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April 23 2012


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

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

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

April 21 2012


Japan tsunami photos highlight human cost, study finds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note to editors:

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

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

About the researchers:

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

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

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

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

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

Contact: zamit001@umn.edu


Making data visualisation useful for audiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



April 20 2012


Study of Samoa Topix finds local news forum falls short

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Study into Twitter as a community reporting tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 17 2012


Get ready for the 2012 International Symposium on Online Journalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 03 2012


Researchers reveal what goes into a good tweet

An analysis of 43,738 tweets from 1,443 users offers some valuable insights into emerging communication norms on Twitter.

The study (PDF) by researchers Paul André of Carnegie Mellon, Michael Bernstein of MIT, and Kurt Luther of Georgia Tech aimed to uncover what makes for a good message on Twitter.

The team found that the most valued tweets were informative, funny and encouraged conversation.  Perhaps surprising, they also found that self-promotional messages also elicited a positive response.

By comparison, the worst crime someone could commit on Twitter was being boring. This was by far the most cited reason for not valuing a tweet.

Among the other bad practices identified by the researchers were repeating old news, being cryptic or using too many hashtags.

In her piece for The Atlantic, Megan Garber had a go at putting together “the Most Annoying Tweet Imaginable”:

BREAKING: Last week I had a #sandwich that was SO HORRIBLE, it made me want to #scream. Seriously, why can’t they make better #sandwiches?

— Megan Garber (@megangarber) January 31, 2012

Instead, the study suggests the best tweets are informative, entertaining and encourage a response. Quite a lot to pack into 140 characters.


July 25 2011


Talk on the promise and practice of participatory journalism

During my trip to Australia, I was invited to deliver a keynote at the Screen Futures conference in Melbourne.

In the talk, I explored the promise and practice of participatory journalism.

It draws on the data from my co-authored book, Participatory Journalism: Guarding Open Gates at Online Newspapers.

We found that journalists are navigating uncharted waters – figuring out how to bring in the audience into the professional process of producing journalism at a time when the practice of what we called “journalism” tries to retain its structure and integrity, its rules and roles, its organizations and its traditions.

Here are the slides from the talk.

June 15 2011


Worldviews Conference tackles social media and universities

The Worldviews Conference on Media and Higher Education will put the spotlight on social media on the afternoon of Thursday 16 June.

I’ll be talking part in a panel discussion on the implications of social media for universities at the end of the day. My focus will be on the implications of social media on how we evaluate and assess academic authority.

Here are a couple of the papers I am mentioning:

If you are not attending, you can follow the discussions on Twitter using the hashtag #wv2011 or via the live blog on the conference website.

I’ll post the slides of my presentation on Thursday.

Print Friendly Print Get a PDF version of this webpage PDF

April 02 2011


Christian Science Monitor grapples with tensions as web-only

The research presented at ISOJ by Jonathan Groves, Drury University and Carrie Brown, University of Memphis, looked at the Christian Science Monitor’s transition from print to web.

For the paper (PDF), the researchers spend three weeks in the newsroom, watching how the journalists worked and talking to them about the journalism.

The Monitor started in 1908 as a daily newspaper distributed by mail and switched to web-only daily in March 2009, with a print daily.

Grove read a quote from a journalist lamenting that management was only interested in traffic.

The Monitor had 9.5 million page views in December 2009 and reached its goal of 25 million page views by July 2010 with an editor who pushed journalists to write two stories a day and do anything to attract traffic.

With a new editor, traffic levelled out at 19.4 m page views and 8.8 million unique users by January 2011.

The researchers found a tension between the success of page views and the Monitor ideal of providing solutions-based journalism.

At core of strategy to boost traffic was more frequent updates, search engine optimisation, monitoring Google trends to identify topics and use social media to reach new audiences.


Study into use of new devices for news

One of the research papers presented at ISOJ by Hsiang Iris Chyi and Monica Chadha, University of Texas at Austin looked at how people were getting their news on new devices.

The researchers suggested the idea of newsfulnews as a way of measuring the likelihood of a multi-purpose device being used for news, based on the number who use a device for news compared to total number of owners.

They conducted a web-based survey of a random sample of the American adult population in August 2010.

The researchers found that the laptop was far by the most useful for news at 45%, with the iPhone at 33% and iPad at 35%.

But they also found that 24% of people did not use any electronic device to get their news, with 57% only using one device, usually the PC.

Only 10% used two devices, with 8.5% using three or more per week.

There was little variation in the level of enjoyment across devices. The researchers suggested that this meant people preferred to use older devices such as the PC.

News use on multiple devices was not yet a reality, they said.



April 01 2011


Studies find journalists use Twitter for broadcast

The final research paper at the ISOJ focused on how newsrooms were using Twitter.

Dale Blasingame from Texas State University, San Marcos, looked at how Twitter was changing TV news.

He started by saying that a web first approach in newsrooms is no longer enough due to the instant dissemination of news via Twitter.

Twitter allows both professionals and citizens to “jump the gate” and send news directly to audiences, challenging the traditional gatekeeping role of the journalist.

Blasingame studied coded almost 2,300 tweets from San Antonio newsrooms on a shooting incident.

He said it this case study showed how Twitter could be used as a tool to deliver news, but added “it would be foolish to suggest this happens on a daily basis.”

In terms of his analysis of tweets, the most were promotional in nature, followed by breaking news.

The results were worse for official station Twitter accounts. One station account just sent promotional links for web stories automatically.

Blasingame recommended that newsrooms should restrain promotional tweets to just 20% of all their messages.

Student uses of Twitter

Next up, Carrie Brown, University of Memphis, together with Elizabeth Hendrickson, University of Tennessee and Jeremy Littau, Lehigh University, presented a study on how Twitter could help journalists reach underserved communities.

Brown qualified the study as exploratory and largely descriptive, but it provides a useful starting point.

One group she studied was young people, students between 19 – 29. She found many of them know each other and post about what they are doing or banter during class. Twitter was used as a social tool for informal communication

Students saw Twitter as a pseudo-anonymous space, with lots of use for Twitter for fun and entertainment. A few were using it for professional networking.

But students also talked about getting information on Twitter, stumbling across news.

Brown also found that students were very receptive to getting news on Twitter from journalists. In the survey, students reported more engagement with the news.

But some wanted more of a relationship with journalists on Twitter, rather than just broadcast headlines.

Littau said students wanted connectivity, information, expression and entertainment from Twitter. But African-American students expressed more of a preference for information and expression than Caucasian students.

Shovelling tweets

Marcus Messner, Virginia Commonwealth University, with Maureen Linke and Asriel Eford, presented research on how traditional news media in the US were adopting Twitter and social bookmarking.

For their study, they looked at the top 99 newspapers and top 100 TV stations in the US. By 2010, 198 of them had Twitter accounts. These were the main Twitter feeds from the news organisation, rather than from individual reporters.

As for social bookmarking, 36% offered this in 2009 and 92% by 2010. Facebook has become almost fully adopted by the news media, with Twitter adoption jumping from a third in 2009 to more than 90% in 2010.

In terms of Twitter use, one in three news media did not tweet in 2009, falling to one in four by 2010.

Most of the tweets were news related.  Personal communication accounted for just 5.7% in 2009 and 3.5% in 2010.

Messner said the tweets were largely used as promotional tools for web stories, with few differences between newspapers and television.

He concluded that Twitter has been fully adopted by the US news media but not used to its full potential.

“Most tweets are still shovelware,” he said, “they are not engagement of the community.” He urged news organisations to look at Twitter as a social space, rather than just another publication platform.

International perspective on Twitter

The final paper came from a team of researchers who looked at the use of social media in 27 news outlets in 7 Iberian and Latin American countries.

Presenting the findings Elvira García de Torres (Universidad CEU Cardenal Herrera, Spain) found that most messages on Twitter and Facebook were based on headline links.

Only 5.6% were conversational on Facebook. Only five newspapers engaged in a conversation with users on the news.

As might be expected, the researchers found that conversational messages have more potential to engage audiences.

The team found few requests for information from users, but also that journalists received little response from the audience.  Journalists did see some value in going to Facebook to find photos of people.

Surprising, the researchers found there were no rules, or no planning in the newsroom, around the use of social media.

January 20 2011


November 22 2010


University of Toronto’s Munk school plans journalism masters

Canada looks set to develop its journalism education offerings, with the University of Toronto planning to expand on its journalism undergraduate program by launching a Masters course.

The program will be based at the U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs, headed by Rob Steiner, the former Assistant Vice President of the University in charge of strategic communications.

In an e-mail, Steiner said the program would be “an entirely new form of journalism education that will recruit students from around the world who are subject-matter experts and teach them, in two years, to become outstanding global journalists (and/or media entrepreneurs) covering their own specialties in the global niche media.”

It is good to see that others are following in the footsteps of the pioneering work in journalism education at my graduate school at the University of British Columbia.

Having Toronto follow our model is a validation of our efforts to reinvent journalism education and make it relevant to today’s media environment.

For several years now, we have been offering a two-year Masters program based on students developing an expertise in a specialist area, preparing them to be multimedia global journalists.

Our students are drawn from across the world, with a variety of backgrounds and specialities, and go on to work from The Globe and Mail to CNN to the BBC.

Our latest project, Cheap Shrimp, Hidden Costs, reflects the global and multimedia approach of the school.

The web project is the culmination of a year-long investigation into the Thai shrimp industry undertaken by 10 students in our International Reporting course.

Steiner aims to launch the Masters program by September 2012.

September 23 2010


Reportr.net nominated for Canadian Online Publishing Award

This blog is one of the finalists in the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.

Reportr.net is nominated in the “Best Blog” category in the business-to-business, professional association, farm, scholarly division.

The other finalists in this category are Sparksheet and University Affairs

It is an honour to be nominated for the awards, which recognize excellence in online editorial and innovation by Canadian magazine, newspaper, broadcast and website publishers.

The winners will be announced on Oct. 20 at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto.

There are a total of 128 finalists for the awards, including CBCNews.ca, The Globe and Mail, MaCleans.ca , The Toronto Star, Rabble.ca and OpenFile.ca.

The entries were reviewed by a three-person panel, drawn from highly respected industry professionals and experts from across Canada and the U.S.

September 01 2010


British Library focuses on new research tools and techniques

This promo video provides a taste of a forthcoming exhibition at the British Library in London showcasing new research tools and techniques.

The exhibition, called Growing Knowledge, runs from October 12 2010 to July 16 2011. The aim is “to inform and inspire today’s researchers, consult and engage with them, demonstrate the value of investment in digital research tools, and spark a debate on the future of research.”

Hopefully there will be a strong web component for those who can’t make it to the show.

August 30 2010


How journalism schools are teaching social media

PBS Mediashift is running a special series called Beyond J-School, taking an in-depth look at journalism education in the digital age.

The series was kicked off by a piece I wrote on how to teach social media at journalism schools:

Teaching social media is more than showing students the mechanics of Twitter. Rather, they should learn how to build a network of relevant followers and how to interact with them to be a better journalist.

In the classroom, we need to stress that social media technologies do not just offer journalists new ways of doing old things. They offer the potential to explore new ways of telling stories, of collaborating and connecting with audiences, of rethinking how we do journalism.

The article looks at how journalism professors are incorporating social media in the curriculum within an academic environment where the pace of change is slow. It includes practical examples of how educators are engaging with students.

The full piece is on PBS Mediashift.

August 10 2010


Essays explore the future of science journalism

My essay on how the internet is changing science journalism has been published as part of a collection called Science and the Media by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The volume includes contributions from leading science journalists such as Alan Alda, Cristine Russell and Cornelia Dean, edited by Donald Kennedy and Geneva Overholser. The editors write:

The essays in this volume discuss the roles of scientists, journalists, and public information officers in communicating about science and technology. The authors look at the role the media play in boosting Americans’ scientific literacy and at how the new digital media are changing the coverage (and consumption) of science news. They discuss how inadequate press coverage combined with poor communication by scientists can lead to disastrous public policy decisions.

The collection is the result of a series of workshops organized by the American Academy and supported by the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, which considered ways to enrich Americans’ engagement with science and technology.

In my chapter, I discuss how the internet offers new ways to cover science, concluding:

More than other media, such as television or newspapers, digital platforms can offer science journalism a greater diversity of coverage and voices. The multimedia, nonlinear, and networked nature of online journalism is forcing journalists to rethink storytelling for a digital age. For science journalists, the Web offers a multiplicity of ways to delve into complex issues. The participatory potential of the Internet offers the means to engage with audiences in ways that were unthinkable when those science writers came together in the 1930s to form a professional association. Today, the potential to reimagine and revitalize science journalism for a digital world is here.

The volume is available as a free PDF download or can be ordered from the American Academy.

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