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February 08 2012


Sky and BBC leave the field wide open to Twitter competitors

At first glance, Sky’s decision that its journalists should not retweet information that has “not been through the Sky News editorial process” and the BBC’s policy to prioritise filing “written copy into our newsroom as quickly as possible” seem logical.

For Sky it is about maintaining editorial control over all content produced by its staff. For the BBC, it seems to be about making sure that the newsroom, and by extension the wider organisation, takes priority over the individual.

But there are also blind spots in these strategies that they may come to regret.

Our content?

The Sky policy articulates an assumption about ‘content’ that’s worth picking apart.

We accept as journalists that what we produce is our responsibility. When it comes to retweeting, however, it’s not entirely clear what we are doing. Is that news production, in the same way that quoting a source is? Is it newsgathering, in the same way that you might repeat a lead to someone to find out their reaction? Or is it merely distribution?

The answer, as I’ve written before, is that retweeting can be, and often is, all three.

Writing about a similar policy at the Oregonian late last year, Steve Buttry made the point that retweets are not endorsements. Jeff Jarvis argued that they were “quotes”.

I don’t think it’s as simple as that (as I explain below), but I do think it’s illustrative: if Sky News were to prevent journalists from using any quote on air or online where they could not verify its factual basis, then nothing would get broadcast. Live interviews would be impossible.

The Sky policy, then, seems to treat retweets as pure distribution, and – crucially – to treat the tweet in isolation. Not as a quote, but as a story, consisting entirely of someone else’s content, which has not been through Sky editorial processes but which is branded or endorsed as Sky journalism.

There’s a lot to admire in the pride in their journalism that this shows – indeed, I would like to see the same rigour applied to the countless quotes that are printed and broadcast by all media without being compared with any evidence.
But do users really see retweets in the same way? And if they do, will they always do so?

Curation vs creation

There’s a second issue here which is more about hard commercial success. Research suggests that successful users of Twitter tend to combine curation with creation. Preventing journalists from retweeting  leaves them – and their employers – without a vital tool in their storytelling and distribution.

The tension surrounding retweeting can be illustrated in the difference between two broadcast journalists who use Twitter particularly effectively: Sky’s own Neal Mann, and NPR’s Andy Carvin. Andy retweets habitually as a way of seeking further information. Neal, as he explained in this Q&A with one of my classes, feels that he has a responsibility not to retweet information he cannot verify (from 2 mins in).

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. But both combine curation with creation.

Network effects

A third issue that strikes me is how these policies fit uncomfortably alongside the networked ways that news is experienced now.

The BBC policy, for example, appears at first glance to prevent journalists from diving right into the story as it develops online. Although social media editor Chris Hamilton notes that they have “a technology that allows our journalists to transmit text simultaneously to our newsroom systems and to their own Twitter accounts”, this is coupled with the argument that:

“Our first priority remains ensuring that important information reaches BBC colleagues, and thus all our audiences, as quickly as possible – and certainly not after it reaches Twitter.”

I’m not entirely convinced of this line, because there are a number of competing priorities that I want to understand more clearly.

Firstly, it implies that BBC colleagues are not watching each other on Twitter. If not, why not? Sky pioneered the use of Twitter as an internal newswire, and the man responsible, Julian March, is now doing something similar at ITV.

Then there’s that focus on “all our audiences” in opposition to those early adopter Twitter types. If news is “breaking news, an exclusive or any kind of urgent update”, being first on Twitter can give you strategic advantages that waiting for the six o’clock – or even typing a report that’s over 140 characters – won’t, for example:

  • Building a buzz (driving people to watch, listen to or search for the fuller story)
  • Establishing authority on Google (which ranks first reports over later ones)
  • Establishing the traditional authority in being known as the first to break the story
  • Making it easier for people on the scene to get in touch (if someone’s just experienced a newsworthy event or heard about it from someone who was, how likely is it that they search Twitter to see who else was there? You want to be the journalist they find and contact)

Everything at the same time

There’s another side to this, which is evidence of news organisations taking a strategic decision that, in a world of information overload, they should stop trying to be the first (an increasingly hard task), and instead seek to be more authoritative. To be able to say, confidently, “Every atom we distribute is confirmed”, or “We held back to do this spectacularly as a team”.

There’s value in that, and a lot to be admired. I’m not saying that these policies are inherently wrong. I don’t know the full thinking that went into them, or the subtleties of their implementation (as Rory Cellan-Jones illustrates in his example, which contrasts with what can actually happen). I don’t think there is a right and a wrong way to ‘do Twitter’. Every decision is a trade off, because so many factors are in play. I just wanted to explore some of those factors here.

As soon as you digitise information you remove the physical limitations that necessitated the traditional distinctions between the editorial processes of newsgathering, production, editing and distribution.

A single tweet can be doing all at the same time. Social media policies need to recognise this, and journalists need to be trained to understand the subtleties too.

February 03 2012


#newsrw: What’s the best time to tweet and post to Facebook?

The social media optimisation panel at news:rewired – media in motion tackled the ongoing issue facing every media outlet that uses social media: How do you use it effectively to reach your audience?

The panelists were: Nate Lanxon, editor, Wired.co.uk@NateLanxonChris Hamilton, social media editor at BBC News; Martin Belam, the Guardian’s user experience lead; and Darren Waters, head of devices and social media at MSN UK.

Using social media “effectively” can mean different things depending on the organisation. For the Guardian, that meant creating its own Facebook app, which launched in September and already has almost 60 million users. More than half of the almost 6 million users of the Guardian’s Facebook app are under 24, Belam said.

“We’re not going to attract a new, young audience with a print product,” Belam told the audience.

MSN UK and BBC News both have Facebook pages and numerous Twitter accounts. The staff at Wired UK, for example, use their Facebook page to share what’s going on at the office.

“We’re making Facebook a kind of behind-the-scenes fan club,” said Lanxon, the site’s editor. “We don’t get a huge amount of traffic from our Facebook fan page. That’s not the focus for us. What people love to do on Wired’s Facebook page is to get a look at behind the scenes stuff.”

And wondering when’s the best time to post to Facebook? According to Lanxon, these times are best:

  • First thing in the morning when you get into the office;
  • Lunch time;
  • 3 p.m.;
  • Between 5 and 5:30 p.m.

LIVE: Session 2B – Social media optimisation

As more journalists become active on social media platforms, now is the time to think about how to share news more effectively. This session will look at social media optimisation (SMO) – when best to share news on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, to maximise readership.

With: Nate Lanxon, editor, Wired.co.uk; Chris Hamilton, social media editor, BBC News; Martin Belam, user experience lead, the Guardian; and Darren Waters, head of devices and social media, MSN UK.


The ultimate goal is to combine live news, social elements, traditional reporting, and editorial curation. Then we’ll have got social media optimised.


MSN now have their live blogs embedded into Facebook, and allow the users to contribute their comments.


On the website, some additions are making the experience more social. “Recommended reading” and adding a “Trending” widget are two examples.


MSN are in the process of building a foundation for social, because if they “engage with us on social media, they then become loyal users of MSN.”


Waters says that optimisation is tricky because there are so many contributors to the discussion. How do we make sense of it all?


Head of devices and social media at MSN is talking next, I believe: Darren Waters.


“We want our stories to share themselves”

Wired.co.uk are getting rid of their own comment system, and building in Facebook comments.


When do we post to Facebook?

First thing, lunchtime, 3pm in the afternoon (when things winding down), and 5pm when people get home.

Twitter doesn’t matter so much.


We’re moving our share buttons up to the top of the articles, because people will share an article based on the headline.


This isn’t about driving fans to Wired. It’s about driving Wired to fans.


One example – our roof falling in and taking a picture got more interaction than the biggest news in a long time, Facebook going public.


Traffic is not the focus for the Wired Facebook page. It’s more about posting pictures and giving a “behind the scenes” look.


Lanxon has whipped out a big photo of Mark Zuckerberg. It stays on his desk, and serves as a reminder to A) use Facebook, and B) you’re not doing as well as him.

Post something interesting, not an RSS of headlines.


Nate Lanxon, editor of Wired.co.uk, will speak next.


On to Google+, again we’re talking about hangouts and how to differentiate yourselves from the competition. A lot of agreement with Liz Heron’s keynote earlier.

The BBC is placing a lot of emphasis on shareability – it got some of the most shared comments on Facebook from the UK media. Facebook will be a focus for this year.



Top tweets from last year:

Top two were on the Japanese tsunami.

Science and technology tweets also do well, such as about CERN.

Pictures and adding hashtags also helps, and makes sure you’re part on the conversation.


Focus on your strengths – RT’ing correspondents, offering live news, video coverage.

Also amplifying popular programs to show the depth of what the BBC does.


The BBC run three core Twitter accounts. It used to be feed driven, but recently introduced a more human element.

We focussed on the quality on the tweeting.

We wanted a consistent tone, and not to just say what everyone else was saying. It’s important to build on the headlines- adding value is essential.


Chris Hamilton, social media editor at the BBC is now talking. He will attempt to cover what the BBC is doing on Twitter, and then move on to Facebook and Google +.


The content is embedded in the app is all from the Guardian, embedded in an iFrame. This means that any adverts, barring a few Facebook ones down the side, are the Guardian’s – it is a revenue stream.


However, there are problems with archive content. What about news content? readers need to know, so there’s been iterations to make the date clearer.


The app gives a platform for old archived content to really bloom with contemporary content. Old articles have gone viral and had hundreds of new comments.


The app was built on the Guardian Open Platform API, which means it was built in 5 weeks.

The more of your friends’ faces you can see, the more likely you are to bee engaged, say Facebook.

Guardian are now very close to 6M app installs. Most interestingly, the demographic of the app, the majority are in the 18-24 age bracket.


Martin Belam, Lead UX at the Guardian, is starting the session, discussing their Facebook app.

They now have all content- audio, video etc in their Facebook app.

They aimed to improve one thing: 77% of people coming from Facebook only viewed one page before leaving. The Guardian website “interrupts” Facebook.

October 06 2011


LIVE: Session 3A – Bringing the outside in

Across the media spectrum organisations are pulling in content from outside their four walls, whether that’s curating coverage from other sites, building networks for blogs and third-party opinion, or opening up their doors to citizen journalism and user-generated content. This session looks at how outside content, in all its forms, is integrated into the output of news organisations and the different approaches to be found in the industry.

With Carla Buzasi, editor-in-chief, the Huffington Post UK; Dominique van Heerden, digital producer, CNN; Chris Hamilton, social media editor, BBC News and Ed Barrow, chief technical officer, idio.

<a href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=33c5dada4e” _mce_href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=33c5dada4e” >#newsrw 3A Bringing the outside in</a>

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