canada, where he teaches the uses of new technologies in journalism. He is the innovation editor for J-Source.ca, where he launched the Canadian Hyperlocal Journalism Project aimed at building resources to assist those interested in this emerging area. He has worked for more than 25 years as a journalist in newspapers, magazines and radio, and was the first post-secondary educator in Canada to teach in Second Life.

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