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June 26 2011

14:50

Same-sex marriage reaction on Twitter – versus traditional media

Watching the news of the same-sex marriage victory spread across Twitter this weekend, especially the real-time reaction from the West Village, it was hard not to be emotionally moved by the events. The experience illuminated how learning the news live through Twitter — via first-person sources — is such a different, and in may ways more immersive, experience than getting news from traditional media.

Many folks learned about the news from Twitter, or even from Foursquare (like this person), after Marriage Equalitocalypse started trending and Mayor Bloomberg checked in.

Stories in the local press were perfectly typical: the requisite quotes and photos of people celebrating. Supporters “danced in the streets.” “Crowds gathered, screamed and embraced.” But the stories felt flat, by comparison, to reading about the news and the euphoria via Twitter, in real-time, from people passionate about the story, from people whose lives it instantly changed. In the traditional news article, a disembodied authority tells you the news. Via Twitter, you hear it in the voice of an excited friend — and that creates experience that feels much closer to being there yourself.

Compare, for example, this perfectly fine article from The New York Times with the excellent collection of Tweets and videos pulled together by Brooklyn tech strategist Deanna Zandt (using the Storify curation tool) — included below. Deanna’s tale gives the reader a very different feel.

Reading this, it’s interesting to try to imagine what the Stonewall Riots might have been like had Twitter been around — and how, as well, the impact might have been different.

[View the story "Marriage rights pass: live from Stonewall Friday night" on Storify]


May 30 2011

12:25

Mathew Ingram - Twitter's real-time news format can't replace journalism

GigaOM :: In the wake of a number of events, including the use of Twitter as a real-time reporting tool by New York Times writer Brian Stelter during the aftermath of the recent tornado in Missouri, media theorist and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis has written a post about how the “article” or traditional news story may no longer be necessary. With so much real-time reporting via social networks, he argues that the standard news article has become a “value-added luxury..” But Mathew Ingram disagrees.

[Mathew Ingram:] while real-time reporting is very powerful, we still need someone to make sense of those streams and put them in context. In fact, we arguably need that even more.

Continue to read Mathew Ingram, gigaom.com

February 15 2011

21:24

5 Principles for Teaching Journalism Ethics in the Digital Age







Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

Our global media ecology is a chaotic landscape evolving at a furious pace. Professional journalists share the journalistic sphere with tweeters, bloggers, citizen journalists and social media users around the world. The digital revolution poses a practical challenge to journalists: How can they use the new media tools responsibly?

There is, also, a second challenge for all of us who teach journalism ethics across this country and beyond: What to teach?

Teaching is difficult because a once-dominant traditional ethics, constructed for professional journalism a century ago, are being questioned. Journalism ethics is a field where old and new values clash.

On one side are traditional values such as those found in the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists. These include: a commitment to professionalism, separation of news and opinion, methods to verify reports, a concern for accuracy, and the ideals of objectivity and minimizing harm.

On the other side are values of the "always on" universe of interactive media: immediacy, transparency, edgy opinion and partisan journalism, anonymity, and sharing. The speed of new media tempts many users to ignore the restricting methods of accuracy and verification.

Good-bye Consensus

Amid this din of differing views and controversy, we teach journalism ethics. We no longer teach from a framework of generally accepted ideas.

A decade or so ago, teaching journalism ethics was simpler. Few people wondered who was a journalist. In classrooms, instructors introduced principles from authoritative codes of ethics and textbooks, and showed how the principles applied to situations.

Today, we not only teach without a consensus, we lack an ethics that provides adequate guidance for the many new forms of mixed media.

No new canons of journalism have been written on how journalists should use social media on breaking stories, whether newsrooms should publish reports trending on Twitter, or whether mainstream sites should grant anonymity to commentators.

Mixed media ethics is a work in progress.

New Standards for Educators

How does one teach students about a topic in flux? Here are five features of a good journalism ethics course that every professor should implement:


1. Start from the students' media world.

Be experiential. Begin by discussing how they experience and use media; explore the tumult of opinion about journalism. If you downplay the debate and try to lay down the "laws" of journalism ethics ex cathedra, you will lose credibility in the eyes of your students.

2. Assist students with reflective engagement.
Once you've reviewed the context of journalism ethics, tell the students that -- while you can't provide all the answers -- you can help them think their way through the issues. You can help them engage reflectively on principles and you can provide methods for analyzing ethical situations. Also, give them perspective. Go back and look at what journalism has been down the centuries, and examine previous revolutions in journalism.

3. Insist on critical thinking, not what is fashionable.
Work against a tendency to dismiss principles simply because they are traditional and not trendy. For example, new media enthusiasts may rush to reject news objectivity as an ideal. They may use specious reasoning. In such situations, instructors need to ask for better reasons; to indicate areas where objectivity might be needed; and to introduce nuanced versions of objectivity that avoid the obvious objections.

4. Be transitional.
Teach the course so students can follow the transition from a traditional professional framework to current thinking.

studentbroadcast.jpg

Start with a fair assessment of professional journalism ethics. How did it arise and what are its essential features? Then compare this framework with the values that underlie mixed media today. The guiding question is: To what extent do traditional principles apply today? What editorial guidelines are needed to address new situations, new quandaries? Much of the teaching of journalism ethics should involve discussions on how journalism ethics might re-invent itself so it can guide journalists across multiple media platforms.

Show that the invention of new guidelines is possible. Examine how news organizations are constructing new guidelines on a range of problems -- from verifying citizen content to dealing with rumors on social media. Challenge them to write their own ethics policy on online anonymity or other burning issues.


5. Be global in your teaching.

The global impact of journalism requires students to think about their responsibility to inform a public that crosses borders. In a media-linked world, students should ponder whether journalists need to adopt a more globally minded view of themselves. They need to consider a global journalism ethics. Moreover, we should teach the plurality of approaches to journalism ethics from Scandinavia and Europe to Asia.

Revolutionize Thyself

Journalism ethics instruction, therefore, must revolutionize itself.

> Teaching should be dialectical -- helping students to move back and forth between alternate conceptions.

> Teaching should be holistic -- helping students to bring many kinds of facts and ideas to the discussion.

> Teaching should be Socratic. Through questioning and discussion, students formulate their own ethical framework.

Finally, the teaching should challenge, not discourage. Instructors should persuade students that ethics is worth studying even if there are no universal "answers." Students should see the turmoil in journalism as an exciting intellectual and practical challenge to develop a more adequate ethics for a new global mixed media.

Only if we teach in this manner will we prepare journalists for the future and the changing technologies it promises.

Ryerson University photo by Angie Torres via Flickr.

Stephen J. A. Ward is the James E. Burgess Professor of Journalism Ethics in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC). He is the founding chair of the Canadian Association of Journalists' (CAJ) ethics advisory committee and former director of UBC's Graduate School of Journalism.







Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

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November 03 2010

21:28

Canadian Murder Trial a Crucible for Real-Time Coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BlackBerry Ban Lifted

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

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

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

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

Beyond Social Media

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

Screen shot 2010-11-03 at 1.34.51 PM.png

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

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

Expect To Be Confounded

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

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

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

Screen shot 2010-11-03 at 1.26.24 PM.png

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

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

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

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

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October 28 2010

18:33

Notable Moments From the 2010 ONA Conference

"Welcome to the conference where journalism supposedly doesn't know it's supposed to be dead."

Those were the welcoming words from Online News Association executive director Jane McDonnell as she opened the 2010 Online News Association Conference.

Many of the top people in online journalism in the Unites States, Canada and other countries are in Washington, D.C. this week for the conference. I'm here representing PBS MediaShift and OpenFile, the online news startup I'm involved with in Canada. This post is where I'll collect my thoughts, impressions and all of the notable things I see and hear at #ONA10.

Come back over the course of the weekend for the latest updates.

Friday TBD Keynote

The conference program officially kicked off with a keynote discussion featuring key people from TBD.com, the recently launched local news website for the D.C. area. Jim Brady (general manager), Erik Wemple (editor), Mandy Jenkins (social media producer) and Steve Buttry (director of community engagement) took part. Some notable quotes and information:

"The way I phrase [our revenue model] to people is that there's no silver bullet -- it's just shrapnel ... there isn't one stream that's going to make us successful." -- Jim Brady. He also later noted that TBD could roll out paid mobile apps that offer very targeted information and functionality. For now, though, their main apps are free and will likely stay that way.

"Burrell & Associates predicts there will be $1 billion spent this year in local mobile advertising, and they are seeing $11 billion by 21014. That's bigger than last year's decrease in print advertising." -- Steve Buttry

"Our editorial vision is that we try to focus on a few key areas: Transportation, arts and entertainment and sports that cut across the region. We can't be in every jurisdiction. For politics we are doing a fact checking approach ... The vision is just work really hard all the time, and always be checking your device. We are just trying to keep the site refreshed at all times." -- Erik Wemple

"If you run a website that doesn't have something that's terrible on it, you are not trying hard enough. You have to fail, fail, fail. You have to fail and fail miserably many times." -- Erik Wemple

Many Jenkins said that in order to do her job she has 22 columns open in TweetDeck, has keyword searches running constantly, and is reading around 200 news feeds constantly. "I follow a ton of our readers -- pretty much anyone who has sent us a news tip," she said.

"Social media, while it's a great source of information, you have to treat it like a tip line, not like a reporter. It's a matter of checking all of your sources before you run with them, and it's an important part of using [social media tools] responsibly." -- Mandy Jenkins

A lot of news organizations think social media "is a way to get our stuff out to people. [Mandy Jenkins] pushed an idea that it's also the police scanner of the 21st century." -- Jim Brady

"The commodity that's most restricted in people's lives is time." -- Jim Brady

More updates to come...

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author, and the managing editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is founder and editor of Regret the Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a columnist for Columbia Journalism Review and BusinessJournalism.org and the Toronto Star. He serves as digital journalism director of OpenFile, a collaborative local news site for Canada. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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18:33

Notable Quotes, Impressions and Moments From the 2010 Online News Association Conference

"Welcome to the conference where journalism supposedly doesn't know it's supposed to be dead."

Those were the welcoming words from Online News Association executive director Jane McDonnell as she opened the 2010 Online News Association Conference.

Many of the top people in online journalism in the Unites States, Canada and other countries are in Washington, D.C. this week for the conference. I'm here representing PBS MediaShift and OpenFile, the online news startup I'm involved with in Canada. This post is where I'll collect my thoughts, impressions and all of the notable things I see and hear at #ONA10.

Come back over the course of the weekend for the latest updates.

Friday TBD Keynote

The conference program officially kicked off with a keynote discussion featuring key people from TBD.com, the recently launched local news website for the D.C. area. Jim Brady (general manager), Erik Wemple (editor), Mandy Jenkins (social media producer) and Steve Buttry (director of community engagement) took part. Some notable quotes and information:

"The way I phase [our revenue model] to people is that there's no silver bullet -- it's just shrapnel ... there isn't one stream that's going to make us successful." -- Jim Brady. He also later noted that TBD could roll out paid mobile apps that offer very targeted information and functionality. For now, though, their main apps are free and will likely stay that way.

"Burrell & Associates predicts there will be $1 billion spent this year in local mobile advertising, and they are seeing $11 billion by 21014. That's bigger than last year's decrease in print advertising." -- Steve Buttry

"Our editorial vision is that we try to focus on a few key areas: Transportation, arts and entertainment and sports that cut across the region. We can't be in every jurisdiction. For politics we are doing a fact checking approach ... The vision is just work really hard all the time, and always be checking your device. We are just trying to keep the site refreshed at all times." -- Erik Wemple

"If you run a website that doesn't have something that's terrible on it, you are not trying hard enough. You have to fail, fail, fail. You have to fail and fail miserably many times." -- Erik Wemple

Many Jenkins said that in order to do her job she has 22 columns open in TweetDeck, has keyword searches running constantly, and is reading around 200 news feeds constantly. "I follow a ton of our readers -- pretty much anyone who has sent us a news tip," she said.

"Social media, while it's a great source of information, you have to treat it like a tip line, not like a reporter. It's a matter of checking all of your sources before you run with them, and it's an important part of using [social media tools] responsibly." -- Mandy Jenkins

A lot of news organizations think social media "is a way to get our stuff out to people. [Mandy Jenkins] pushed an idea that it's also the police scanner of the 21st century." -- Jim Brady

"The commodity that's most restricted in people's lives is time." -- Jim Brady

More updates to come...

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author, and the managing editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is founder and editor of Regret the Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a columnist for Columbia Journalism Review and BusinessJournalism.org and the Toronto Star. He serves as digital journalism director of OpenFile, a collaborative local news site for Canada. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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August 16 2010

20:39

Experts Weigh Pros and Cons of Social Media

OurBlook.com has been conducting an ongoing interview series on the current and future role of journalism and social media. In previous posts for PBS MediaShift, I shared some of the insights we've gathered about the future of journalism, and the skills that will be required of future journalists.

In this installment, experts weigh on the impact social media has had on the media industry, and the way that journalists relate to their audiences. Overall, experts agreed that social media helps journalists:

  • Have more frequent two-way communication with news consumers, and thus develop stronger relationships with their readership.
  • Promote themselves by creating their own personal brand.
  • Find an array of news sources and information in real-time, and stay updated on new developments.
  • Easily promote content across multiple platforms, while at the same time reaching a wider audience.
  • Do on-the-spot reporting by making video and photography more accessible and inexpensive.

Experts Weigh In

"I can't understand why so many sectors are going kicking and screaming from the industrial age. News organizations have been reporting the change for decades, so what's the surprise? There is no shock that newspapers and magazines are failing; the model of printed news is being transformed into a new relationship model of information. Consumer markets, political conversations and everyday decision-making are being driven more and more by content in social media. Did news not get the memo that everyone wants to be a reporter?" -- Val Marmillion, president of Marmillion + Company Strategic Communications

"Social media are value neutral; their main virtue is the promise of democratic communication. This brings along with it all of the difficulties of democratic society...incivility, bullying, bias, prejudice, privatization, power struggles. These problems aren't a reason to dismiss or fear social media platforms; they're a challenge to each of us to fight for parity, transparency, access and openness." -- Jessica Clark, director for the Future of Public Media Project for the Center for Social Media at American University, and MediaShift contributor

"Twitter's brevity, its inherent capacity to reflect and create chaos, and to do so instantly and without verification, does not suggest that it has the power to create the kind of narrative that sustains real revolutionary action." -- Trevor Butterworth, editor of STATS.org

hinckley.jpg

"Too much information bouncing around at the speed of thought leads to too much information erroneously being 'reported' or accepted as 'fact.' This has only accelerated the pressure to be 'first,' often at the expense of being 'right.' But perhaps even more dangerous is that the increasing proliferation of choices means that news consumers can choose to focus exclusively on 'infotainment,' and thus disengage from serious coverage of critical issues." -- Matt Hinckley, assistant dean for journalism and student media at Richland College

"At a joint National Press Club/Atlanta Press Club event a while back, I asked this question of the panel: In the future, how will people know what is a journalistic story and what is a paid, biased or fictitious post? I said I was concerned that young people may not know the difference. The panelists' answer was to encourage journalistic literacy programs, which is a good idea. But the most telling moment came when a journalism student approached me afterward and said young people can tell the difference; he's more worried about people in the older generation like his mother, who can't tell a scam email from the real thing." -- Terri Thornton, owner of Thornton Communications

"I strongly disagree that social media represent a dumbing down of America. It's the opposite...it's a way for us to become more informed, more connected and overall less ignorant. It's a way for us to experience different lives, different worlds and different points of view in a way that's never been possible, quite literally, in the history of the world. To call this tremendous capacity and facility to share information a 'dumbing down' is to miss the forest for the trees." -- Sasha Pasulka, blogger and founder of EvilBeetGossip.com

Rob Salkowitz.jpg

"People who approach political discourse from the perspective of reading blogs and engaging in online debates via social networks -- Twitter and so on -- tend to value authenticity in those interactions, and are less patient with the niceties of the one-to-many broadcast model of communication...Members of the millennial generation in particular find the pomposity and stuffiness of traditional media less engaging than the give-and-take of social channels" -- Rob Salkowitz, author of "Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology and Entrepreneurship are Changing Global Business."

"One particular advantage of social media is that they help a reporter see the intellectual and social network of a source. For example, in Twitter I can see whom you are following and who is following you. I can see what you have re-tweeted and what links you have selected. Therefore, I can understand more fully your social context." -- Jerry Zurek, professor of English and communication department chair at Cabrini College

"This is a new way, an emerging way, and now a pervasive way. So when you jump in this pool, you have to jump in all the way. And that means, you have to listen, you have to participate, you need to contribute value as part of those relationships. And the reason you have to do that is because if you are not, your competitor probably is." -- David Kissel, partner of the Zocalo Group

"Social media is a good tool for publishers to expand content reach, but it won't save the fundamental business model of journalism at its core." -- Mitch Joel, president of Twist Image, author, and social media expert.

"Social media isn't a fad; it's changed the way people share and consume content. The web has allowed people to create their own online neighborhoods and elect leaders to speak for them. That's something journalists are going to have to really take into consideration. It's a new audience." -- Lisa Barone, chief branding officer of Outspoken Media, Inc.

"To be sure, social media are a frightening phenomenon to incumbents in the press, in politics and in the media. To the incumbents, social media are profoundly disruptive because of how they obviate their ownership of the 'choke point' in the communication channel. Their power is based on control of scarcity: Scarce resources, capital, intellectual property, and modes of production and distribution." -- Larry Elin, associate professor, S.I. Newhouse School, Syracuse University

schwerdtfeger.jpg

"An active democracy is a successful democracy. As social media platforms engage voters in the political system, our democracy thrives. The risk, however, is that special interest groups have a significant opportunity to skew the conversation in their favor. While regular users have the ability to contribute to the conversation, few are motivated enough to do so. That allows motivated subgroups to manipulate the conversation and portray an inaccurate picture of the most important issues." -- Patrick Schwerdtfeger, author of "Webify your Business: Internet Secrets for the Self-Employed."

This article was co-written by Kurt Schilligo, a University Partnership Program intern.

Sandra Ordonez calls herself a web astronaut who has been helping organizations navigate the internet since 1997. Currently, she helps run OurBlook.com, a collaborative online forum that gathers interviews from today's top leaders in the hopes of finding tomorrow's solutions. Since December 2008, the site has been conducting a Future of Journalism interview series. Sandra also heads up the Facebook page, "Bicultural and Multicultural People Rule." Previously, she was the Communications Manager for Wikipedia. She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.

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April 13 2010

18:46

How #Spill Effect Brought Color, Collaboration to Media Tweets

Twitter distinguished itself as an important new platform for breaking political news in Australia during the Great #Spill of 2009. This is the second installment in a MediaShift series on the "#spill effect." (You can read the first part here.) It draws on a case study of the event and includes online interviews with eight tweeting journalists who are prominent members of the Canberra Press Gallery.

"#Spill" was the hashtag used to amalgamate Twitter coverage of the scalping of federal conservative leader Malcolm Turnbull, and the elevation of Tony Abbott to the leadership of Australia's opposition party, the Liberal-National Coalition. But behind the frenzied tweeting of the spectacular unraveling of the Turnbull leadership was another story -- a story about the coverage itself, which demonstrated the transformative effect this micro-blogging platform is having on Australian political journalism. It's a story that made news again last week when Malcolm Turnbull announced his resignation from politics, via Twitter, of course.

How Twitter Impacts Australian Reporting

I've concluded that Twitter is having a transformative effect on Australian political reporting -- but not all Press Gallery journalists agree. While acknowledging the emergence of journalistic audience engagement via Twitter, Samantha Maiden, the chief online political correspondent for Rupert Murdoch's The Australian, described it as just another reporting platform. She downplayed the impact of the #spill story on political reporting.

"Ultimately, Twitter is just a means...of delivering the news. In that sense it is silly to suggest [the #spill] reinvented the wheel in some way," she said.


Nevertheless, Latika Bourke, a Press Gallery correspondent for national commercial radio, who watched her Twitter followers double during the week-long story (to more than 2,000), said Twitter's role in the coverage proved it's here to stay as a journalistic tool.

"For many of us, Twitter was the aside, or extra-curricular part of our job; but now there will be the expectation that when the big stories are on, we'll be there, tweeting as a priority," Bourke said.

speers.jpg

Sky TV's David Speers -- who demonstrated the central role of Twitter in the coverage of the story by tweeting live to air in the middle of an interview and using his smartphone to read the tweet of a competitor mid-commentary -- said Twitter adds to the value of coverage and the reporting experience, rather than detracting from them.

"Obviously speeches, debates and essays will always be important," he said. "And they will always be there. Twitter isn't taking anything away from traditional political discourse. It's adding something new. And it's fun."

The Need for Speed & Color

Speed was the most commonly described effect of Twitter on the political reporting process. It even out-paced frenetic radio news reporters. "I thought working in radio [that] I knew what 'instant' meant, but that's been completely redefined now that I've covered the spill via Twitter," Bourke observed.

The Age's political correspondent, Mischa Schubert, agreed that Twitter-speed was a factor in the #spill coverage.

"It accelerated the pace of coverage, that's for sure," she said. "Where once a lot of details would have been hoarded for the next day's newspapers, color that wouldn't hold was broadcast instantly in tweets and on [media organizations'] websites."

The benefits of value-adding tweets with "color" was also highlighted by others. "If you took a straw poll on which journalists were the most popular -- and this was debated by Twitter users -- journalists breaking news with a mix of color and telling observation were always in the top three," Maiden said. "Users aren't that interested in someone who just tweets a couple of lines from a doorstop or the Senate debates."

But some political news reporters are "coloring" outside the lines on Twitter. Australian Associated Press's (AAP) Sandra O'Malley said opinion and commentary are seeping into news reporters' tweets.

sandra.jpg"There was...much more opining on the political players than during 'normal,' straight reporting," O'Malley said of the #spill coverage. She highlighted the impact of the clash of the personal and the professional in the space, and the challenge it poses to traditional journalistic values like objectivity, as I've previously reported.

However, Lyndal Curtis, the chief political correspondent of ABC Radio's current affairs programs, said the act of tweeting political news hasn't altered her reporting habits, such as an unbending commitment to fact-checking; but she's pleased to have "another audience to speak to," and she acknowledges the humanizing effect of tweeting.

"It allows me some more latitude to be a person, and an outlet for some humor," she said. The amusement value of Twitter -- and Press Gallery journalists' tendency to merge satire and reportage in the interests of entertaining one another and their new, individual audiences -- was mentioned by several of the interviewees.

The need for even greater multi-tasking by journalists in the age of the real-time web was also noted.

"One observation that amazed me was watching a few people -- @sarahwiley8 @latikambourke @bennpackham -- standing at doorstops with their digital recorder in one hand and single-handedly tweeting with the other!" O'Malley said.

A number of the journalists commented on the fact that Twitter, with its live reporting capacity and its aggregated news feeds, has enabled them to be less tethered to their desks. They can roam to gather information face-to-face and more accurately assess atmospherics, all while staying informed.

karen middleton tweet.jpg

This, in turn, encouraged the journalists to practice what I've observed elsewhere is the tendency to lay bare reporting the process on Twitter by discussing journalistic strategies, dilemmas and difficulties. In the case of the #spill, this was demonstrated by the journalists complaining about efforts to keep them away from the Coalition Party Room, where Malcolm Turnbull's fate was ultimately sealed.

Twitter Collegiality

One of the strongest themes to emerge from my survey of the eight tweeting Press Gallery reporters who covered #spill was a deepening of relationships between journalists from different media organizations. They spoke of the increased camaraderie and collegiality fostered through the sharing of skills and information.

"We all shared information, respected each other's scoops by re-tweeting them, and [as a result] the relationships and trust between journalists deepened," Bourke said.

crabb.jpgSenior Press Gallery journalist Annabel Crabb agreed, noting that, "It brings competitors closer together, in that we read each other's updates. I certainly was glued to @samanthamaiden, @latikambourke and @David_Speers as well as talking to my own colleagues."

Instead of having to finagle details of their competitors' reporting progress and framing of the story, they just watched their tweet streams. This was particularly beneficial to junior Press Gallery reporters like Bourke, who said she was able to break news of the leadership ballots' likely outcome as a direct result of following the very connected Speers' Twitter feed.

"It was like suddenly having all the pieces to a puzzle that I only needed to put together, instead of having just a few, and trying to paint in the blanks," she said.

Speers was unconcerned by this development.

"Journalists usually save any information they have for the stories they're writing," he said. "But on Twitter, political journalists share what they know. I think this is mostly driven by the competitive urge of journalists to be the first to break news, even if it's only a minor development."

Collaborative Storytelling

This collaborative storytelling between journalists from competing outlets is one of the most significant changes in political reporting that has come as a result of Twitter. As Crabb said:

The fracturing media market means that we now assume our readers are shopping around. I think the healthy aspect of this -- and it's a great outcome for consumers -- is that journalists are dropping the traditional and childish approach of pretending that their competitors do not exist -- ignoring a rival's scoop, and so on. I will happily retweet a competitor's update if I think my readers will find it interesting. I think this is an emerging and refreshing trend.

But, as much as Twitter is breaking down old modes of competitiveness in political reporting, it's also fostering a new, sharper edged form of competition for news-breaking.

"Already, newspapers are racing to bring online updates to their websites ahead of their competitors, but Twitter brings a second-by-second competitiveness that is even more challenging," Crabb said.

And this resulted in media outlets like the ABC running an aggregated tweet-stream (via Twitter lists) of Press Gallery journalists' Twitter feeds, including those from rival outlets, on the ABC website. This caused concern within some sections of the ABC News and Current Affairs department, because journalists from competing networks are not bound by the same editorial policies and standards as ABC reporters. There was a feeling that this aggregation threatened the independence and credibility of ABC News' website content. Legal risks associated with carrying competitors' unchecked and unfiltered tweets were also raised.

Consequences of Kicking Down Walls

There's a potentially significant downside to what Crikey's Bernard Keane identified as Twitter's "flattening effect" for commercial media. He fears it will further undermine traditional media business models.

"What's the point of a newspaper site, or even Sky News, if you can get a direct feed virtually from inside the party room?" he said. "It's true that quality political coverage remains one of the few competitive advantages old media has over new media."

In other words, political reporting may be one of the niche beats that is able to justify pay wall protection -- but the unrestrained sharing of information across media stable walls by competing journalists via Twitter may make that unsustainable.

This was also an issue raised by Lyndal Curtis, ABC Radio's chief political correspondent. "I think it's my responsibility to write and file first for the organization that pays me ... and that audience," she said. "So I didn't put anything up of an exclusive scoop nature on Twitter that I hadn't already filed."

But Speers disagrees.

"It's not like journalists are simply giving away their work," he said. "Their tweets often point to a story they've just posted on a website or broadcast on radio or TV. So it can still direct traffic to the outlet paying their salary."

It's also true that, in the social media age where the real-time web reigns supreme and mashing up information from myriad sources seems like an irreversible trend, news organizations will have to come to terms with this sort of content aggregation and amalgamation in a way which best serves their audiences and their bottom lines.

Backlash from the AAP

In fact, in the aftermath of the publication of first installment of this series on MediaShift, Sandra O'Malley's employer, AAP, issued an edict requiring Press Gallery reporters to get permission prior to tweeting about their work -- even from their personal Twitter accounts. The fear was the wire service's journalistic brand and competitive edge would be eroded by reporters' real-time tweeting and cross-stable collaboration.

The AAP crackdown foreshadows the likely development of anachronistic Reuters-style guidelines for tweeting reporters. Censoring journalists' tweets when they've been at it for many months smacks of trying to re-stable a horse that's bolted, and also raises questions about the rights of journalists to free speech. (The subject of a future post.)

However, while some Press Gallery journalists' coverage of the Twitter effect on political reporting highlights residual pockets of change-resistance, proof of its impact came this week in the form of one of the country's most celebrated political reporters, the 9 Network's Laurie Oakes. He became an active tweeter and filed an insightful mainstream TV news report on the "Twitterization" of Australian politics.

In the third and final installment of this MediaShift series, I'll examine the role of citizen tweeters, participatory democracy and audience engagement in coverage of the #spill, along with the political reporters' management of the issues of accuracy and verification, which are so often seen as downsides of Twitter journalism.

More Reading

The #Spill Effect - Twitter Hashtag Upends Australian Political Journalism

Julie Posetti is an award winning journalist and journalism academic who lectures in radio and television reporting at the University of Canberra, Australia. She's been a national political correspondent, a regional news editor, a TV documentary reporter and presenter on radio and television with the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC. Her academic research centers on talk radio, public broadcasting, political reporting and broadcast coverage of Muslims post-9/11. She blogs at J-Scribe and you can follow her on Twitter.

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