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January 09 2012

19:45

Why media outlets team up in an election year

We’ve reached the point in journalism where we barely bat an eye when two news organizations say they’re joining forces. Anything less than a merger is just not an earth mover these days, when egos, brands, unique audiences — all of the guarded, proprietary stuff that kept news companies at opposite ends of the sword — seem to matter less in the face of an uncertain journalism marketplace.

In that way the new partnership between NBC News and Newsweek/The Daily Beast to cover the 2012 election shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s a classic partnership of two organizations looking for a Doublemint effect: Double the resources, double the coverage, double the audience. The plan calls for campaign trail reporting from NBC (and a healthy dose of video) to appear in the pages of Newsweek and online at The Daily Beast. [UPDATE: See correction below.] Call it NBCWeekBeast. (NBeastCWeek?)

But there’s something about politics in particular that seems to bring out the hugging and sharing in news organizations. A presidential election brings out the heavy news artillery, and that means a flurry of scooplets coming from all directions — from the networks, from newspapers national and local, from blogs, from campaigns, and everywhere else. All that firepower pointed in the same direction makes the urge to team up more tempting than ever. (Take for example The New York Times’ Election 2012 iPhone app, which is built more on linking and aggregation than any Times product before it — this, despite the fact that the Times devotes enormous resources to its own coverage.)

History backs this instinct. After all, for years outlets — like the Times and CBS News or ABC News and The Washington Post — have linked up for the purposes of polling. At the same time debates, from the local legislative races up to the president level, have long been collaborations across media, whether it’s the local newspaper and public media, or CNN, Politico, and The Los Angeles Times.

What’s interesting is how many of these partnerships derive from cross-media competitors. Pre-web, The New York Times and CBS News had reporters chasing the same stories — but a broadcast nightly news show and a morning newspaper could comfortably share an audience without excluding either. With everyone competing on the same platforms these days — the web, your smartphone — the calculus is different. And it’s unclear how far these partnerships will extend beyond election season — a beat that is both extended (the presidential election will last a lot longer than mega-events like the Oscars or the Super Bowl) and predictable (that once-every-four-years scheduling means there’s time to align up multiple outlets’ interests).

As indicated by the number of media outlets launching (or relaunching) their politics offerings, we also know it’s an area that can spike pageviews and draw a reliable audience. (The New Yorker’s the latest, just today.) Readers are on the hunt for their election coverage earlier than ever, be it tracking polls, candidate gaffes, new endorsements, or daily overviews, and news organizations are jockeying for position. And it doesn’t hurt that once you have a politics vertical it’s that much easier to take advantage of the spending on political ads. But that underlying tension between the journalist’s desire for exclusivity and the brand’s desire to aggregate content will be something to keep watching from here to election day.

Correction: This piece originally said the sharing would go both ways, from Newsbeast to NBC and from NBC to Newsbeast. In fact, it’s only the latter — NBC content flowing to Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Sorry.

Image by Jiheffe used under a Creative Commons license.

February 22 2011

15:00

Attitudes in the tubes: An Irish site mines Twitter for political trends

Editor’s Note: On Friday, voters in Ireland will go to the polls to elect members of its lower house of Parliament and, by proxy, the Taoiseach, or prime minister.

Since just about any news organization might have reason to cover an election at some point — and since we here in the U.S. are edging closer to our own two-year marathon — we thought it might be useful to look at how one upstart Irish online news outlet, TheJournal.ie, is using social media data to examine the sentiment of the voting public. Irish newspaper and web designer Fergus Kelly reports.

My favorite webpage of the entire election campaign is The Journal’s #ge11 Twitter Tracker, launched earlier this month. It’s brilliant. In essence it presents an analysis of the tweet stream in Ireland, showing which parties and party leaders are being talked about most and the attitude of the public to the party leaders in a very graphic and simple to understand way (much, much simpler than that last sentence). I look at it several times a day, watching for changes in volume of tweets and how people are feeling about the parties.

The Journal’s aim is to innovate in the Irish media sector and to encourage users to be part of the process, a socialization of news that is gathering momentum worldwide. It is now my first port of call for finding news. The Twitter Tracker follows on from interesting ideas like the 9 at 9 (nine things you need to know at 9 a.m.), Take 5 (five things you need to know by 5 p.m.), the Daily Fix (its pick of the highs and lows of the day’s election campaign), and daily polling — delivering bite-sized, curated, interactive, and realtime news.

To help create the tracker, The Journal turned to Clarity, a partnership between University College Dublin, Dublin City University and Tyndall National Institute (TNI) Cork. Adam Bermingham, a Ph.D. researcher with Clarity, told me that it is “aiming to turn raw data from the (usually social) web into meaningful and valuable information which is easily consumed and understood.”

“For the Twitter Tracker project, we have applied the technologies we have developed over the last few years to the political domain to provide analysis, which has been visualised and editorialised by TheJournal.ie,” he said.

That editorialisation and visualisation is pretty good. The best feature of the Twitter Tracker (very graphically) presents the most talked about party leader on Twitter, with the option of analysis of the Last Few Hours, Last Day, or the Whole Campaign. It uses the size-of-head metaphor to graph the data — the biggest head is the most talked about — and it can be most amusing. Sentiment is visualised using something like the Swingometer popularized by the BBC for election coverage.

It also has a graph of the volume and sentiment of tweets about the parties over the past week, showing the most talked-about party. This graph is (only occasionally, unfortunately) annotated with stories from The Journal to explain spikes in the graph, and the dates it covers can be adjusted.

The top trending candidates in the past day or week are also displayed, with a short profile of each to explain who they are.

The top 10 words associated with each leader and party over the past week is also enlightening. For example, at the time of writing, the word most associated with Labour’s Eamon Gilmore was “Taoiseach,” while this was only eighth for Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny. I wonder why?

“The top terms are important terms which have been uniquely mentioned in relation to the leaders or parties in question. In this way we get an idea of what concepts have a strong association that is intrinsically linked to that leader or party,” Bermingham said.

Finally, the tracker looks at the top retweets. This feature is based only on the new Twitter retweet format and therefore may not give a perfect result. Adam told me he had “developed a solution for the old school retweet [RT] but there is inevitably a problem in being able to say for sure where an old school retweet first originated. This remains an exercise for future work!”

The tech

Clarity attempts to provide analysis “beyond simple data such as word clouds and search results.” This idea becomes clear in the sentiment analysis feature of the Twitter Tracker. Clarity has developed methods to create high-quality training data from human input which is then “mined for patterns and used by state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms to identify sentiment in new data.” In other words, once their system has been trained, it can analyze anything — in this case a real-time stream of tweets — and identify attitudes. Its technology is able to do this in less than a minute.

The tracker has been looking at #ge11 on Twitter. I wondered how the central control of social networking accounts, notably by Fine Gael, may skew the analysis.

Adam said: “We don’t skew our analysis towards or away from particular sources/users. While this is possible, and even advisable for certain applications, we felt that for this election, the first general election in Ireland to be influenced by Twitter, it is valuable to present a zeitgeist of the electorate as well as the candidates, parties and party members. What we aim to do is to help people, who may not be familiar with Twitter, understand the fabric of Twitter, as it is being used, by everyone who has something to say about the election.”

The Journal is one of the most innovative news websites in Ireland. Its use of Huffington Post-style aggregation, coupled with internally generated news (with a target of a 50/50 split), broke new ground in Ireland. It’s part of the same group, Distilled Media, that created daft.ie, boards.ie, and adverts.ie and has an advertising-driven business model but currently only carries ads for other companies in the group. With more high-tech partnerships with emerging tech companies, sites like this can only add choice and therefore increase innovation in a behind-the-curve market like Ireland.

A version of this post originally appeared at Fergus’ website.

December 16 2010

18:02

CNN's Joshua Levs Uses Social Media Savvy in Hard, Soft News

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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.

When Joshua Levs left NPR's Atlanta Bureau to become a correspondent for CNN, he found that something was missing. Specifically, it was time. The rapid pace of TV left him with a fraction of the time he once had to present the many layers of a story. In the end, Levs saw that social media could fill the gap and provide an additional avenue for him to share information and connect.

"I like to give more information," Levs said. "Social media is a way for me to tell you more than I can on air." That's one reason he often closes a story by saying that he'll post additional details on his Twitter account or Facebook page.

One of the most social media-savvy journalists in broadcast news, the Murrow-award winner and Yale grad has carved out a niche both in complex international and economic stories, and fun, offbeat features such as his weekly "Viral Video Rewind" segment. (Anchor Kyra Phillips last month called him one of CNN's "premier Facebookers.") But social media isn't just about getting information out there -- it's also about bringing it in.

"He knows how to strike the right balance between using it as a way to get leads for an ongoing story and using it to share his own thoughts with the world at large," says Sree Sreenivasan, the dean of student affairs at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and a professor of digital media who teaches social media workshops. "Unlike Josh, too many journalists only use it as a one-way communications tool."

Iran Protests

One of Levs' most recognizable efforts was his coverage of the violent Iran election protests in June 2009.

"The Iran riots showed us that times have changed," Levs said. "A few Tweets can lead you to discover something that an entire country with soldiers doesn't want you to know. It was a huge change. It was a sign that newsgathering now has a new option."

Even though Iran banned journalists from covering protests over the disputed victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, outraged citizens posted videos of the violent repercussions online. A CNN editorial team worked around the clock reviewing them.

"We would talk and look at the videos that came in and say, 'What do we know about it? Can we verify anything here? Do we recognize the location? Is there anyone at all we can reach to help us understand what's in here?' It went through a pretty complex and important -- but also swift -- vetting process," Levs said.

Finally they decided which videos to air, and which ones needed scenes blurred, like the death of 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan.

"That one was particularly shocking ... horrifying," he said. "We studied it to try to gather any information we could about the location, confirm the authenticity, etc. We had native speakers listen to the words being shouted. It's a devastating video to see, and being the one to tell the world about Neda was not an easy task. But it was important."

Levs presented the videos with what he describes as a message of total transparency.

"We would say on the air, 'Look, because of these limitations now inside Iran, there's a lot we cannot tell you; here's what we do know about this video,'" he said.

Election Coverage

Today, social media is a critical daily newsgathering tool. For example, Levs covered voting irregularities in the November elections this year, just as he did in 2008. But this year brought a large-scale social media outreach to viewers.

"We said 'Hey, any information you get, any experiences you have, and questions, problems -- get in touch with us,'" he said.

Watch him in action during the election:

Levs said he's seeing more law enforcement and court officials using social media when big stories break. For example, law enforcement officials used Twitter to update the media during September's hostage stand-off at Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Politicians and even federal agencies now use social media.

"There are people out there who don't use Twitter much, or don't know how to use it, and they say, 'You can't report what you see on Twitter,'" he said. "Right -- you can't report what some random person puts on Twitter. But when it's an official agency that's putting information out there, that's what you should be reporting. You make sure that you're dealing with official sourcing and then you grab it and you say, 'They just put this information out there.' That's our new reality. It used to be fast. Now it really is instantaneous."

Just as using social media for newsgathering requires caution, communicating with viewers takes care as well, according to Levs.

He said reporters should be sure they only post items of value that are appropriate and worthy of being in print or on the air.

"It's easy to get lost in the maze on Twitter and on Facebook, so you want to be sure that you keep in mind what your role is -- that's what you're focusing on all the time," he said.

Levs on the Lookout

His job also has a lighter side. Every weekend his "Levs on the Lookout" segment highlights the week's most unique stories. It opens with animation that one of his producers says highlights his "animated personality."

He also features some of the week's most interesting and often funniest viral videos.

"For me, Viral Video Rewind is a weekly dessert," Levs said. "I cover so many hard news stories all week -- sometimes three or four different topics in a single day. But these videos also say a lot about us and our society at this time. They're reflections of what excite and fascinate people. Plus, when you look back at previous generations, you don't just look at the news stories that were above the fold on newspapers. You also look at what movies and shows they were excited about. That's what viral videos are in this era."

Terri Thornton, a former investigative reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly.

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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.

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November 11 2010

16:31

Burma Elections Include Throttled Net, Blocked News Sites

Japanese journalist Toru Yamaji, the head of the Tokyo-based news agency APF, was arrested over the weekend in the eastern border town of Myawaddy, Burma, after reportedly entering from Thailand.

He was taken by helicopter to the Burmese capital, Naypyitaw, for questioning by military intelligence. Yamaji was attempting to report on the ongoing elections in Burma, despite the restrictions put in place by the military junta that rules the country they call Myanmar. Fortunately, Yamaji was released yesterday.

Along with arresting and restricting the access of journalists, Burma also used the election as an occasion to downgrade Internet speeds and stifle the online press. Here's a look at the crackdown that accompanied the recent, highly questionable, vote.

Visa Restrictions

On October 18, Burma's election commission decided not to grant press visas to foreign journalists, reinforcing the impression that the military government intended to isolate the country during the election. The commission's chairman, Thein Soe, said that Burma did not need any foreign journalists or observers because it already had a lot of experience in holding elections. This, despite the fact that the country last had elections 20 years ago.

Several European journalists had their requests for tourist visas rejected by the Burmese authorities.

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"The Burmese diplomats have clearly learned to use Google and are rejecting applications by people who are identifiable as journalists," a French reporter whose visa was denied told Reporters Without Borders. Twenty-five Burmese journalists who work for foreign media and two Chinese correspondents were the only foreign media reporters allowed to cover the elections.

A report by Simon Roughneen at Irrawaddy, an independent newsmagazine and website that reports on Burma, quoted an official with China Radio International saying that "usually we cannot report on Myanmar," or on other "sensitive stories," unless specifically asked to do so.

The election commission also announced on October 18 that media would not be allowed into voting stations. The commission and the country's Press Scrutiny Board, which is run by a military officer, closely examines all articles about the election and the statements of the 37 registered political parties. As an example, Favorite News, a privately owned magazine, was recently suspended for two weeks for publishing a cartoon that referred to the elections (see picture at right).

Monitoring Journalists

The Burmese correspondents of foreign news media were also closely monitored by plain-clothes police and soldiers during the voting on November 7, and throughout the preceding election campaign. "According to testimonies from reporters on the ground, some of them have been followed and sometimes searched, while the police spend their time taking photos of them while covering a story," according to a recent report published by our organization, Reporters Without Borders.

Foreign journalists have for decades been finding it extremely difficult to obtain press visas for Burma and have been forced to travel under tourist visas. This heightens the danger for the Burmese who work as fixers or agree to interviews. Zarganar, the Burmese blogger, actor, comedian and political prisoner, was jailed after talking to the BBC in 2008.

Zarganar, who is nicknamed the "Burmese Chaplin," was arrested on June 4 after talking to the BBC World Service and other foreign news media about delays in the humanitarian relief organized by the military after Cyclone Nargis struck the country in May 2008. He also blogged about the activities of the country's Buddhist monks during the September 2007 protests.

Zarganar was sentenced to 35 years in jail during a closed door trial at Insein prison. An extra 14 years were added to his sentence less than a week later. His sentence was then reduced back to 35 years. He is not due to be freed until 2033.

Internet Issues

Burma is home to some of the world's most draconian media laws, and it ranked 174 out of 178 countries in the 2010 Press Freedom Index. We have also labeled Burma as an "Enemy of the Internet," a distinction it continues to deserve thanks to its actions during the elections. Out of the 2,150-plus political prisoners in Burma, around 15 are journalists, and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists last year branded Burma the worst country in which to be a blogger.

It's therefore not surprising that Internet connections inside the country were noticeably reduced in preparation for voting. "I can no longer connect to my Gmail account using proxies," a Rangoon-based journalist said. "Accessing all the websites based abroad has become terribly slow."

According to Irrawaddy, Internet cafes in Rangoon were closed in advance of the elections. From a November 1 report on the website:

Burma's Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MPT) has sealed off Internet access for Internet cafes and businesses, according to experts on Burma's Internet infrastructure.

Sources close to the ministry who asked to maintain anonymity have told The Irrawaddy that Internet access is normal at all government and military institutions serviced by MPT, but "access for businesses and Internet cafes" is shut down to control the flow of information in and out of the country.

On October 5, Reporters Without Borders reported the disruption of two news websites due to Internet-based attacks. The Democratic Voice of Burma and Irrawaddy magazine were temporarily knocked offline. Both provide independent coverage of current affairs in Burma. The attacks are believed to have originated from the Burmese government.

On Sunday, the authorities ordered the privately owned Eleven Media group not to update the special "Elections" sections of its website or Facebook pages.

As of today, 13 reporters and two Netizens are behind bars in Burma. The fear is that more could join them in the aftermath of these elections.

Photo of Bagan by druidabruxux via Flickr

Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents," published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

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November 05 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: Rupert’s online reader purge, election-night innovation, and ideas at ONA10

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week's top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

Skepticism about News Corp.’s paywall numbers: Future-of-news nerds have been watching the paywall at The Times and Sunday Times of London pretty closely since it was instituted in June, and we finally got our first hard numbers about it this week, from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. itself. The company said 105,000 readers had paid up — either as subscribers or occasional purchasers — for the paper’s site or iPad or Kindle apps, with another 100,000 activating free digital accounts that came with their print subscriptions.

To hear News Corp. execs tell it, those numbers marked a huge success. The Times’ editor told the BBC he’s “hugely encouraged,” and Reuters led with the fact that the drop in readership was less than The Times had feared. (TBD’s Jim Brady called this rhetoric the Spinal Tap defense — “it isn’t less popular, its audience is just more selective.”) But most everyone outside the company was skeptical. The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade and blogger and web activist Cory Doctorow both said we have no idea how successfully this paywall is until we have some more substantive numbers to dig into.

Fortunately, TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld and Reuters’ Felix Salmon found some other relevant data that helps us make a bit more sense of the situation: Schonfeld looked at the Times’ sites’ traffic dive and concluded that its strategy might be working in the short run but not long-term, and Salmon pointed to another report that contradicts The Times’ apparent theory that print circulation is dropping because people are reading the paper online. “The fact is that insofar as printed newspapers compete with the web, they compete with everything on the web, not just their own sites,” Salmon said. “No general-interest publication can prevent its print circulation from declining simply by walling itself off from the web.” The New York Observer’s Ben Popper saw the numbers as a potential readers-vs.-revenue paradox, and The Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh took a stab at what that revenue what be.

Other critics were even more harsh: Lab contributor Ken Doctor said The Times’ numbers “don’t seem to provide a path to a sustainable business future for the papers, as readers go digital,” and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram argued that it’s time to officially deem the plans a bust. Former Guardian editor Emily Bell had the most insightful take on the situation, explaining that it indicates that The Times has become a mere pawn in Murdoch’s larger media-empire chess game, which means that “the influence game for The Times is up.” Once one of the world’s leading newspapers, “internationally it has no voice, or none to speak of, post the paywall,” Bell wrote.

Innovation on election night: The midterm elections made Tuesday easily the biggest day of the year in U.S. politics, but it was also an important day for news innovation as well. News organizations were trying out all kinds of flashy new web-related techniques and gizmos, all ably chronicled by Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman and by Matt Diaz here at the Lab. The online efforts were led by The New York Times’ streaming web video coverage and Twitter visualization, The Washington Post’s sponsored Twitter topic, and CNN’s web of holograms and magic walls.

Not all of those ambitious new-media efforts hit the mark: The Lab’s Megan Garber criticized The Times’ and Wall Street Journal’s webcasts for simply adopting many of cable news’ norms on the web rather than trying something web-native, saying they “had the feeling of trying to be cable news without actually, you know, being cable news.” And Poynter’s Regina McCombs had a tepid review of news organizations’ election-day iPad apps, giving them an A for effort and probably something around C+ for execution. “By the end of the night I was tired of how much work it was on mobile, and I went old school,” she wrote.

Of course, some things about the press’s election coverage never change: Most election-night TV coverage hasn’t been terribly helpful in the past, and this year it was marked by uneven analysis masked by excess. And leading up to the elections, the media again lavished the lion’s share of its attention on a fringe candidate with little chance to win but plenty of interesting sound bites. Election coverage didn’t come without a minor controversy, either, as ABC News invited and then uninvited budding conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart to participate in its coverage. NYU professor Jay Rosen issued a warning to the mainstream press about welcoming in those who are openly hostile toward it.

Ideas, conversations and ‘evil’ at ONA10: Quite a few folks in the news and tech worlds were headed to Washington last weekend — not for the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally, but for the Online News Association’s annual conference. (OK, probably for the rally, too.) As usual, the conference featured plenty of nifty speakers and panels, all of which were captured on video and helpfully gathered in one place by Jeff Sonderman. Other sites also created visualizations of the tweets around ONA 2010 and the association’s members.

We got several varied but useful summaries of the conference, starting with the Lab’s Justin Ellis, who recreated its sessions, one by one, through tweets. Craig Silverman of PBS MediaShift was just about as thorough with a roundup of both days’ events, focusing largely on the conference’s three keynotes covering TBD, NPR, AOL, and WikiLeaks. Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore listed five key themes from the conference, including the emergence of investigative journalism online and the decline of the “Is this journalism?” debate. The Online Journalism Review’s Pekka Pekkala had a review of themes, too, and NPR’s Patrick Cooper had some more personal thoughts on the conference, noting the youth and energy of its attendees.

The individual session that drew the most attention was a conversation with NPR CEO Vivian Schiller and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong (liveblogged by Tenore), in which USC j-prof Robert Hernandez asked Armstrong of AOL’s controversial large-scale hyperlocal news initiative, “Is Patch evil?” Armstrong responded by defending AOL’s treatment of Patch editors and pointing out its connections with local bloggers in Patch blogs’ areas. In a blog post, Hernandez explained his question and gave his thoughts on Armstrong’s answer, concluding, “Under the umbrella of ‘we care about the community,’ this is a business venture. That’s not evil, that’s capitalism.” Two other sessions worth reading a bit about: Webbmedia’s Amy Webb on digital storytelling and several others with advice for would-be journalism entrepreneurs.

Twitter adds ads to the stream: Twitter took another step in its integration of advertising into its platform this week with the introduction of Promoted Tweets in users’ tweet streams. The tweets will initially be tested only with users of the Twitter application HootSuite, with Twitter selling the ads and HootSuite getting a cut of the revenue, according to Advertising Age. The Next Web chatted with HootSuite’s Dave Olson about how it will work, and said that Promoted Tweets have successful and relatively inoffensive so far: “Focusing on a good user interaction, instead of simply on the money, Twitter has kept its users and advertisers happy.”

ReadWriteWeb’s Mike Melanson talked to a few web experts on the potential for user backlash, and they seemed to agree that while Twitter will likely get some initially angry responses, it may end up keeping a satisfied user base if it reacts well to that initial response. As Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land explained, Twitter’s Promoted Tweets were also added to Google search results, lending some credence to Mathew Ingram’s assertion at GigaOM that Twitter is in the process of growing up from an awkward teenager into a mature adult right now.

Reading roundup: A few good things to read before I send you on your way:

— Two relatively lengthy first-person pieces by journalists who did stints with the content farm Demand Media were published yesterday: A more colorful one by Jessanne Collins at The Awl and a more contextualized one by Nicholas Spangler at The Columbia Journalism Review. Both are worth your time.

— Your iPad update for this week: AdWeek looked at why most media companies’ iPad apps have been disappointing, and New York and Newsweek magazines released their iPad apps — Newsweek’s with a subscription option.

— The Columbia Journalism Review ran a short but sharp editorial urging news organizations to work toward earning authority based on factual reporting, rather than cowering in ideological niches, and Free Press’ Josh Stearns connected that idea to the concept of “talking to strangers.”

— Finally, three miscellaneous pieces to take a look at: Investigative journalism veteran Charles Lewis’ map of the new public-service journalism ecosystem, Jason Fry’s list of five places sports departments (and any news department, really) can innovate, and Steve Coll’s open letter to the FCC on digital media policy.

October 30 2010

00:49

4 Minute Roundup: Sunlight Foundation Tracks Money in Politics

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4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

In this week's 4MR podcast I talk with Sunlight Foundation's Ellen Miller about their efforts to track down the biggest donors in this year's election races. On Election Night, they will run their Sunlight Live platform that will give details on who has donated to whom as live video shows the winners and losers. Miller also talks about Sunlight's recent $1.2 million grant from the Knight Foundation.

Check it out:

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>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with Ellen Miller:

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Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Sunlight Foundation

Sunlight Live on Election Night

Sunlight Foundation to build 'National Data Apps' with Knight grant at Poynter

10 Projects That Help Citizens Become Government Watchdogs at PBS MediaShift (2009)

Sunlight Foundation Mixes Tech, Citizen Journalism to Open Congress at PBS MediaShift (2007)

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about how social media is affecting politics:




How will social media affect the U.S. midterm elections?online surveys

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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October 28 2010

18:37

How the Tea Party Utilized Digital Media to Gain Power



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The biggest story of the U.S. midterm election has been the growing influence of the Tea Party movement. Since their first rallies in early 2009, these vocal, visible conservatives have succeeded in shifting the center of American political discourse to the right. This election cycle, Tea Partiers have gone a step further, successfully backing primary challengers against moderate Republicans like Delaware's Mike Castle. So how has this confederation of online, conservative activists used new media to build their growing political base?

Think Local; Organize Nationally

First and foremost, the Tea Party movement has succeeded by connecting to the national conversation.

"I didn't really start using Facebook and Twitter until I got involved with the Tea Party movement," said Ana Puig, the 38-year-old leader of Pennsylvania's Kitchen Table Patriots (KTP).

Puig said much of KTP's online organizing would not have been possible without the help of two prominent, national conservative organizations: FreedomWorks and American Majority. These well-financed operations provide local Tea Party groups with the new media training and focus group-tested political messaging needed to get results.

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Using what she learned from these national organizations, Puig and co-founder Anastasia Przybylski set up the KTP's rudimentary website, which has proved effective in establishing the group's digital presence and in attracting new members. Puig said KTP has an email list of a couple thousand people and has attracted over 400 fans to its Facebook page since she created it a month ago.

These personalized digital resources have enabled KTP to stage dozens of rallies since it was founded in February 2009. They've also organized an online boycott of Dawn after it advertised during a MSNBC Tea Party documentary and are currently running get-out-the-vote operations for conservative candidates across the state.

Digital Tools

Brendan Steinhauser, FreedomWorks' director for federal and state campaigns, hinted at another way the Tea Party has grown its online political clout: By sharing digital tools.

"We see our new model at FreedomWorks as a service center for the grassroots," he explains.

This approach is based in part on the success Steinhauser had using Yahoo Groups and viral videos to revive the University of Texas chapter of the state's Young Conservatives organization in the years before YouTube was launched or Facebook became an open network. After his graduation in 2005, Steinhauser used the same tools to help found the Young Conservatives of California. He also published a book about his campus organizing experiences, The Conservative Revolution, and launched a blog with the same name.

Steinhauser was one of a handful of FreedomWorks staffers who have shown Puig, and many others like her, the digital ropes.

"A lot of it is training," Steinhauser explained. "Most of these people are new to politics."

In addition to seminars on the background and basics of political campaigning -- from the tactics of the American civil rights movement to tips on how to stage an interesting meeting -- FreedomWorks has sessions on social media.

"It's very basic stuff, but it goes a long way toward making an impact" with the older members of the Tea Party movement, he said.

FreedomWorks also offers more sophisticated digital resources to its network of 650,000 online conservative activists. Puig initially contacted the organization to have one of the KTP's rallies listed on a national Google Map that FreedomWorks created to share information about local Tea Party events. Steinhauser's group also helped fire-charge the Congressional town halls in summer of 2009 by featuring on their website an "August Recess Action Kit" to aid supporters in exposing "the real intentions and the economic ramifications of the...health care reform legislation on the table," as Mother Jones reported at the time.

Annotated Map

For the 2010 midterms, FreedomWorks created an interactive, nationwide map highlighting candidates in races where the organization is offering its endorsement (and the generous financial support of an affiliated political action committee). Users can log into the map to learn more about FreedomWorks' official views on the candidates, or to add their own personal comments and ratings on the politicians.

Steinhauser.jpg

Steinhauser said this user feedback is among the factors his group takes into account when deciding whether or not to support candidates that it considers to have questionable conservative credentials. One example of this process in action was in California, where FreedomWorks only recently endorsed the GOP's Senatorial nominee, Carly Fiorina.

The organization is also investing in creating new digital activism tools.

"We will have a FreedomWorks app after the election," Steinhauser said.

According to him, this organizing application will integrate with Facebook and other social networks to lower the barriers for communication and collaboration between individual Tea Parties.

"The hardest part about a new technology is trying to get someone to use it," he said.

Steinhauser expects the "Grassroots Action Center," as FreedomWorks is calling the new project, to go live in January or February. "GAC will allow us to be a bigger hub for these different groups," he predicted.

Divisive Tactics?

While the Tea Party has been criticized for being a very vocal minority and out of the mainstream, they have succeeded in getting previously apolitical Americans involved in politics. Many critics have said the Tea Party movement doesn't have a coherent message and sometimes appears to be unorganized and chaotic.

American Majority is one of a few national umbrella groups trying to change that. The conservative activism education and organizational training they provide have been also played an essential role in the Tea Party's digital success. This strategy includes everything from traditional guidance and financial support for get-out-the-vote operations -- like the one Ana Puig and the Kitchen Table Patriots are currently conducting with American Majority in Pennsylvania -- to more innovative (and arguably objectionable) online activism.

Below is footage from an American Majority seminar, featured in the newly released documentary Turf Wars. In the brief clip, the group's trainer encourages activists to game the ratings systems on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Amazon.

"Literally 80 percent of the books I put a star on, I don't read," the American Majority employee brags. "That's how you control the online dialogue."

At one point in the video, the trainer connects the patriots of the American Revolution with Tea Partiers today.

"We become digital activists," he said. "We identify the medium, we learn the medium, we manipulate the medium. It was printing presses then, it's the Internet now."

These "guerrilla tactics," as the trainer described them, are reminiscent of the secret online campaign by the Digg Patriots to "bury" or censor progressive stories on the social news site, and to promote conservative content. Before the release of this new documentary about right-wing activism, Greenpeace online community organizer Chris Eaton pointed to the Digg group as part of what he referred to as the right-wing "echo chamber." On Digg -- and apparently Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon, and other social sites -- Tea Partiers "hear what to say and repeat it often," he said.

Whether or not you agree with what they're saying, there's no denying that the Tea Party movement has effectively deployed digital technology to increase their size and political influence. But until Election Day comes to a close, we won't know for sure how receptive the wider voting public is to their strongly conservative messages.

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based editorial assistant at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of the New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at the Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar.

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October 26 2010

17:50

Will Geo-Location Services Play a Role in Elections?

The experiments that took place with Facebook and Twitter during the 2008 presidential campaign are now viewed as standard operating procedure just two years later. Will the same be said about location-based services come 2012?

Foursquare and Gowalla are the current crowned kings of geo-location and have been getting regular mentions in the tech blogosphere and beyond.



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Geo-social is very much in its early stages, with smaller adoption rates compared with Twitter and Facebook. But it's still playing a role in this year's elections. Several campaigns have been updating their status with their location in the hope of being seen as on the cutting edge with social media, and as a new way to interact with voters.

The Foursquarian Candidate

Following the news that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley would not seek re-election after more than 20 years in office, digital marketing company Proximity Chicago recently announced a contest to annoint a new mayor using Foursquare.

The Proximity office in downtown Chicago has been dubbed the City of Chicago Mayoral Headquarters. Now people can check in on Foursquare when they are in the vicinity. The more often they check in, the higher they rank. The person with the most check-ins by October 31 becomes the Foursquarian Mayor and receives marketing materials such as logos, slogans, bumper stickers and signage, among other support from Proximity, to actually stage a real run for the job as mayor of Chicago.

The current Foursquarian mayor is Rob Mowry, who over a recent three-day period checked into Proximity's City of Chicago Mayoral Headquarters more than 50 times. Below is a look at some of the tweets and check-ins associated with the contest:

It's a fierce competition and the fact that there are subtle ways of cheating your location means the contest is not without a hat tip to political traditions in Chicago.

"It's still a new enough social media platform that it can be manipulated a little bit," said Kevin Lynch, creative lead at Proximity Chicago, who is heading up the Foursquarian project. "It's not truly a Chicago election without a little bit of controversy. This is in keeping with the established history of the city."

Lynch said in a phone interview that ideally the contest will garner attention for an unknown candidate, or enable a well-known candidate to show constituents they understand how communications work circa 2010. So far Rahm Emanuel and other top tier candidates have not checked in.

The Geo-Social Campaign Toolkit

I Voted Badge.gif

In terms of the larger political season, Foursquare has not released an official badge or program. This is despite an online lobbying effort for the company to develop an "I voted" badge. Gowalla, however, is off to the races with the 2010 campaign toolkit it released in August.

Gowalla's platform was initially adopted by candidates including Charlie Crist, Rick Perry and Jim Ward, with additional candidates jumping on board since.

"It's fun, but also a lot of work," Alejandro Garcia, Gov. Rick Perry's campaign spokesperson, said in a phone interview. "Anything that we feel might be a good tool we try out. It's sometimes hard to pinpoint what works."

The candidates, along with their supporters, can create Gowalla events to check into, including rallies, town halls and other political happenings. Additionally, campaigns can create candidate pages with an open "follow" button on their Gowalla Passports. People that attend fundraisers, meetings and other events receive the candidate's custom passport stamp for their Gowalla passport and an "I Voted" pin on election day.

Despite the buzz around geo-social, there isn't a lot of check-in activity on Crist, Perry and Ward's pages. (Rick Perry currently has 68 Gowalla followers, Charlie Crist has 55 and Jim Ward has 38.) Andy Ellwood, director of business development at Gowalla, said in a phone interview that activity in 2010 might be low, but the potential value for candidates could be significant.

"It's not just an 'I'm at Starbucks in Louisville,' " Ellwood said. "Candidates are pushing these types of initiatives [because] they don't just want their supporters to say they are following them, but to say, 'I've actually decided to use my time and my foot traffic to come out to an event that is specific to the way that I am going to vote in the elections.' "

Some critics argue that it's just too early for geo-social to make a big impact in the 2010 elections, and that the small number of early Foursquare and Gowalla adopters won't likely reach enough voters to justify a campaign's time and money.

All that suggests geo-social could still be a big thing come 2012.

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.

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October 25 2010

17:12

GOP Beating Democrats with Social Media for Midterm Elections

There is a major shift going on in politics this election cycle, with more candidates and campaigns using social media and technology to boost their chances. From today until the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 2, MediaShift presents an in-depth special report, PoliticalShift 2010, with data visualizations, analysis, a 5Across video roundtable and live CoverItLive chat on Election Night with special guests. Stay tuned.

If 2008 was the year that social networks like Facebook and Twitter broke through to mainstream America, then 2010 is shaping up to be the election year that's defined by social media.

Consider that three out of five Americans who consider themselves somewhat politically active are members of a social network, and 70 percent of them expect to vote on Nov. 2, according to a recent study from the E-Voter Institute.

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Meanwhile, a report from the non-partisan HeadCount.org shows Republicans appear to be more engaged online than Democrats in this election cycle. Out of the current crop of Senate candidates, the Republicans have more than 1.4 million friends on Facebook and over 500,000 followers on Twitter.

By contrast, the Democratic Senate candidates have roughly 300,000 friends on Facebook and around 90,000 followers on Twitter as of September 21. Use the interactive chart below to compare the social media clout of current Democratic, Independent and Republican Senate candidates:

Social Media Senate Snapshot
Social Media Senate Snapshot

You can also track Facebook page stats by using the Facebook Page Leaderboard over at AllFacebook.com. The site also provides an interactive 2010 election guide made using Facebook stats. And you can find the top Twitter rankings and stats at Twitaholic.

Republicans On the Rise

Campaign Spending Pie Chart, 99% of ads offline and 1% online

Democrats were early adopters of social media, user-generated content and blogging, but it appears that Republican supporters have caught up with, and in some ways surpassed, their rivals online. In seven of the eight races listed as toss-ups by the New York Times on Oct. 21, the Facebook fan gap has widened over the past month. Also worth watching are the difficult-to-poll three-way race in Alaska and the race in California, which was used by Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight as a case study on last-minute comebacks.

In contrast to the 2008 presidential elections, many campaigns are choosing traditional forms of political advertising instead of online ads. "This year, ascendant Republicans are flush with cash," wrote Mike Shields at AdWeek. "So why not spend big on TV and use the web for its free communications platforms." Shields cited a Borrell Associates estimate that about $44 million would be spent on web ads but that would make up a miniscule fraction of total ad spending this year.

Who Are the Social Media Rock Stars?

Use the interactive chart below to see how the most popular politicians and political parties measure up online. How do they compare to other widely followed sometimes controversial public figures?

Who Is A Social Media Rockstar?
Who Is A Social Media Rockstar?

How are voters using social media in 2010 and what do they expect of politicians? Use the interactive chart below to see how the Web is changing politics.

A Look At Voter Participation and Expectations
A Look At Voter Participation and Expectations

Outside of the Senate candidates, the Republicans have several social media rock stars, while the Democrats have just one. Although @barackobama has more online friends and followers than any American politician, several Democratic heavy-hitters are sitting on the sidelines while Republicans are revving up their political base.

Vice President Joe Biden's Twitter account went silent shortly before he was chosen by Obama as a running mate in August 2008. And while Hillary Clinton does not appear to have a working Facebook or Twitter account (outside of occasional quotes on the @StateDept Twitter feed), Sarah Palin tops 2 million fans on Facebook and @SarahPalinUSA has over 280,000 followers

Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, has more Facebook friends than Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States. President Clinton's Twitter account -- assuming it is not a fake -- is set to private and is punching way below its weight.

Senator John McCain has two active Twitter accounts with a combined total over 1.73 million followers. They are @TeamMcCain for his Senate re-election campaign and @SenJohnMcCain.

About the Data

In the interest of openness and transparency, I am making the curated data set available as a public Google Spreadsheet. If you use it, be sure to cite the original sources. The data used in the above visualizations come from several primary sources:

E-Voter Institute -- The E-Voter Institute is a non-partisan trade association founded in 1999 to advance the interests of web publishers and solution providers within the political and advocacy communities. They worked with HCD Research to survey more than 1,500 people on a range of issues related to technology and politics. The Fifth Annual Survey of Voter Expectations was released in September of 2010. You can download a free version of the report: Executive Summary (PDF)

HeadCount -- HeadCount is a nonpartisan 501©(3) organization that registers voters at concerts and works with musicians to promote participation in democracy. Since the HeadCount report was published in late September, the Facebook fan and Twitter follower counts for 10 races and 22 selected politicians, political parties or public figures were updated by hand on Oct. 21. You can download a free copy of the full report: G.O.P. Winning Social Media Battle By Wide Margin (PDF)

Borrell Associates -- The company's 2010 Political Advertising Outlook was widely cited in media reports.

******

Do you think that social media will play a large role in future elections? Does social media engagement translate into volunteer work, campaign contributions and voter turnout? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Anthony Calabrese is journalist based in Washington, D.C., who specializes in data visualization and digital storytelling. He works as a web producer for the State of the USA where he blogs about measuring the nation's progress. Previously, he worked as a data researcher on the Best Colleges and Best Graduate Schools publications at U.S. News & World Report. He holds a master's degree in interactive journalism from American University and is an active member of the Online News Association.

You can connect on LinkedIn, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @2mrw

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July 30 2010

17:57

Learning From Failure in Community-Building at Missouri

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

I recently had an opportunity that is rarely handed to a journalism school professor: The chance to be a member of the inaugural class of the Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellows in the 2008-09 school year.

I already have a unique job. As an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, I am also a new media director at the university-owned NBC-affiliate, KOMU-TV. I teach new media and I manage its production in a professional newsroom that is staffed with students. (We have a professional promotions, production and sales department just like any other television news station.)

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I had a big idea back in 2007. I wanted to find a way to bring multiple newsrooms together to make it easier for news consumers to learn about their candidates leading up to election day. I wanted to partner with the other newsrooms owned by the University of Missouri: KBIA-FM (the local NPR station) and the Columbia Missourian (the daily morning paper in town). I wanted to plan for the big election in November 2008 and had already tried a similar project during the mid-term 2006 November election season.

Smart Decision '08

In 2006, we put a lot of content into one place but it was all hand-coded. I won't go into the nit-picky details. What I will tell you is it was time consuming and almost impossible to keep up to date as three newsrooms populated the site. I wanted automation and simple collaboration so the site could make it easier for news consumers to learn about information without worrying about where it came from. Information first, newsroom second. In the end, news consumers would end up using all of the newsrooms' information instead of just one or none.

I launched the Smart Decision '08 site and went into my RJI fellowship with a plan to complete my goal. I had already started building a new website that would collect RSS feeds of each newsroom's politically branded content. I had a small group of web managers tag each story that arrived into our site and categorize it under the race and candidate names mentioned in the news piece. It was a relatively simple process.

Unfortunately, our site was not simple. It was not clean and it was hand built by students with my oversight. It did not have a welcoming user experience. It did not encourage participation. I had a vision, but I lacked the technical ability to create a user-friendly site. I figured the content would rule and people would come to it. Not a great assumption.

Back in 2008, I still had old-school thoughts in my head. I thought media could lead the masses by informing voters who were hungry for details about candidates. I thought a project's content was more important than user experience. I thought I knew what I was talking about.

We did find a way to gather up some participation on the night of the big November 2008 election. We invited the general public to a viewing party where they could watch multiple national broadcasts, eat free food and participate in a live town forum during a four-hour live webcast we produced in the Reynolds Journalism Institute building.

We brought four newsrooms together in a separate environment where we produced web-only content while each newsroom produced its own content for air or print. We had a Twitter watch desk, a blog watch desk and insights from all kinds of people in the area. You can see a very quick video that captures some of the experience of that night:

Assumptions About the Audience

But in the end, my project was a failure.

Still, without that failure, I would not have learned so much.

You see, I came into this project with the idea that I was progressive. I was thinking about the future of journalism. I was going to change it all. But it all started out with a very old view of journalism: I made assumptions about my audience.

  • I assumed people wanted the information I was collecting.
  • I assumed the online audience wanted to take the time to dig into the information I was collecting for them.
  • I assumed the audience wanted to participate in a new space I created for them.
  • I assumed the newsrooms that were partners in the project would promote the site without any prompting.

My assumptions killed my project. I had invested so much time into the project that I had to finish it. I arrived into the fellowship with a work in progress and I wasn't going to stop -- even though I could see we were not getting the public participation. I created the content and hoped participation would follow.

The truth is that things work the other way around.

But I would not have learned that without my fellowship.

I worked with an amazing team of people. Jane Stevens and Matt Thompson led me into a new perspective in community building and content collection. I watched as we talked about community building. My biggest "a-ha moment" was when we discussed how community builders need a personal relationship with its first 1,000 members on a website. I realized that my Smart Decision project was doomed to fail from the start because I did not start with my community first. I expected the community to come to me. I needed to go to them.

I also learned a major project needs two managers: One to keep up with the content and one to make sure it gets promoted. That promotion needed to happen in each individual newsroom and in the public.

Being More Agile

During my fellowship, I also learned to be more agile. These days, when I start a project, I'm ready to move on to the next idea a lot faster. I launch multiple ideas at the same time and see what floats. I also cherish the relationships I form with members of the community. Instead of creating many different sites, I'm bringing the information to where they are. I'm focused on delivering information to Twitter and Facebook. I have news employees working on blogs, but most people go to those posts through Facebook. They do not go directly to the sites or from our main news web page.

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I'm constantly learning as a news manager. But I will always cherish the time I had as a fellow because I was allowed to fail. The Smart Decision project was not something I could have managed while I was also in charge of a newsroom. It was an experiment that taught me how not to launch a new website.

I learned Drupal sites can be awesome if you know what you are doing. (I did not know what I was doing until it was too late). I also learned that my job in my newsroom does not make it easy to launch major multiple-newsroom projects. I am not sure if I will do it again in 2012. I would like to, but I'll need to consult my community first.

Jennifer Reeves worked in television news for the majority of her career. In the last six years, she has moved from traditional journalist to non-traditional thinker about journalism and education. Jen is currently the New Media Director at KOMU-TV and komu.com. At the same time, she is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and was a part of the inaugural class of Reynolds Journalism Institute fellows (2008-09).

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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June 11 2010

14:36

Broadcast election editors go head-to-head at Media Society event

It is the 100 metres of the TV Factual Olympics. General election night. The three main news broadcasters – BBC, ITN and Sky News – vie to get results to the nation first. A month on, the election editors of Sky News and the BBC appeared at last night’s Media Society event in London entitled ‘Who won the TV election?

The BBC won the greater share of the audience on 6 May. They always do. But John McAndrew, editor of the Sky News offering was there to claim journalistic credit for being not just first but clearest on screen. His was deliberately not a heavily studio anchored show: “We knew what the BBC would do and we aimed off for that,” McAndrew said. He had surprising support from one member of the audience – the BBC’s former political correspondent Nicholas Jones. Jones had switched over early. Sky News, McAndrew said, went with plenty of straight news and little comment.

The David Dimbleby programme on the BBC was at the other end of the spectrum. There were virtual reality graphics aplenty from Jeremy Vine and scores of outside broadcasts. Craig Oliver, their editor, was at last night’s event to defend their coverage, or at least try to. He had a near impossible job when it came to the now notorious ‘ship of fools‘, a BBC barge moored in the Thames full of celebrities giving their take on the election. Not many of those at the event felt that Joan Collins or Bruce Forsyth ‘added to the sum total of human knowledge’, as one audience member succinctly put it. Another pointed out that the £70,000 allegedly spent on the boat (the only cost figure mentioned on a night when all were coy about what they spent) was money wasted.

Oliver was on surer ground defending the BBC position of not calling any result until the Returning Officer had. ITN seems to jump the gun almost as a matter of principle. Oliver, who edited the ITN election programme in 2005 before defecting, was dismissive of presenter Alastair Stewart’s recent tirade in the Press Gazette claiming that the BBC ‘had missed the story’. His absence from the discussion said it all according to Oliver.

Channel 4’s ‘Alternative Election Night’ – featuring comedians like Jimmy Carr and David Mitchell – was a deliberately offpiste offering but it worked, beating ITN in the ratings. Deputy head of news and current affairs Kevin Sutcliffe was there to explain the thinking behind the format and reveal that it would be used again. Their satirical approach attracted a young demographic and twice the audience he expected, Sutcliffe said, adding that he was impressed with the (unintentionally) satirical quality of the BBC coverage.

Attracting the most audience comment last night was the stunningly accurate exit poll shared by the broadcasters and put out on the stroke of ten. It got the result right to within one seat. Some felt it destroyed the drama and made the remainder of the coverage predictable, suggesting a return to separate polls. Sue Inglish, the BBC’s head of political programmes and a moving force behind the poll, was on hand to explain and defend. The sheer size and cost of the 125,000 sample poll made it impossible to do more than once. But Oliver, in a mild mea culpa, said the BBC studio gurus had been wrong to downplay the surprising exit poll results for the first hour after they were broadcast.

The event had the air of an inquest, but not a particularly rancourous one – and the majority of criticism was reserved for the absent ITN. There was mostly praise for the British broadcasters for whom a 100-metre dash became a five day marathon. If the reaction in the BBC Council Chamber last night is anything to go, they had an audience satisfied with the results.

John Mair is events director of the Media Society.This event was jointly organised by the Media Society and the BBC College of Journalism

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12:56

#VOJ10 – Twitter is just another outlet, says BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg

One careless tweet could sink the fleet.

Advice from BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg, who warned of the power of a single tweet to bring down politicians and political correspondents alike. Kuenssberg, who did her fair share of tweeting during the general election last month, is specific about what she tweets:

I still use it broadly for the same things [pre and post-election] and I’m quite strict about why I would tweet. I use it for simple breaking news and information (…) it’s the fastest way of getting it out there even with 24-hour television.

I also use it for the kind of colour you see as a journalist – not gossip, not rumour. These are often the things that get retweeted the most; things that as a journalist you see with your own eyes but might not get to broadcast.

As a lobby journalist you’ve got a ticket to a very small world. You are witness to a very closed world. Its part of my job to reach out to people and give them moments of colour that they otherwise wouldn’t see.

Having trialled using twitter during the party political conferences in 2009, Kuenssberg’s following on the social network grew from around 5,000 pre-election to 23,000 post-election. But it hasn’t changed how she works, she says – just added to it:

Twitter has just become another outlet. It’s highly compatible with my job because I’m normally out and about. It has given journalists more material – not a massive amount, because so far we haven’t had massive breaking stories from citizen journalists.

Social media as a “paper trail” – tracking down the backgrounds of PPCs and following what they’ve said pre-election on Twitter – was particularly useful however, said Kuennsberg.

Although it’s still a small group of people using Twitter, it has shown me that there’s a big interest in what we do. There’s a huge appetite for politics and I think we’re reaching some people who weren’t consuming political news in any way before.

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May 06 2010

12:41

#ge2010: Inside the biggest night in broadcasting

It’s quiet now. You can hear a pin drop. In twelve hours’ time it will be organised chaos. I am at the BBC TV ‘hub’ in Belfast getting ready for the biggest night not just of politicians’ lives but broadcasters’ too. Tonight is general election result night and we’ll be live on BBC One and Two for hours on end bringing predictions, results and analysis to British people and many further afield.

In my bit of the hub, I handle all the material going ‘across the water’ from here to the David Dimbleby programme in Television Centre London. BBC Northern Ireland is at all of the eighteen counts at eight counting centres throughout the province, bringing breaking results, analysis, and interviews with the movers and shakers. I will be constantly offering material to the central hub in London, which they will accept, reject or just plain ignore. At busy periods they could probably fill four TV channels with election results coming in.

This is the BBC at its journalistic and technical best. Hundreds of hacks working on getting the results, processing them and analysing the team in London. Nothing can go wrong on the night. Little is left to chance. Rehearsals have been taking place for the better part of the last week. All systems tested, none found wanting-so far. From my desk I can talk to sixteen different locations/units to see what’s happening.

In front of me will be sitting the BBC Northern Ireland hub producer. They’re going out live too from 10.00pm until the last result here, probably around six hours later. We’ll share their fruits with the rest of the nations when we can. To my left will be the RTE hub producer from Southern Ireland. They’re going big on this election with a Belfast and a London Studio and a big outside broadcast to boot.

This is my eighth British general election with the BBC and it still gets the adrenalin going after 30 years.

After it’s over – tomorrow afternoon by best reckoning – it is time for the post mortem and the analysis of what went right what went wrong. To that end, I’ll be producing an event for the Media Society next Tuesday at the University of Westminster entitled Who Won the TV Election? (more details at www.themediasociety.com or below).

Enjoy tonight’s coverage on TV, and come along next tuesday to praise or blame the great men and women who put on this quinquennial spectacle. Rocket science it may not be, but at times it isn’t far off.

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