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"Tell the chef, the beer is on me."
"Scientists are beginning to understand how the curiously addictive visual tropes known as ‘memes’ are born, why they die, and whether or not it’s possible to predict which will ‘go viral’ and be harvested by the night-soil merchants up at meme warehouses like Cheezburger.
“This is a watershed time where we are moving away from photography as a way of recording and storing a past moment,” said Robin Kelsey, a professor of photography at Harvard, and we are “turning photography into a communication medium.”
Facebook is aiming to become a newspaper for mobile devices, WSJ reports. “The social network has been quietly working on a service, internally called Reader, that displays content from Facebook users and publishers in a new visual format tailored for mobile devices, people with knowledge of the matter said.”
But owning news consumption will be a challenge for Facebook, analysts say. Both Twitter and LinkedIn have been pushing their own services aggressively, while Flipboard has more than 50 million users. “There are a lot of things people didn’t do on Facebook several years ago that they now do,” said Nate Elliot, a Forrester analyst. “But I imagine it’s going to be very hard” to retrain consumers to see Facebook as a go-to hub for news. Mr. Zuckerberg is watching the Reader project closely, one of the people with knowledge of the matter said, and he has provided input and reviewed aspects of the design at various turns. While Mr. Zuckerberg has made “move fast and break things” a Facebook company mantra, the development of Reader has been relatively slow and deliberate. The team has focused on creating a product experience that works on both tablets and smartphones, the person added, and it has explored different ways to highlight news content to users, including showing public posts that are trending on the site.
Very cool visualization of global tourism using Twitter data:
With the power of MapBox and Twitter data from Gnip, data artist Eric Fischer worked with the Gnip team to create a fully-browsable worldwide map of local allegiances.
Blue points on the map are Tweets posted by “Locals”: people who have tweeted in a city dated over a range of a month or more. Red points are Tweets posted by “Tourists”: people who seem to be Locals in a different city and who tweeted in this city for less than a month.
Owning an story can be hard on social media when you operate a subscription model. Not all of our followers or fans have access to The Times or The Sunday Times and therefore can’t access the full article when you post a link from an account like @thetimes or @thesundaytimes. This means that people often read a rewritten version of our story on another news site.
We thought about how we could change this and realised that our best weapon was our journalists, each with their own network of followers and fans. But we were asking a lot to expect them to keep track of stories breaking on social media (especially when on deadline) so we knew we needed a way of making it easy for them.
We enlisted the help of Alex Muller, a clever chap who up until recently for News International’s R&D Labs and now works over at gov.uk. We tasked him to come up with an easy way to send HTML email from company Gmail accounts inside the browser.
Alex used a copy of the Google Apps script available here which prompts the user for a recipient, a subject and gives space to input HTML email. The script authenticates against the Google Apps account you’re currently signed in with, and uses that to send the email.
He then created an HTML template to display a single tweet inside an
email, and used Twitter’s Web Intents to add links to simplify the
process for journalists and others to retweet - one click in the email,
and then one confirmation click on twitter.com to complete the action.
It’s a simple solution to the problem, and manages to sidestep some
headaches with authenticating a third-party application to send email from Gmail (which would have significantly increased the time required for the project).
The result of using ‘The retweeter’ is that our big stories reach more people. For example, The Sunday Times Insight team had a big story on lobbying in Westminster which was retweeted by 30 people, most of whom were Sunday Times staff. Twitter analytics showed us that this tweet had reach three times greater than our usual tweets.
So if you see a Times or Sunday Times journalist retweet a big story, there’s a good chance we used ‘The retweeter’ to make it easy for them to do so. We’ll continue to use it on our big stories and perhaps look at developing a similar version for other networks where we see an opportunity.
Thanks for reading.
We’re not looking to discover real-time content on Facebook. They clutter up the design. So why add them? Firstly, the same kind of “me too” behavior that led Facebook to rename “subscribers” — people who receive your public updates but aren’t actual friends — to “followers.” Many people post their Twitter updates to Facebook automatically, so the social network might as well utilize the hashtags in those tweets.
The second reason is a common one for Facebook engineers, whose slogan is “move fast and break things.” Even if a user does only use hashtags once in a blue moon, they will help Facebook learn a little bit more about that user’s likes and dislikes. This enables the social network to serve you more targeted ads. (Advertisers can’t buy hashtags yet, but have no doubt: that’s coming.)
Did you know that you can sign up to attend a one-day intensive workshop the day before news:rewired?
The next news:rewired digital journalism conference is on 20 September. We also offer a ‘news:rewired plus‘ option so that you can attend one of three one-day training workshops the day before the conference, on Thursday 19 September.
If you are coming from overseas and want to make the most of your time in the UK, or if you just want to learn a new skill, signing up for a one-day course will allow you to really get to grips with one of the subjects on offer.
There are three news:rewired plus one-day workshops to choose from. If you are a regular at news:rewired you will recognise some or all of the trainers. They have all been involved with the event in the past, for example both Luke and Glen delivered workshops at our last event in April. We have invited them to lead one-day courses based both on their expertise in the field and the positive feedback from news:rewired delegates.
The three options are below. Click the links for full details.
The first 50 news:rewired tickets (whether standard or ‘plus’), are available at an early bird discount rate. We only have a few left – so hurry!
This means early bird news:rewired plus tickets cost £280 (+VAT), while standard, conference-only news:rewired tickets cost £95 (+VAT). Tickets include lunch, refreshments and after-event drinks on the day of the conference.
The earlybird discount will only apply to the first 50 tickets sold, or until the end of Friday (31 May), whichever comes first. After this point standard tickets will rise to £130 (+VAT) and ‘news:rewired plus’ tickets will rise to £310 (+VAT).
You can buy standard conference tickets at this link. If you select a news:rewired PLUS ticket Journalism.co.uk will contact you to confirm which training course you would like to attend on the Thursday (19 September) and provide further details.
Our friends at Journalist’s Resource, that’s who. JR is a project of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and they spend their time examining the new academic literature in media, social science, and other fields, summarizing the high points and giving you a point of entry. Roughly once a month, JR managing editor John Wihbey will sum up for us what’s new and fresh.
This month’s edition of What’s New In Digital Scholarship is an abbreviated installment — we’re just posting our curated list of interesting new papers and their abstracts. We’ll provide a fuller analysis at the half-year mark, in our June edition. Until then, happy geeking out!
“Mapping the global Twitter heartbeat: The geography of Twitter.” Study from the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published in First Monday. By Kalev Leetaru, Shaowen Wang, Guofeng Cao, Anand Padmanabhan, and Eric Shook.
Summary: “In just under seven years, Twitter has grown to count nearly three percent of the entire global population among its active users who have sent more than 170 billion 140-character messages. Today the service plays such a significant role in American culture that the Library of Congress has assembled a permanent archive of the site back to its first tweet, updated daily. With its open API, Twitter has become one of the most popular data sources for social research, yet the majority of the literature has focused on it as a text or network graph source, with only limited efforts to date focusing exclusively on the geography of Twitter, assessing the various sources of geographic information on the service and their accuracy. More than three percent of all tweets are found to have native location information available, while a naive geocoder based on a simple major cities gazetteer and relying on the user — provided Location and Profile fields is able to geolocate more than a third of all tweets with high accuracy when measured against the GPS-based baseline. Geographic proximity is found to play a minimal role both in who users communicate with and what they communicate about, providing evidence that social media is shifting the communicative landscape.“
“Predicting Dissemination of News Content in Social Media: A Focus on Reception, Friending, and Partisanship.” Study from Ohio State, published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. By Brian E. Weeks and R. Lance Holbert.
Summary: “Social media are an emerging news source, but questions remain regarding how citizens engage news content in this environment. This study focuses on social media news reception and friending a journalist/news organization as predictors of social media news dissemination. Secondary analysis of 2010 Pew data (N = 1,264) reveals reception and friending to be positive predictors of dissemination, and a reception-by-friending interaction is also evident. Partisanship moderates these relationships such that reception is a stronger predictor of dissemination among partisans, while the friending-dissemination link is evident for nonpartisans only. These results provide novel insights into citizens’ social media news experiences.”
“Al Jazeera English Online: Understanding Web metrics and news production when a quantified audience is not a commodified audience.” Study from George Washington University, published in Digital Journalism. By Nikki Usher.
Summary: “Al Jazeera English is the Arab world’s largest purveyor of English language news to an international audience. This article provides an in-depth examination of how its website employs Web metrics for tracking and understanding audience behavior. The Al Jazeera Network remains sheltered from the general economic concerns around the news industry, providing a unique setting in which to understand how these tools influence newsroom production and knowledge creation. Through interviews and observations, findings reveal that the news organization’s institutional culture plays a tremendous role in shaping how journalists use and understand metrics. The findings are interpreted through an analysis of news norms studies of the social construction of technology.”
“Teens, Social Media and Privacy.” Report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. By Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart, Sandra Cortesi, Urs Gasser, Maeve Duggan, and Aaron Smith.
Summary: “Teens are sharing more information about themselves on social media sites than they have in the past, but they are also taking a variety of technical and non-technical steps to manage the privacy of that information. Despite taking these privacy-protective actions, teen social media users do not express a high level of concern about third-parties (such as businesses or advertisers) accessing their data; just 9% say they are ‘very’ concerned. Key findings include: Teens are sharing more information about themselves on their social media profiles than they did when we last surveyed in 2006: 91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006; 71% post their school name, up from 49%; 71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%; 53% post their email address, up from 29%; 20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%. 60% of teen Facebook users set their Facebook profiles to private (friends only), and most report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their settings: 56% of teen Facebook users say it’s ‘not difficult at all’ to manage the privacy controls on their Facebook profile; 33% Facebook-using teens say it’s ‘not too difficult’; 8% of teen Facebook users say that managing their privacy controls is ‘somewhat difficult,’ while less than 1% describe the process as ‘very difficult.’”
“Historicizing New Media: A Content Analysis of Twitter.” Study from Cornell, Stoneybrook University, and AT&T Labs Research, published in the Journal of Communication. By Lee Humphreys, Phillipa Gill, Balachander Krishnamurthy, and Elizabeth Newbury.
Summary: “This paper seeks to historicize Twitter within a longer historical framework of diaries to better understand Twitter and broader communication practices and patterns. Based on a review of historical literature regarding 18th and 19th century diaries, we created a content analysis coding scheme to analyze a random sample of publicly available Twitter messages according to themes in the diaries. Findings suggest commentary and accounting styles are the most popular narrative styles on Twitter. Despite important differences between the historical diaries and Twitter, this analysis reveals long-standing social needs to account, reflect, communicate, and share with others using media of the times.” (See also.)
“Page flipping vs. clicking: The impact of naturally mapped interaction technique on user learning and attitudes.” Study from Penn State and Ohio State, published in Computers in Human Behavior. By Jeeyun Oh, Harold R. Robinson, and Ji Young Lee.
Summary: “Newer interaction techniques enable users to explore interfaces in a more natural and intuitive way. However, we do not yet have a scientific understanding of their contribution to user experience and theoretical mechanisms underlying the impact. This study examines how a naturally mapped interface, page-flipping interface, can influence user learning and attitudes. An online experiment with two conditions (page flipping vs. clicking) tests the impact of this naturally mapped interaction technique on user learning and attitudes. The result shows that the page-flipping feature creates more positive evaluations of the website in terms of usability and engagement, as well as greater behavioral intention towards the website by evoking greater perception of natural mapping and greater feeling of presence. In terms of learning outcomes, however, participants who flip through the online magazine show less recall and recognition memory, unless they perceive page flipping as more natural and intuitive to interact with. Participants perceive the same content as more credible when they flip through the content, but only if they appreciate the coolness of the medium. Theoretical and practical implications will be discussed.”
“Influence of Social Media Use on Discussion Network Heterogeneity and Civic Engagement: The Moderating Role of Personality Traits.” Study from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and the University of Texas at Austin, published in the Journal of Communication. By Yonghwan Kim, Shih-Hsien Hsu, and Homero Gil de Zuniga.
Summary: “Using original national survey data, we examine how social media use affects individuals’ discussion network heterogeneity and their level of civic engagement. We also investigate the moderating role of personality traits (i.e., extraversion and openness to experiences) in this association. Results support the notion that use of social media contributes to heterogeneity of discussion networks and activities in civic life. More importantly, personality traits such as extraversion and openness to experiences were found to moderate the influence of social media on discussion network heterogeneity and civic participation, indicating that the contributing role of social media in increasing network heterogeneity and civic engagement is greater for introverted and less open individuals.”
“Virtual research assistants: Replacing human interviewers by automated avatars in virtual worlds.” Study from Sammy Ofer School of Communications, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (Israel), published in Computers in Human Behavior. By Béatrice S. Hasler, Peleg Tuchman, and Doron Friedman.
Summary: “We conducted an experiment to evaluate the use of embodied survey bots (i.e., software-controlled avatars) as a novel method for automated data collection in 3D virtual worlds. A bot and a human-controlled avatar carried out a survey interview within the virtual world, Second Life, asking participants about their religion. In addition to interviewer agency (bot vs. human), we tested participants’ virtual age, that is, the time passed since the person behind the avatar joined Second Life, as a predictor for response rate and quality. The human interviewer achieved a higher response rate than the bot. Participants with younger avatars were more willing to disclose information about their real life than those with older avatars. Surprisingly, the human interviewer received more negative responses than the bot. Affective reactions of older avatars were also more negative than those of younger avatars. The findings provide support for the utility of bots as virtual research assistants but raise ethical questions that need to be considered carefully.”
“Technology and Collective Action: The Effect of Cell Phone Coverage on Political Violence in Africa.” Study from Duke and German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), published in the American Political Science Review. By Jan H. Pierskalla and Florian M. Hollenbach.
Summary: “The spread of cell phone technology across Africa has transforming effects on the economic and political sphere of the continent. In this paper, we investigate the impact of cell phone technology on violent collective action. We contend that the availability of cell phones as a communication technology allows political groups to overcome collective action problems more easily and improve in-group cooperation, and coordination. Utilizing novel, spatially disaggregated data on cell phone coverage and the location of organized violent events in Africa, we are able to show that the availability of cell phone coverage significantly and substantially increases the probability of violent conflict. Our findings hold across numerous different model specifications and robustness checks, including cross-sectional models, instrumental variable techniques, and panel data methods.”
Photo by Anna Creech used under a Creative Commons license.
Mobile news app Circa is hoping to push further into the breaking news space, announcing today that the startup behind the app has hired Anthony De Rosa, former social media editor at Reuters, to become its editor in chief.
Circa collects the "atomic units" of stories -- facts, quotes and images -- and puts them into running stories with alerts to updates. The startup was co-founded by Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh and his partner, Matt Galligan, and is under the editorial leadership of David Cohn, who was the founder and director of Spot.Us, a non-profit that pioneered "community funded reporting." Cohn has written about both Spot.Us and Circa here on Idea Lab.
"As the head of editorial I'm very excited to have Anthony come on board," Cohn said in an email. "I know he will bring a lot to the table and will help Circa push forward in the 'breaking news' space which, combined with our 'follow feature' really puts us in a unique position to serve a readers' needs."
De Rosa is owner of tumblog SoupSoup and co-founder of hyperlocal blogging tool Neighborhoodr. At Reuters, he trained staff to make use of live blogs and social media to try to produce a constant river of breaking news. In an article in 2011, The New York Times' Paul Boutin dubbed De Rosa the "undisputed King of Tumblr."
"There's a huge opportunity to present news in a way that's made for mobile. Nobody is thinking about this more than Circa and I'm thrilled to help move that mission forward," De Rosa said in a statement announcing his new position.
You can tune in on the recent Mediatwits podcast with Circa founder Huh on PBS MediaShift, and here's another Mediatwits podcast with Cohn, talking about the prospects for Circa now and in the future.
Desiree Everts is the associate editor for Idea Lab and PBS MediaShift. She's dabbled in digital media for the past decade including stints at CNET News and Wired magazine.
Have you ever tried tweeting at a major news organization? How often have they responded or retweeted? Probably not often — and that corresponds to the findings offered by a GW/Pew study of 13 major news organizations which found “limited use of the institution’s public Twitter identity, one that generally takes less advantage of the interactive and reportorial nature of the Twitter.”
So when I went to The Miami Herald as part of a much larger project looking at newsrooms and news buildings, I was pleasantly surprised to find it, like some other newspapers, has actual people manning Twitter — breaking news “by hand,” interacting with readers, and having a genuine public conversation over the main @miamiherald Twitter account, with its 98,000 followers. (Aside from Twitter, The Miami Herald is making ample use of its Facebook account, posting new stories once an hour and relying on feedback from the 46,000-plus audience for stories and tips — and as an extension of the Public Insight Network pioneered by American Public Radio.)
In Miami, Twitter takes on two distinct modes during the day — in the morning as headline service and in the afternoon as conversation. “In the morning, we try to get the audience between 6 and 8 a.m. on Twitter and on the website,” says continuous news editor/day editor Jeff Kleinman, who says he wakes up at 4:30 to begin monitoring the news.
Kleinman uses Twitter to break news — whether or not it’s on the paper’s website. “We want to be first,” he noted, as he quickly dashed off a tweet about a boat fire in front of me. More often then not, though, there will be a link to a short two-paragraph story begun on the website. But not always.
Miami still remains a vibrant and competitive news marketplace with three local TV stations chasing breaking news, the Sun Sentinel, and even blogs getting in on niche action. So in the breaking-news morning environment, “If something happens, I’ll put it up on Twitter, I’ll write or have the reporter write two quick grafs on the homepage with italics that say ‘More to come,’” he said. “We’re constantly updating over Twitter and on the website as news comes in.”
There’s less time for conversation, but Kleinman is especially careful to do one thing: retweet what his reporters are offering from the field to the wider audience. “We’re not there, but they are, and Twitter is often the fastest way to say what’s going on,” he noted. So while the reporters have their own followings, their work gets amplified to a larger audience.
Take this example of breaking news:
— The Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) May 2, 2013
Walter Michot, a former photographer who prowls the city with an iPhone (another story), has frequently broken news on his Twitter account, which has then been retweeted by @miamiherald. The mantra in the newsroom is to tweet, write, tweet, write, perhaps blog, and then write a takeout for the web and perhaps the paper.
Later on in the afternoon, Twitter and Facebook take on a more conversational tone. Luisa Yanez runs the @miamiherald account then. She focuses on three key things: curating incoming reporters’ work and retweeting it — adding additional substance if necessary; offering updates from the website; and responding to readers. The Miami Herald also offers updates about traffic and weather “as a public service and because people want to know,” Kleinman said, so followers might see something like this.
— The Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) May 2, 2013
And then Yanez will retweet a reader who happens to chime in with a photo, in this case, Marven The Martian (@DaReelMJ), who offers a twitpic of the nasty weather brewing.
— Marven The Martian (@DaReelMJ) May 2, 2013
The Herald also uses Twitter as a direct way to ask its readers to pitch in for story help:
The Herald is writing about ruling that would allow teens to obtain the “morning after” pill. Please contact aburch@MiamiHerald.com.
— The Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) May 2, 2013
The main Twitter feed doesn’t shy away from letting reporters show off their spunk. For instance, on Evan Benn’s first story for the paper (yes, they hired someone):
— The Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) May 2, 2013
That, of course, is what they call in the newsroom an only-in-Miami story. And it prompted some only-in-Miami community conversation:
— Jackie Blue (@JackieBlue4u) May 2, 2013
@jackieblue4u Closer to gator, and smoking it really did make it taste like bacon, or prosciutto.
— Evan Benn (@EvanBenn) May 2, 2013
Kleinman and others acknowledge that the tweet-to-web traffic conversion isn’t what they’d like it to be. But for them, Twitter is a way to build an audience, establish their continued brand prominence, and carry on a conversation. And while The Miami Herald newsroom might be losing the best view in journalism for a new home by the airport, location might not matter as much as it once did, because their conversation with their audience is virtual.
Those who doubt that a newsroom that is struggling with staff and budget problems can handle putting the time and energy into social media should look at Miami and see a case of what’s going well. And those who think that community conversation is too hard to handle should also pause and consider the possibilities that do exist when a newsroom engages with its community. Especially if it’s about eating python.
Photo of outgoing Miami Herald building by Phillip Pessar used under a Creative Commons license.
BOSTON - The Weather Company has launched the first Twitter video program for an advertiser, the Home Depot, says Mike Finnerty, VP, Web Products, in this interview with Beet.TV. The program with Twitter, which drives views of “how to videos,” was announced last month at the Weather Company’s NewFront event. The Twitter effort went live this past weekend.
In this wide-ranging interview, Finnerty talks about the power of data in delivering targeted advertising and content. He explains the appetite for video on Weather.com and the growth of video content from the company’s cable networks along with an increasing number of Web originals and third-party lifestyle videos via the AOL On network.
We spoke with him Monday at the BrightcovePLAY conference.
Two blasts near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon Monday left the city in shock and frenzy. Soon after, disheartening on-the-ground tweets, photos and videos were shared throughout the social web. In the early hours, these updates served to inform the entire world of the horror and tragedy transpiring through the streets of Boston. In the later hours, online and social media tools such as Google Docs and Twitter connected Boston locals to the out-of-town runners and visitors who could really use their help. The way social media is manifesting in immediate relief for victims is perhaps one uplifting moment in a truly heartbreaking day. WARNING: Some graphic images are in the roundup below.
>>> RELATED: The View from MIT on the Boston Marathon Explosions at Idea Lab <<<
This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».
Two blasts near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon Monday left the city in shock and frenzy. Soon after, disheartening on-the-ground tweets, photos and videos were shared throughout the social web. In the early hours, these updates served to inform the entire world the horror and tragedy transpiring through the streets of Boston. In the later hours, online and social media tools like Google Docs and Twitter connected Boston locals to the out-of-town runners and visitors who could really use their help. The way social media is manifesting in immediate relief for victims is perhaps one uplifting moment in a truly heartbreaking day.
This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».
DELHI — In December, the brutal rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old female student quickly gained attention in Indian and foreign media. In the days immediately following the woman’s death, protesters staged large demonstrations at Delhi’s India Gate and outside government buildings, including Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of India’s President.
During the protests, activists and journalists used social media to follow the protests and to discuss India’s problem of violence against women. This discourse highlighted how social media offer an emerging space for storytelling — remarkable in a country where social media hasn’t had the same impact it has elsewhere. To explore this case, we interviewed Indian and foreign correspondents who covered the protests in Delhi. They told us how journalists used social media during the protests, giving us insight into how a new medium is contributing to hard news coverage.
Social media hasn’t played anything near the role in Indian journalism that it does in, say, the United States. Supporters of social media often point to their inclusive and democratizing aspects — but in India, social media usage remains confined to a small percentage of the population. Nearly 80 percent of Indians now have a mobile phone, but only 11 percent have Internet access, and fewer than 5 percent use social media. In rural areas, these percentages are significantly lower. Information gathered from social media tends to come from a rarified segment of the population: the affluent, educated, English-speaking youth of India’s major cities.
When we asked journalists to what extent they use social media for news-gathering, some complained that social media discussions are narrow. As an India-based journalist for the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung told us:
They don’t really represent the majority of the people. For example, if you read social media, you would think everyone was extremely shocked and devastated. But if you talked to people on the streets or in slums, you get the idea that many Indians have extremely backward and conservative idea about women and how they had to behave. Social media can not replace doing research on the ground, in slums and villages. That’s the most important thing for working in India.
The digital divide thus represents a sociocultural divide: In India, those who use social media are more likely to live in cities, hold a passport, and share values with social media users in the West. By relying too heavily on social media, journalists may find that their coverage skews toward a narrow readership. One Australian journalist told us that the rape protests gained prominence on Twitter “because [social media] is city-based and at the center of the life of the middle class, university students, and mobile professionals.” The journalist from Neue Zürcher Zeitung told us “it is easy to share ideas and read articles of colleagues or see what intellectuals think.” What’s more difficult is to get beyond that narrow demographic and understand the views of Indians whose voices are not heard on social media.
According to Rohan Venkataramakrishnan, senior reporter at the Mail Today, social media presents a challenge for nuanced debate: “If I wanted to write about how Indian society needs to change or how patriarchy needs to be dealt with, I cannot say it in 140 characters.”
While journalists may have personal affinity with social media users, several of them told us that to get a more representative understanding of issues, they pay attention to television and newspapers. Here’s the journalist from Neue Zürcher Zeitung: “Television, newspapers, and talking to people on the streets were much more important [in newsgathering]. Only a very small part of society has access to social media, but everyone watches television.”
In addition to questions of representation, journalists have another reason to discount social media reporting. As we discussed in an earlier piece, India’s newspaper industry is thriving. With healthy growth in newspaper circulation and advertising, many journalists are skeptical about what social media can do for Indian journalism right now. When we conducted interviews with journalists at The Hindu, we encountered a widespread belief that social media is mostly for soft news. But that was before the Delhi gang rape and protests. The question now is: Will this event change the role of social media in Indian journalism?
In the past, television networks have been the largest players in Indian news coverage. Social media haven’t changed that, but have instead provided new avenues for news-gathering and story distribution. In the months preceding the events, Indian newspapers and television had covered a number of rape cases. But the December Delhi gang rape proved to be different. The brutality of the attack and the scale of the protests brought international attention to India’s problem of violence against women. Some journalists we spoke to highlighted the role of protest in democratizing India’s media.
The Delhi gang rape case prompted many journalists to use Twitter for updates on events and immediate responses from activists. To a greater extent than in previous protests, social media helped journalists keep a finger on the pulse of middle class India and get their immediate feedback on important issues. An Australian reporter said that “Twitter was really helpful to get a sense of the public sentiment and developments.” He followed the #delhigangrape hashtag, the official Twitter account of the Indian government, women’s groups, pressure groups, and Indian media on the subject.
Venkataramakrishnan, the journalist who found 140 characters limiting, nonetheless said that the protests have been incubators for social media sophistication in India. “Following the Anna Hazare case and the Delhi gang rape case, social media began to achieve a critical mass,” he told us.
Many journalists cited the importance of social media for background information. A journalist from The Hindu told us “I look at tweets by our own editor, editors from other newspapers, well known journalists such as Pritish Nandy [a columnist with The Times of India and the Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar], Abhijit Majumder [editor of the Delhi edition of the Hindustan Times], and Saikat Dutta [a Delhi-based editor of the newspaper DNA]. I also look up tweets by television journalists such as Shiv Aroor [deputy editor at Headlines Today]. You get a mix of opinions from their tweets. Knowing these people’s perspectives helps me during coverage — but only indirectly…I rely on what I see when I am on the ground.”
Here we see the emergence of new storytelling beats. Many journalists and activists discussed how they used Twitter to stay informed about the locations of the protests. In this sense, social media has allowed for a new type of beat as well as a new element in storytelling. A foreign correspondent told us: “Last week, one of the accused rapists died in his prison cell, I found out about it on social media. I logged on Twitter, found students, and from there, the media picked up in India and our news organization called sources and confirmed.” Social media also helped journalists learn what coverage audiences wanted to read and see. Zoe Daniel, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Southeast Asia correspondent, told us that in response to demand from members of India’s social media-savvy diaspora, she’s made plans for a documentary on the Delhi gang rape case.
Our editors and reporter were tweeting individually — we had very hectic social media activity during the case. We were inviting opinions on the goings on in the case; we were asking questions, we were asking people what they think are the solutions to the problems. We were interacting with people, asking them if they are joining a protest and how they are reaching the protest grounds. We promoted certain petitions by change.org. We asked people if they felt certain provisions should be incorporated in these petitions. I tweeted on the organizational account. I also tweeted on my individual account, especially when the girl died.
These interactions reveal new interest in social media by both Indian and foreign journalists covering the protests. In India, social media is a nascent enterprise still finding its place in journalism. But in time, we may see the the 2012 Delhi gang rape protests as a watershed moment for social media in news gathering and distribution. This case demonstrates how journalists respond to social media and how social media allows for new spaces for storytelling in India.
Social media has allowed a small but growing part of the Indian public to join in discussions of soft and hard news. To date, online storytelling has catered to certain demographic groups: the middle and upper classes, the intellectuals, activists, and journalists. Middle class discontent found a place on social media, but marginalized and subaltern groups had minimal representation or participation in social media discussions.
The Delhi gang rape case gives us insight into ongoing changes in India’s public sphere. Jürgen Habermas defined the public sphere as “a realm of social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed.” But what kind of public sphere? Today, social media offer (at best) limited access to marginalized groups. Journalists who want to know about those groups cannot rely on social networking sites; they must visit often-remote towns, villages, and slums where most residents remain disconnected from social media. In the Delhi gang rape case and many other stories affecting India, social media is essential in research and reporting. At the same time, perhaps the greatest lesson is the limitation of social media: They offer starting points for news-gathering and distribution, but they haven’t replaced traditional journalism.
Smeeta Mishra is an assistant professor at the Centre for Culture, Media & Governance at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi. Her research interests include new media, research methods, Muslim studies, and gender issues.
Colin Agur is a Ph.D. candidate in communications at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a visiting fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project. He is interested in cultural and sociological aspects of mobile phone use in developing countries, and his dissertation research is based on ethnographic fieldwork in India.
When you run a startup that leans on journalism, the hunt for a stable business model is top of mind. Burt Herman, cofounder of Storify, said he feels an urgency to find ways to monetize the service, which helps individuals and publishers collect and curates social media into stories. That’s in part because Storify is now three years old, but also because Herman has more than a decade of experience as a journalist working for the Associated Press — meaning he’s seen the disruption of the media business up close.
Last week, his company took its first step towards a business model: Storify announced the creation of Storify VIP, a new paid version of the service that offers a new tier of features and customization for users. The VIP program is designed with big publishers — who have an army of journalists and money to spend — in mind. The BBC has already signed up.
I spoke with Herman about the decision to create a premium version of Storify, how the company might explore advertising, and where he sees entrepreneurial journalism going this year. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
On the other side, there’s definitely an advertising model we’ve talked about. And it’s still something we kind of have out there for the future. The idea there is to come up with a native form of ad that goes in a Storify story — that is a social ad, like other things in Storify stories. It could be a promoted quote, or a promoted video, or a promoted photo from a brand that is trying to get a certain message out there.
That’s still something we’re talking about. But that requires a larger scale, and being able to sell a specific new form of advertising. But if we do that, we’d also want to do it in a way that works together with our users, and share revenue back with the people creating the stories. That’s really the most valuable thing, and we’re really lucky we’ve gathered this community of amazing people who, everyday, find the best of what’s out there.
We do think there is room for this new form of advertising. We’ve talked about different ways of doing this: It could be more like we promote content to the user creating a story, and whether they want to put that in the story is their own decision. But it’s very clear that’s promoted in some way — that someone is paying to get in front of the eyes of our valuable user base. That is something we have experimented with a little bit, and it is quite an interesting model to look at — not advertising to the masses but advertising to this more elite user base.
We didn’t intend to be a live-blogging platform, but people have been using us in that way, which is great. So we want to serve that need too. That’s something that can be quite expensive, to service live updates on embeds that are being viewed hundreds of thousands or billions of times around the web. That’s a pretty technically intensive thing, so just to make it sustainable to us, that’s why we’re putting that in the premium tier of features.
But it’s the story in place that gets changed, which I still would be interested in seeing people thinking about more. Newspapers do that, but they just don’t show you that they’re doing it. Or the next day, they’ll just post a new story, because they’re still in this daily cycle. But what if the story itself was just in one place and kept changing over time as developments occur? I think that’s the idea we had originally.
I thought, initially, journalists will use this and see, “Oh, the Supreme Court is hearing the gay marriage case,” and just see what people are saying in general and mine the best — look for who’s reacting, and kind of pull things in. The thing I did not expect to see, which people have used Storify for, is to say, “Hey, we’re just starting this story, send us what you think about it and use this hashtag on Instagram, on Twitter, respond to us on Facebook, we’ll take the best thing you do and put them in a story and publish it.” It’s much more of an engaging way of creating a story — where it’s not just gathering reaction, but tell us what we should put in the story, we’re going to include what our audience is doing.
The New York Times has done some really interesting things with Instagram — like during storms, the big winter storm in February, or Fashion Week in New York, asking their readers, “Hey, send photos on Instagram, tag them #NYTfashionweek and we’ll put the best ones on The New York Times.” I think it’s really cool to see journalists getting this idea that yes, this is not just a one-way thing anymore — we don’t just decide what we write and call the people we want and put it out there. Now it’s really working collaboratively with the audience to create something bigger.
How can you not want to do this? As a journalist, I was always wanting to know what are people talking about, what are the stories that I’m missing that are out there. Now you can see what people are talking about, at least a segment of people, using social media. That’s a large group of people, and growing all the time. I just think: How could you not embrace that and look at that if you’re a journalist who wants to get the stories that are out there?
There’s not a simple way to do that and just make it look nice, or to keep it for yourself or a smaller group. That’s another reason why we’re planning to launch things now like this private story feature. We noticed people simply saving stuff without adding any text in a story, or just saving drafts and never publishing stories because they wanted to keep it somewhere and refer to something, or show it to somebody.
We’re just inundated by all this media now. Everybody has the power to create things and publish easily, instantly, all around the world. It’s great, but it’s getting harder and harder to figure out where the valuable stuff is in all of that.
We hope that people also think to use us in other cases when it isn’t just mining what’s out there when it’s a huge event — a smaller, local scale, or asking the audience to help find stories. We’re seeing more of that. That’s also why we wanted to move in this direction we’re launching, to work more closely with people and be more embedded in their organizations too, so it’s not just the social media editor who says, “Hey, there’s this Supreme Court thing — can you get a reaction thing on the blog?”
I think it’s definitely kind of shifted here, people are wanting to see the business model in what you’re doing. Unless you have massive, massive scale, you have to have a business model. We are lucky the users we have, more than 600,000 people, are amazing, high-level users. That’s why, as we look at that, we say, “Okay, let’s figure out how we can make this more sustainable and work with them and hopefully help give them some of the things they want. But also make sure we can survive into the future. “
People seem to understand that now. People have grown a little skeptical of companies that don’t seem to have a business model and you wonder when they’re going to do something. So far, the reaction has been hugely positive — I think people understand why we’re doing this.
We do need things related to media, but I think people will go there. It is still a huge business — billions of dollars are spent on advertising on the web, and even in print still. Startups will go there. I think there are a lot of incubators, Matter and other people, who are focusing on that.
I guess I’m worried that when you support things and force them to be nonprofit or open source, which some of the Knight News Challenge grants did earlier, that it limits the potential of some of these organizations. I love Spot.us, and Dave Cohn is a great guy, and I always think of it as he had the idea for Kickstarter before it existed. But it was limited because it had to be open source and nonprofit and only in a local area. There were all these constrictions on how he was supposed to operate. He had some success, but what could have been if he wasn’t limited in that way? I just think any of these new things should not limit people and Matter is definitely not doing that.
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