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April 13 2013

00:25

Technopanic: The Movie

Disconnect thinks it is a film about technology’s impact on our lives. But it is really just a mawkish melodrama about a random bunch of creeps, jerks, assholes, and loners. It is not a warning about our future. In the future, it will be seen as the cyber Reefer Madness: in short, a laughingstock.

Disconnect begins by throwing us every uh-oh signal it can: online porn; people listening to their headphones instead of the world around them; people paying attention to their phones (and the people on the other end) instead of the boring world in front of them; skateboards; people ruining office productivity watching silly videos; kids wearing Hooters T-shirts; sad people chatting with strangers online; people gambling online; people getting phished into bankruptcy; and worst of all, kids using Facebook. Oh, no!

A series of parallel stories unfold: the loner kid who’ll be drawn to humiliate himself and attempt suicide by asshole teens, one of them the son of a cybercop (irony.com!); the young couple — let’s kill their kid to up the sympathy — who chat with strangers and gamble with machines and find their identities thieved (where’s the product placement for Identity Guard and Reputation.com!); the vulture reporter who exploits — and rather hankers for the loins of (and smokes reefers with) — the teen online hustler exploited by the cyberFagin.

Along the way, the movie delivers quite retrograde messages not only about technology but also about sexuality: It’s the men who are found to be at fault for not protecting their nests. Thus: technology castrates!

I hate to deliver any spoilers but it pretty much ends with everybody fucked up and miserable because they got anywhere near the internet.

Disconnect is merely an extension of a trend (we call it a meme these days) in challenging the value of technology against those of us — and I include myself in the “us” — who try to identify the opportunities technology provides. Instead, why don’t we look for everything that could go wrong and crawl back into our caves?

August 17 2012

18:08

Twitter changes should concern journalists

The forthcoming changes announced by Twitter limiting what others can do with tweets has angered developers.

But news organisations and others involved in aggregating and curating material from social media should also be concerned.

The “Display Guidelines” will become “Display Requirements” and impose strict rules over how tweets can be shown, in order “to ensure that Twitter users have a consistent experience wherever they see and interact with tweets.”

As part of that “consistent experience”, the guidelines on the timeline say that “Twitter tweets that are grouped together into a timeline should not be rendered with non-Twitter content. e.g. comments, updates from other networks.”

In other words, don’t combine tweets with material from Facebook, YouTube or anywhere else. Yet this is exactly what many news organisations do when they cover breaking news, using tools such as ScribbleLive or Storify.

In his analysis of the guidelines, Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper noted that the rule “ is very broad and will bite more services and apps than you may expect. It’s probably the clause that caused the dispute with LinkedIn, and why Flipboard CEO Mike McCue just left Twitter’s board.”

The restrictions on mixing tweets in with other material could hamstrung news outlets. The practice of live blogging, pulling together material from reporters, news agencies and social media, has become common on news websites.

Live blogs have proved a powerful means to provide compelling and multifaceted coverage of news events, weaving a rich tapestry of human experience by pulling in from different networks.

It points to a more collaborative form of journalism, where the journalist acts as a curator, selecting the most relevant and powerful material, be it a tweet, a YouTube video or a photo on Flickr.

The stricter guidelines on the use of tweets go against the trend towards more inclusive, open and networked forms of journalism.

July 30 2012

14:14

April 23 2012

15:36

Slides from ISOJ talk on Andy Carvin sourcing of the Arab Spring

Here is the presentation I gave at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at UT Austin of our paper, Sourcing the Arab Spring: A case study of Andy Carvin’s sources during the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

The abstract is available on the papers site of the International Symposium on Online Journalism.

April 21 2012

22:15
21:33

Japan tsunami photos highlight human cost, study finds

In the final research panel at ISOJ, Rosellen Downey, Erika Johnson, and Bailey Brewer, University of Missouri, looked at the coverage in photos of the Japanese tsunami.

The study, Through the lens: Visual framing of the Japan tsunami in U.S., British, and Chinese online media, looked at how the Japanese tsunami was reflected in the images of US, British and Chinese media.

The researchers examined at 242 photos, 58 from NPR, 52 from the BBC and 132 from Xinhua. The photos were collected over three days from March 11 to 13,

The study found that two-thirds of the photos had people in them and the majority of people were Japanese.

In photos on the BBC, there were few photos that just had officials. They tended to have a mix of officials and civilians. Xinhua, by comparison, featured mainly civilians

Few photos featured a single individual. Most were of groups.

China had the most visual coverage, due to geographic proximity.

The researchers didn’t find as many officials in the coverage as expected and instead tended to feature civilians and aid workers, highlighting the human dimension of the tragedy.

19:31

WSJ Raju Narisetti on the need to create great news experiences

The last keynote at ISOJ was Raju Narisetti, managing editor, Wall Street Journal Digital Network

Narisetti said the big challenge faces journalism is turning great content into great experiences

He noted that great content is now available in a wide variety of places. So just having smart content is not enough. Instead, he said, we have to create experiences to engage the user.

We are terrible at turning the multimedia parts of stories into a great experience, said Narisetti. There are words, images, perhaps video. But collectively, they do not make for a great experience

For him, a great experience comes at the intersection of technology and content.

Narisetti said that great experiences will not just come from developers or programmers. Instead we should think about embedding the developers in the newsroom.

“The physical architecture of the newsroom matters a lot,” he said. Titles matter now, he added, as a title will affect how journalists in the newsroom perceive and react to a developer.

In his view, a title like frontend developer or backend developer makes it hard for journalists to relate to the work of developers.

Moreover, Narisetti said the credits matter. He recalled how at the Washington Post, a major project credited the journalists but not the developers.

Looking ahead, Narisetti said we need to consider how projects will live on in the future. Is there a shelf-life? Do we post a note to readers, telling them this database is no longer updated?

We have to maintain the experience, he said, or think of the shelf-life of an experience.

In other words, newsrooms must plan for impermanence.

Talking about journalism education, Narisetti asked how students were being taught about engagement, about metrics, about enhancing loyalty to the brand.

One of the things they are doing the WSJ is thinking about the news as a stream of content. He showed an example of the WSJ live coverage of the Oscars.

The WSJ is doing the same thing with market coverage, to have a stream of news and information.

For Narisetti, it is about finding ways of having readers come back to your journalism and your brand.

 

18:35

Study points to prominence of activists in Andy Carvin coverage of Arab Spring

Here’s the media release on the research I presented at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at UT Austin on Saturday, April 21:

A new study shows how far NPR’s Andy Carvin, known as “the man who tweets revolutions,” favoured the voice of protesters in his reporting on Twitter of the Arab Spring.

The rigorous analysis of more than 5,000 tweets found that Carvin’s feed gave higher priority to the messages from citizens in repressive societies who were documenting and expressing their desires for social change on Twitter.

During key periods of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings in early 2011, just under half of the messages on his Twitter stream came from activists and bloggers (48.3%), even though they only made up a quarter of his sources (26.4%).

Carvin also relied mainstream media journalists as sources. While they made up about a quarter of his sources (26.7%), journalists accounted for 29.4% of tweets.

The study, “Sourcing the Arab Spring: A Case Study of Andy Carvin’s Sources During the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolution” by academics in Canada and the U.S., points to the dramatic impact social media is having on journalism and the ways news is being reported.

University of British Columbia professor and lead author Alfred Hermida said: “Our findings suggest a new style of near real-time reporting where journalists tap into social media to include a broader range of voices in the news.”

“The prominence of what many may consider to be rebel voices raises questions about traditional journalistic approaches to balance and objectivity.”

Carvin, a social media strategist for U.S. public service radio broadcaster NPR, rose to prominence during the uprisings in the Middle East for his mastery of aggregating and verifying real-time news on Twitter.

The study shows how his approach to sourcing marks a break with established news practices. Traditionally, journalists cite a small number of sources who hold institutional positions of power and authority, such as government officials, police or business leaders. Journalists rely on these elite sources, shaping what news gets reported and how it is reported.

News coverage quoting ordinary people still fills only a small part of the news. When it comes to covering protests, journalists tend to cite on officials and police, and tend to discredit activists.

The researchers analysed tweets from two periods in 2011, identifying and categorizing Carvin’s top sources (322 in all). The first, from January 12 to January 19, covered the major portion of Tunisian demonstrations leading to the fall of President Ben Ali. The second, from January 24 to February 13, covered the Egyptian protests and subsequent resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

University of Minnesota professor Seth C. Lewis, a co-author on the study, said: “This research focuses on the work of a single person, but it’s a key case study for understanding larger transformations occurring as journalism evolves through social media.”

The study is authored by Alfred Hermida from the University of British Columbia, and Seth C. Lewis and Rodrigo Zamith from the University of Minnesota.

Note to editors:

The results of the study will be presented on Saturday, April 21, at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at 11:15 a.m. CDT (12.15 p.m. EDT). A live video stream of the conference will be available on the symposium website.

The abstract for the paper, “Sourcing the Arab Spring: A Case Study of Andy Carvin’s Sources During the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions,” is available from the symposium website on Friday, April 20.

About the researchers:

Alfred Hermida is an award-winning associate professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia, Canada. His research focuses on social media and emerging genres of journalism. An online news pioneer, he was a founding news editor of BBCNews.com and was a BBC correspondent in the Middle East. He co-authored Participatory Journalism: Guarding Open Gates at Online Newspapers and is currently working on his second book on the impact of social media on the news.

Contact: Alfred.Hermida@ubc.ca - Twitter: @hermida

Seth C. Lewis, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. His research on the changing nature of journalism in the digital era has received several top-paper awards and has been published in leading academic journals. He co-edited two editions of The Future of News: An Agenda of Perspectives, and he is affiliated with Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. Previously, he was an editor at The Miami Herald and a U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Spain.

Contact: sclewis@umn.edu - Twitter: @sethclewis

Rodrigo Zamith is a doctoral student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. His primary research interest is in the interplay between media, public opinion, and policymaking, with a focus on foreign affairs. He has previously worked as reporter at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Contact: zamit001@umn.edu

15:36

Insights into data journalism in Argentina

Angelica Peralta Ramos, multimedia development manager, La Nación in Argentina, gave an insight into the challenges of doing data journalism.

In her ISOJ talk, she explained how La Nacion started doing data visualisations with few resources and in a less than friendly government environment.

Peralta pointed out that Argentina ranks 100 out of 180 in corruption index. The country does not have a freedom of information law and it not part of the open government initiative.

But there is hope said Peralta. La Nacion wanted to do data journalism but didn’t have any programmers so they adopted tools for non programmers such as Tableau Public and Excel.

One of its initiatives involved gathering data on inflation to try to reveal more accurate inflation levels.

The newspaper has been taking public data and seeking to derive meaning from masses of figures.

For example, La Nacion took 400 PDFs with tables of 235,000 rows that recorded subsidies to bus companies to figure out who was getting what.

It is using software to keep track of updates to the PDFs to show how subsidies to the companies are on the rise.

Peralta’s short presentation showed how some media organisations are exploring data journalism in circumstances which are very different to the US or UK.

La Nacion have a data blog and will be posting links to the examples mentioned by Peralta.

15:09

Making data visualisation useful for audiences

At ISOJ, Alberto Cairo, lecturer in visual journalism, University of Miami, raised some critical questions about the visualisation of data in journalism.

Cairo explained that an information graphic is a tool for presenting information and for exploring information.

In the past, info graphics were about editing data down and summarising it. But this worries me, he says, as it is just presenting information but does not allow readers to explore the data.

Today we have the opposite trend and often ends up as data art which doesn’t help readers understand the data.

Cairo cited a New York Times project mapping neighbourhoods which he said forced readers to become their own reporters and editors to understand the data.

We have to create layers, he said. We have the presentation layer and we have the exploration layer, and these are complementary.

But readers need help to navigate the data, he said. Part of the task is giving clues to readers to understand the complexity of data.

Cairo quoted a visualistion mantra by Ben Shneiderman: “Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand.”

His approached echoed earlier comments by Brian Boyer, news applications editor, Chicago Tribune Media Group. Boyer said that we should make data beautiful, inspirational but make it useful to the audience.

 

14:29

April 20 2012

22:27

Study of Samoa Topix finds local news forum falls short

Linda Jean Kenix of University of Canterbury in New Zealand presented the results of a study of Samoa Topix at ISOJ.

The study,with Christine Daviault, asked the question, Is this the future of online news? An examination of Samoa Topix.

Topix describes itself as a place for people to share and talk about the news.

The about page says ”Topix is the leading news community on the Web, connecting people to the information and discussions that matter to them.” Topix ”redefines what it means to create, edit, share and make the news.”

The researchers explored how far Samoa Topix was a forum for news for a country with a patchy record in press freedom and when many  Samoans live abroad.

They found that the level of debate on the site “wasn’t pretty” said Kenix. The more discussion there was on a story, the more nasty the discussion became.

The forum were largely a space to voice ethnic views and overwhelming reliance on racial slurs, they found.

Only about a quarter of the content was news and there was no evidence of the forum generating news content.

Rather, the researchers found that stories mainly functioned as a catalyst for people to vent.

Moreover, many of the news stories on Samoa Topix did not relate to Samoa.

And there was very little overlap with the main Samoan newspaper, the Samoa Observer, and the content on Samoa Topix.

Kenix concluded by suggesting that simply creating spaces for people to make the news does not mean that this is what will actually happen.

 

21:47

The challenges for journalism start-ups in Europe

Online journalism start-ups in Europe are struggling, according to a report from the Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen presented the results of the study, Survival is Sucess, co-authored by Nicola Bruno, at ISOJ.

They found that journalism start-ups are facing a challenging time.

First, news is still dominated by legacy businesses, with national differences. In Germany, there is a strong but declining legacy news media, whereas in France and Italy, there is a weak and rapidly declining legacy media.

Secondly, the market for online advertising is tough, with low Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM) rates. And it is dominated by a few very large US-based players which capture much of the search and display advertising in Europe.

The journalism start-ups found it hard to survive just based on advertising. The report suggests that “though internet use and online advertising is growing rapidly across Europe, it is not clear that this alone will provide the basis for a new generation of innovative and sustainable journalistic start-ups.”

There are individual examples of success, such as Mediapart, an investigative news website operating behind a paywall in France. But the track record in Europe has been less than inspiring, said Nielsen.

The report concludes:

Based on the countries and cases examined here it seems that at this juncture the journalistic start- ups most likely to thrive are those that deliver a distinct, quality product, operate with lean organisations, have diverse revenue streams, and are oriented towards niche audiences poorly served by existing legacy media.

 

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.

 

19:32

Local media as news for a mass intelligent audience

The afternoon keynote at ISOJ was by Jim Moroney, publisher & CEO, Dallas Morning News, and chairman of the board, Newspapers Association of America

He started off by insisting there was a connection between the two aspects of the title of his talk, Becoming The Economist of Metro Newspapers and the Pursuit of the Tablet Audience. 

Moroney said the goal of journalism remained the same – an informed public that can make wise decisions to govern itself.

But what had changed was the dramatic fall in print advertising, halving between 2007 and 2011 to $20.6bn.

“We are no longer publishing to a mass audience,” said Moroney. We are publishing for a “mass intelligent audience”, a term he borrowed from The Economist.

Moroney doesn’t mean publishing for elites but for smart people who are interested in the world around them.

The mass intelligent audience reads the Atlantic or the New Yorker, but also mix in US Weekly, Pop Idol or The Simpsons, he said.

The basis of there business is based on the existence of a sufficient audience for intelligent reporting, curating and aggregating of hews and information.

He pointed to the success of Harry Potter, HBO and the King’s Speech as evidence there was a market for smart content.

The value of content is measured by relevance and differentiation.

Today, who, what, where and where are commodities, said Moroney. You have to have breaking news but you cannot win on this particular kind of news.

In his view, the value today is in the how, why and what does it mean for me.

At the Dallas Morning News, they use the acronym PICA: Perspective, interpretation, context and analysis.

What it means for the newsroom is a need for beat reporters, columnists and subject matter experts, said Moroney. It also means going deep into certain subjects and focusing on 10-12 categories to go deep.

The problem facing newspapers is declining print advertising revenue, and Moroney does not believe that digital publishing will be enough to support journalism. Instead there is a need for models to cross-subsidize journalism, beyond advertising.

The experiment going on, said Moroney, is finding ways to have audiences pay for journalism.

And with that comment, he switched to talking about the opportunities offered by tablets.

Figures suggest that people will read long-form on tablets. Moroney cited a figure showing 43% of tablet news readers regularly read in-depth articles.

But for now, 92% of the news audience in the US is still using the web, rather than smartphone or tablet apps.

Moroney’s strategy is focused on a smaller audience that will pay for high-end journalism and that this audience will be accessing the news on a tablet, and for now, that’s the iPad.

16:49

Study into Twitter as a community reporting tool

The first academic presentation at International Symposium on Online Journalism came from Carrie Brown of the University of Memphis.

For her study, #Memstorm: Twitter as a community-driven breaking news reporting tool, she looked at real-time flow of information on Twitter during the storms that hit the region.

She highlighted how the hashtag, #Memstorm, did not come from the news outlets but from the public.

Fox tried to created its own hashtag to brand the storms, but Brown noted there was an audience backlash against Fox.

The most common type of tweets were direct observation, essentially eye-witness reports. There were also examples of people asking questions about reports and rumours to verify information.

For retweets, Brown found there was also a significant amount of material from the media, especially TV stations.

Brown found there was a sense of people commiserating with each other on Twitter, expressing emotion and sympathy.

There were also attempts at humour around the storm on Twitter.

She suggested the role for journalists in an ambient journalism environment was verification, amplification of the best stuff, engaging with audiences and providing very specific location information.

15:49

Global insights into the mobile media revolution at ISOJ

The second session at International Symposium on Online Journalism focused on the impact of mobile and tablet.

A common theme was the need to tailor content for different mobile platforms to account for different audience needs and behaviours.

Pedro Doria, digital platforms editor, O Globo newspaper, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, started off by explaining how the company developed the iPad edition of the newspaper.

The iPad edition was based on understanding that readership on a tablet works differently from a news website, with reading mostly in the evening.

The iPad edition bundles news in brief, strong image, three or four long-form stories, some shorter articles and then cultural tidbits, and goes live at 6 p.m.

Before the iPad edition was launched in February, people would spend on average 26 minutes on the app.  After the revised evening edition was released, the average time went up to a hour and 17 minutes.

Impact of mobiles in Africa

Next up was Harry Dugmore, professor at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. He spoke about how the massive uptake of mobiles Africa had led some to hope the technology would help democracy flourish.

But, said Dugmore, we were wrong.

The technological environment in Africa has evolved, starting off with mobiles with small screens, slow speeds and sky-high subscriptions. This was still the situation in many places, with only one of every 100 phones in Africa being an iPhone.

The result was a focus on SMS services to keep people inform and in touch.

Mobile technology is moving towards better speeds, more competition and more powerful phones, said Dugmore. But costs are still high and net access can be intermittent.

Now, tablets and smartphones are starting to appear but are in a minority.

Some of the biggest changes, said Dugmore, have been the provision of free access to Facebook and Wikipedia on mobiles.  Facebook zero means anyone can access Facebook on a mobile, even if they don’t have any credit.

Twitter, too, Dugmore added, was emerging as a source for news, with two-thirds of Kenyans saying they get international news from Twitter.

CNN’s approach

Next up Louis Gump, vice president of CNN Mobile talked about the the mobile web as the hub of his unit’s business, with a portfolio of apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows and more.

CNN Mobile reached 19.5 million users in the US in February, with over 17 million apps downloaded across platforms worldwide. This compares to around 100 million people that CNN reaches overall on digital.

Gump said CNN made a decision to take some time to think about its iPad app and see what resonates with consumers.

He concluded by highlighting imperatives for success: having a first-rate mobile website, a range of core apps, employing mobile professionals and understanding that mobile is different.

Mobile in the Philippines

A different perspective came from JV Rufino, head of Inquirer Mobile and Books, Inquirer Group, Manila, Philippines.

He comes from one of the largest media groups in the Philippines.

Rufino explained that the Philippines was largely a TV market, but that most people have several mobiles.

One of the ways The Inquirer uses mobile is by sending ad-supported news headlines by SMS, but it also has a premium news alert SMS service.

Its mobile apps are also sponsored but have to work on older Nokia smartphones too, Rufino explained.

As with other media organisations, The Inquirer has developed a range of tablet apps as premium products.

Rufino explained how the company has collated its news articles as ebooks, including aggregating romance columns and producing court transcripts.

 

14:28

April 17 2012

16:08

Get ready for the 2012 International Symposium on Online Journalism

One of my favourite conferences takes place this week at Austin, Texas, the International Symposium on Online Journalism.

It stands out by bringing together practitioners and academics, mixing experiences from the newsroom with research from universities. It also has an international outlook, with journalists and academics from Brazil, Finland, Spain, Australia and New Zealand to name a few.

Among the keynote speakers is Richard Gingras, head of news products for Google, and there are sessions on portable devices, social media, entrepreneurship, and database reporting.

Alongside, some twenty-two academic papers were accepted after a rigourous peer-review process, including one I co-authored on Andy Carvin’s use of Twitter during the Arab Spring. I’ll be posting more about our Carvin paper in the coming days.

Research topics range from entrepreneurial news ventures to tablets to social media. The papers will be posted to the website on Friday 20 April.

The conference is now in its 13th year and takes place on April 20-21, 2012 in the auditorium at the Blanton Museum of Art on The University of Texas at Austin campus.

For those who can’t make it to Austin, the conference will be live-streamed from Friday, when the link will be posted to the ISOJ’s website.

There is also likely to be a lively backchannel on Twitter using the hashtag #ISOJ. Every year, the symposium sparks more than 4,000 tweets, adding a layer of discussion and context to the talk in Austin.

February 08 2012

19:00

Why journalists should break news on Twitter

The world of journalism and Twitter is buzzing following Sky News’s new policy on Twitter and the BBC’s new guidance on breaking news.

Both organisations have told their journalists not to break news on Twitter first.

In a post on the BBC’s Editors blog, social media editor Chris Hamilton acknowledged the value of Twitter but concluded:

We’ve been clear that our first priority remains ensuring that important information reaches BBC colleagues, and thus all our audiences, as quickly as possible – and certainly not after it reaches Twitter.

Instead he points out that BBC journalists are able to inform the newsroom and tweet simultaneously:

We’re fortunate to have a technology that allows our journalists to transmit text simultaneously to our newsroom systems and to their own Twitter accounts.

On his Twitter stream, Chris sought to clarify the guidance to BBC News journalists:

It’s about the best way of breaking news on all our platforms – social networks, our own website, TV, radio.

— Chris Hamilton (@chrishams) February 8, 2012

Essential point is we have system that allows journalists to file and tweet at the same time.

— Chris Hamilton (@chrishams) February 8, 2012

The tensions over Twitter and breaking news result from the collision of two worlds – when a hierarchical media system in the hands of the few collides with a networked media system open to all.

The reasons for wanting to control the flow of news are understandable. Historically, news organisations have been the gate-keepers, deciding what is news, how to report it and when and how to distribute it.

In a nuanced post, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones acknowledges that “We are all feeling our way forward through the fog of this new media landscape.” He concludes:

Some would like to turn the clock back to a simpler time, when all power resided in the newsdesk, only star reporters got a byline, and sharing information with outsiders before the presses rolled or the bulletin began was a sacking offence.

But it is almost certainly too late for that.

The guidance for journalists not to break news on Twitter is based on a flawed understanding of today’s media ecosystem. It assumes that journalists still have a monopoly on breaking the news.

Repeatedly, the first news of a natural disaster or other major news story have emerged first on Twitter.  Nicola Bruno wrote an excellent paper (PDF) for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism on the emergence of Twitter as a breaking news network.

Understandably, a journalist tweeting a breaking news event is likely to have greater impact. This is what happened when the New York Times’ Brian Stelter retweeted a message from Keith Urbahn, the chief of staff for the former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on the death of Bin Laden.

So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.

— Keith Urbahn (@keithurbahn) May 2, 2011

But to advise journalists not to break news on Twitter is anachronistic. It ignores the value that a journalist and their parent organisation can gain by signalling that they are across a major development.

People who’ve heard that something has happened may wonder why a journalist with BBC or Sky News hasn’t tweeted it yet.

Moreover, tweeting the news can add to their credibility as a trusted news source, especially if Twitter is awash with rumour and speculation.  A message from a journalist at the BBC or Sky News is likely to be considered as a trusted source, potentially drive audiences to the website or broadcast outlets.

This is a valuable service to their audiences, even those not on Twitter. The value of Twitter is as a distributed network,where the reach of a message can grow exponentially with every retweet.

Arguably, there is an imperative for journalists to break news on Twitter to fulfil the role as a trusted and reliable source of accurate information.

(Disclosure: I worked for the BBC for 16 years and have worked with both Chris and Rory).

This post was updated to include Chris Hamilton’s comments on the BBC technology for filing text.

 

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