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August 17 2012


Twitter changes should concern journalists

The forthcoming changes announced by Twitter limiting what others can do with tweets has angered developers.

But news organisations and others involved in aggregating and curating material from social media should also be concerned.

The “Display Guidelines” will become “Display Requirements” and impose strict rules over how tweets can be shown, in order “to ensure that Twitter users have a consistent experience wherever they see and interact with tweets.”

As part of that “consistent experience”, the guidelines on the timeline say that “Twitter tweets that are grouped together into a timeline should not be rendered with non-Twitter content. e.g. comments, updates from other networks.”

In other words, don’t combine tweets with material from Facebook, YouTube or anywhere else. Yet this is exactly what many news organisations do when they cover breaking news, using tools such as ScribbleLive or Storify.

In his analysis of the guidelines, Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper noted that the rule “ is very broad and will bite more services and apps than you may expect. It’s probably the clause that caused the dispute with LinkedIn, and why Flipboard CEO Mike McCue just left Twitter’s board.”

The restrictions on mixing tweets in with other material could hamstrung news outlets. The practice of live blogging, pulling together material from reporters, news agencies and social media, has become common on news websites.

Live blogs have proved a powerful means to provide compelling and multifaceted coverage of news events, weaving a rich tapestry of human experience by pulling in from different networks.

It points to a more collaborative form of journalism, where the journalist acts as a curator, selecting the most relevant and powerful material, be it a tweet, a YouTube video or a photo on Flickr.

The stricter guidelines on the use of tweets go against the trend towards more inclusive, open and networked forms of journalism.

February 08 2012


Why journalists should break news on Twitter

The world of journalism and Twitter is buzzing following Sky News’s new policy on Twitter and the BBC’s new guidance on breaking news.

Both organisations have told their journalists not to break news on Twitter first.

In a post on the BBC’s Editors blog, social media editor Chris Hamilton acknowledged the value of Twitter but concluded:

We’ve been clear 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.

Instead he points out that BBC journalists are able to inform the newsroom and tweet simultaneously:

We’re fortunate to have a technology that allows our journalists to transmit text simultaneously to our newsroom systems and to their own Twitter accounts.

On his Twitter stream, Chris sought to clarify the guidance to BBC News journalists:

It’s about the best way of breaking news on all our platforms – social networks, our own website, TV, radio.

— Chris Hamilton (@chrishams) February 8, 2012

Essential point is we have system that allows journalists to file and tweet at the same time.

— Chris Hamilton (@chrishams) February 8, 2012

The tensions over Twitter and breaking news result from the collision of two worlds – when a hierarchical media system in the hands of the few collides with a networked media system open to all.

The reasons for wanting to control the flow of news are understandable. Historically, news organisations have been the gate-keepers, deciding what is news, how to report it and when and how to distribute it.

In a nuanced post, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones acknowledges that “We are all feeling our way forward through the fog of this new media landscape.” He concludes:

Some would like to turn the clock back to a simpler time, when all power resided in the newsdesk, only star reporters got a byline, and sharing information with outsiders before the presses rolled or the bulletin began was a sacking offence.

But it is almost certainly too late for that.

The guidance for journalists not to break news on Twitter is based on a flawed understanding of today’s media ecosystem. It assumes that journalists still have a monopoly on breaking the news.

Repeatedly, the first news of a natural disaster or other major news story have emerged first on Twitter.  Nicola Bruno wrote an excellent paper (PDF) for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism on the emergence of Twitter as a breaking news network.

Understandably, a journalist tweeting a breaking news event is likely to have greater impact. This is what happened when the New York Times’ Brian Stelter retweeted a message from Keith Urbahn, the chief of staff for the former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on the death of Bin Laden.

So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.

— Keith Urbahn (@keithurbahn) May 2, 2011

But to advise journalists not to break news on Twitter is anachronistic. It ignores the value that a journalist and their parent organisation can gain by signalling that they are across a major development.

People who’ve heard that something has happened may wonder why a journalist with BBC or Sky News hasn’t tweeted it yet.

Moreover, tweeting the news can add to their credibility as a trusted news source, especially if Twitter is awash with rumour and speculation.  A message from a journalist at the BBC or Sky News is likely to be considered as a trusted source, potentially drive audiences to the website or broadcast outlets.

This is a valuable service to their audiences, even those not on Twitter. The value of Twitter is as a distributed network,where the reach of a message can grow exponentially with every retweet.

Arguably, there is an imperative for journalists to break news on Twitter to fulfil the role as a trusted and reliable source of accurate information.

(Disclosure: I worked for the BBC for 16 years and have worked with both Chris and Rory).

This post was updated to include Chris Hamilton’s comments on the BBC technology for filing text.


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September 15 2011


July 11 2011


College Students Miss the Journalistic Potential of Social Media

This piece was co-written by Alexa Capeloto.

A couple of days after news broke of Osama bin Laden's killing in Pakistan, a group of students at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where we teach journalism, sat in a classroom and talked about how they were first alerted to the story. Most said Facebook. Some said friends or family, primarily via text message. No one named a newspaper. One student, Josh, said CNN.

CNN? So Josh just happened to be watching cable news late on a Sunday night when the bin Laden story broke?

"Oh. No," he said. "I heard about it on Facebook, then I turned on CNN to find out more."

In these days of social media, it was surprising that Josh didn't give Facebook due credit.

After all, the discussion was about the first source, not the best. Did seeing comments on his status feed not count as information delivery in the same way a CNN report did? Was it not real for him until a traditional news outlet confirmed it?

We're used to our peers and mentors privileging legacy media -- be it broadcast or newspapers. But this is not what we expect of today's college students, a.k.a. tomorrow's journalists. In their wired world, there are increasingly fuzzy distinctions between professional and citizen, fact and rumor, confirmed and unconfirmed. We see their iPhones and Androids, iPads and laptops, and we figure part of our job as journalism instructors is to call attention to those distinctions. Yet, as Josh's answer suggests, students might be overcorrecting toward the old school, and in the process psyching themselves out of the journalism game.

Marrying the digital revolution to journalism

We consider this tendency the "digital divide 2.0," an updated version of the gap that long existed between those who could afford pricey personal computers and dial-up Internet connections and those who could not. Despite the growing affordability of Net-based personal technology, the basic class disparity still exists among our students. Now this new version of the divide adds a psychological dimension that cuts across class lines and might be harder to define, diagnose and fix.

Although our students know how to act the part of digital natives, they're inclined to see the Internet as a tool for entertainment and socializing, rather than as an information source. Facebook is for photos and "status," YouTube for cute or crazy clips to pass along to friends, and the rest a treasure trove of music, movies and TV shows (unless, of course, that history paper is due tomorrow and they need to visit Wikipedia).

Despite all the time they spend online, they're behind the curve in terms of understanding the journalistic potential of social media. In fact, some of them are reluctant to recognize the connection between legacy media and web 2.0, as if in doing so, they'd be assuming a power best left to professionals.

When our recent crop of digital journalism students were asked to create their own journalistic blogs and market their content through social media, they were uncomfortable. Although they habitually post to Facebook, the thought of actually reporting on a topic and putting their work into the public domain as journalism, versus a personal narrative of candid pictures and random Friday night ephemera, was scary.


In fact, a few students said that they didn't see blogs as journalism, because anyone could do them. They were in class to learn about reporting and writing -- capital-J Journalism -- and not to repeat what they already do on their own time.

When one of our colleagues at John Jay published a widely circulated Op-Ed in the New York Times in March suggesting, perhaps polemically, that students be taught to write Twitter feeds and YouTube captions in composition class, our students were more horrified at the thought of bringing those activities into the classroom than many of their professors.

In some regards, it's refreshing that students already know what we think we're supposed to teach them. There is a difference between what they post on Facebook and what they see on CNN. Not anyone can do journalism, or at least do it well. It does take time and training and some hard lessons to become responsible, thoughtful purveyors of information.

But no one ever gets to the point of responsible purveyor if they are too scared to test their capabilities as reporters, or too conservative as readers to trust beyond the mainstream media. If students can't see that there's journalism lurking in the everyday things they do with information, especially now that technology has made such things constant, instant and ubiquitous, then we truly do have reason to worry about the future of journalism -- particularly if the original digital divide is still a factor.

A new digital gap emerges

The digital divide reared its head this semester when one of our strongest journalism students said he wanted to sign up for an online section of Intermediate Reporting, but he was afraid to because he didn't have Internet access at home. During the summer break, the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper can't access the paper's new website for the same reason.

"If I did have the Internet, what would I use it for?" he said.

If students who know, own and regularly access technology aren't inclined to put it to journalistic use, then what of the students who don't have such access? Not having the Internet at home -- or perhaps having parents who don't possess the time or means to demonstrate the web's legitimate capabilities -- pushes some students even further
back in the march toward careers in journalism.

The digital divide 2.0 is a psychological and sometimes economic divide, but it's also a generational one. When we started college in the early '90s, the library or the campus lab was the prime source of connectivity. As a consequence, we conceived of the Internet as a tool for doing work and getting information as we would on an old-fashioned terminal-based database or card catalog, or we used it to read primitive newspaper homepages.

When connectivity comes quickly and easily via intuitive mobile devices, and when the web becomes more about entertainment than information, then the associative power of Internet and workspace is undermined. Go to any college library now and count how many screens are on YouTube, Hulu or Facebook for purposes that have nothing to do with news or research.

As for Josh, it's possible that he overlooked Facebook because it has too much power, not too little. He may not see it as an information source because it's so ingrained in his world, such an extension of the self, that he doesn't see it as an external source at all. Like the air around him, it's so essential that it doesn't need to be acknowledged.

But how can students properly examine and harness the journalistic potential of digital media if they don't even see it as media, and how can they become content creators if they don't believe their content counts?

In addition to teaching nuts-and-bolts journalism, these are questions that we need to consider as we prepare our students to be media producers and consumers in the 21st century.

Reporter's essential tools photo by Valerie on Flickr.

Alexa Capeloto and Devin Harner are assistant professors of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice/City University of New York where they direct the journalism program. Alexa earned her master's degree at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, and spent 10 years as a metro reporter and editor at the Detroit Free Press and the San Diego Union-Tribune before transitioning into academia. Devin has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Delaware and a background in journalism. His recent work has included essays on Chuck Palahniuk's non-fiction; on the film Adaptation's relationship to Susan Orlean's, The Orchid Thief; and on virtual time travel through YouTube.

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June 21 2010


Word clouds of official G20 messages

With the G20 summit almost upon Toronto, here is a word cloud of the message to residents from the federal government and the City of Toronto:

And here is one of the information for demonstrators from the G20 Integrated Security Unit:

May 07 2010


iPad Users Mostly Male, Love Photos [Y! Mobile]

From Yahoo’s Mobile Blog: “As expected within the classic early-adopter profile, we identified a male skew in the 35-44 age group among these early users. In fact, among all users, men outnumber women 2:1.”

“The iPad Yahoo! user closely followed the interests on Yahoo! that we would suspect: Flickr, Finance, Sports and News”

More results and charts at Y! Mobile Blog

[Hat tip to the Newsosaur]

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April 24 2010


Questioning the health of Wikipedia

At the final session of the ISOJ 2010, Andrew Lih, University of Southern California presented his research into the health of Wikipedia (PDF).

His interest is prompted by talk about Wikipedia reaching its limits and a slowdown in the growth of the site.

Lih notes that Wikipedia had grown so quickly that from 2006-2009 there was no data, until a massive data dump towards the end of 2009.

Stats from 2009 started to show a leveling off of edits to Wikipedia, with new article production flattening out from 2007.

Lih showed that edits leveled across many languages, aside from Russian.

Some reasons for this decline could be the arcane wiki editing system and more rules about submissions and edits.

Stats show that between an eighth and a quarter of users create an entry but never hit save. To prove the point, Lih showed videos of users expressing confusion about how to edit entries. Basically, everyone found it very difficult to add and edit.

When Wikipedia starting, it had very simple rules such as neutral point of view. Now, there are a stack of rules which create barriers to entry to the community.

The Wikimedia Foundation argues that the community is stabilising. But Lih questioned this would enough to sustain the site and ensure a steady stream of new additions.

He suggested one possible scenario was a slow steady decline in quality, or a lack of timely content. And Lih noted that there was a slow trickling in of spam content into Wikipedia.

March 29 2010


Eye-Tracking Tablets And The Promise of Text 2.0 [Wired]

From Wired.com: “For example: What if those written words were watching you reading them and making adjustments accordingly? Eye-tracking technology and processor-packed tablets promise to react, based on how you’re looking at text – where you pause, how you stare, where you stop reading altogether – in a friction-reducing implementation of the Observer Effect. The act of reading will change what you are reading.”

Read More at Wired

[Hat tip to Journerdist Will Sullivan]

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March 23 2010


March 16 2010


ReadWriteWeb: Wikipedia as a breaking news source

From the ‘process journalism’ session at the SXSW Interactive event in Texas comes a discussion about Wikipedia as a news source. ReadWriteWeb reports:

Just like other news aggregation services, Wikipedia takes many sources and puts them in to a central location, but with the added benefit of human curation instead of algorithmic collection.

“There’s no real-time reporting going on in Wikipedia, it’s real-time aggregation,” Pantages [Moka Pantages, WikiMedia communications officer] said.

So the very first level of information vetting, which happens at the reporting level, has already taken place by the time it reaches the site. Then the hundreds or thousands of editors continue to scrutinize the information, discussing edits and potential changes in the back channels. The news we read in our daily newspapers, on the other hand, is curated by only a small number of people. Surely, there is the question of qualification, but many of Wikipedia’s contributors and editors are, themselves, professionals.

Full post at this link…

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March 08 2010


The truth about funding investigative journalism 2.0

A proper bit of digging, by the people at online-only news site Business Insider (read about its background here), has led to Nicholas Carlson’s revelations about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook and as the site says, “startling new information”, about the company’s early days.

But as BI’s Silicon Valley Insider team revealed, this type of work doesn’t make for a sustainable online publication business model. In a flurry of tweets Business Insider editor-in-chief and CEO Henry Blodget explains why (you can view them in a gallery at this link).

It’s important. It’s great. But it is also fantastically expensive and time-consuming.

But the truth is, if we tried to do 3 a day, with our staff, we would DROP DEAD. We’d also go bust. Neither being a happy outcome.

(Hat-tip: The Editorialiste.)

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January 06 2010


What I expect at news:rewired — and what I hope will happen

Screen shot 2010-01-06 at 11.23.20Next Thursday is the news:rewired event at City University London, which is being put on by the good people at journalism.co.uk. I’ll be on hand as a delegate.

All of the bases will be covered, it seems: Multimedia, social media, hyperlocal, crowdsourcing, datamashups, and news business models.

What I’m expecting

It’s always good to chat about different business models. However I don’t expect to come out of that with any greater insight into the silver bullet to fund journalism. Often people approach this topic like there even is one single revenue stream that hasn’t been discovered. The days of the two-channel revenue stream (ads and subs) are over.

Multimedia chat should be interesting. Personally I’m conflicted about the overall importance of multimedia. It’s an additional storytelling tool, however I’m of the opinion that multimedia isn’t the go-to tool that many like to make it out to be. If your readers won’t watch a 3 minute video, then you might want to be more selective in how you allocate those resources.

The topic of the social media session is “How to efficiently use Twitter, Facebook and other social networking tools for productive journalism”. We know it’s not very successful as a one-way communication tool. However many publications are nervous about the idea of engaging so directly with readers. Since journalists are major users of social media, news organisations are needing to determine how to police the way their journalists interact with readers off the clock. It’s a tough question, so I look forward to that debate.

There’s a panel that I’m confused about. It’s called “Troubleshooting panel on online journalism”. Sounds like a Q&A session about problems faced by online journalists. However the panelists make me think it will be about a variety of things:

What happens when it all goes wrong? What tools are particularly troublesome? How to get yourself out of a digital ditch? With presentations, practical guidance and words of wisdom from a digitally seasoned panel: Robin Hamman, head of social media, Headshift; Jon Bernstein, deputy editor, New Statesman (former Channel 4 multimedia editor); Robin Goad, research director, Hitwise; and Malcolm Coles, internet consultant and media blogger.

It will be a valuable discussion, because of all the talent in the room. I just have no idea what they’ll be talking about.

The rest of the day is tied up in talks about hyperlocalism, datamashing and crowd-sourcing. Of those, the one I’m most interested in is the datamashing talk. Here’s an explanation:

How can data be used to tell a story and hold authorities accountable? What data should journalists be using? How can journalists learn new computer assisted reporting skills? What other sectors can journalists learn from? With presentations, examples and practical advice from Tony Hirst, data expert and lecturer, Open University. Francis Irving, senior developer, MySociety.org.

This is the stuff that drives innovation. Taking raw data and turning it into something that is easily understood, digested and redistributed. It takes a certain skill to be able to do it well. And when it is done well, the results are often exciting and explosive.

This will be an exciting and informative event. I do, however, have some concerns.

What I hope will happen

First, it’s somewhat disappointing that the role of community management in online journalism does not have a more prominent place in the discussions.

While it’s good to know how to use social media to further your journalistic endeavours, it’s equally important to know how to use it to engage with the community that you’re writing for. It’s a skill that many journalists simply don’t have. There’s still a mentality that once the content has been edited and posted, journalists don’t have any further responsibility towards it. Your article is your product. You’ve got to promote it.

I’d also like to see a discussion on how emerging technologies will impact journalism. Two emerging technologies in particular are eReaders/tablets and smart phones. They’re already changing the way people consume media, so it would make sense then that the way media is developed and presented would need to change, too. Yesterday Google announced the release of its new phone, Nexus One. Not to mention the newest arrival to the eReader game, called Skiff Reader. How will media need to change to fit that new technology?

I’m hoping that the topic of personal branding comes up. Journalists it seems have a love-hate for this term. Some journalists already have personal brands, while others shun the very idea of it. Regardless of your position, it’s something that needs to be talked about, especially in an open forum like this.

I’d also like to see a debate about journalism entrepreneurism. And some discussion about career paths that utilise journalism skills, but aren’t exactly journalism.

But since this is a *journalism* conference, I suspect that won’t happen.

I’ll write a post-event blog post to discuss all that did happen. I’m going to attempt to bring up some of the points I mentioned above, so I’ll also try to write about that. Throughout the day I’ll be tweeting about the from my personal account, @BenLaMothe, so feel free to follow along there, too.

December 17 2009


Top 100 tools in 2009 for learning and for journalism

This compilation of the top 100 tools of 2009 for learning published by social learning consultant Jane Hart could just as well apply to journalism.

The darling of the year, Twitter, came top.  Other valuable tools in the top 10 are Delicious, YouTube, Google Reader, Google Docs, WordPress, Slideshare, Google Search, Audacity and Firefox.

I, for one, find all of these pretty indispensable. Are they part of your classroom or your newsroom?

December 09 2009


Guardian’s 100 essential websites reflect Web 2.0 world

Image representing Tumblr as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

The annual list of 100 essential websites from The Guardian indicates how the web has matured.  The list is dominated by web services rather than web sites, reflecting how the internet has shifted from a platform for consumption to one for collaboration.

The darling of 2009, Twitter, even gets its own mini-section, and includes services such as Twitter Tim.es, which creates your personal new site based on your friend’s tweets and the trending tool, Twitterfall.

There are, of course, some sites that are focused on content, though they are examples of new media brands, such as TMZ, Eurogamer and /Film.

But it is remarkable how many of the sites on the list are Web 2.0 services that enable the people formerly known as the audience to create, collaborate, publish and share.

From Tumblr to Dopplr, from Delicious to Digg, from Facebook to YouTube. the list captures a snapshot of life online.

There is a lesson for journalism here.  The web is not just another way to distribute content.  This list shows that how our online life resolves around community and collaboration, rather than consumption and content.

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November 07 2009


Clay Shirky on Twitter and the social media revolution

Here’s a great interview with Clay Shirky by GRITtv’s Laura Flanders.

Clay Shirky talks about the power of digital networking, and how social media  can do everything from cause revolutions to create whole new political parties when done right.

The simplicity of Twitter, of course, is its genius. It has the power to do so much by doing so little. But that’s not the only thing that’s simple about Twitter. The service itself was only intended to share 140-character messages with the world. Its significance is its evolution. Everything from @replying and retweeting to using hashes and symbols can be attributed to the users. It has brilliantly allowed users to define it – almost entirely. As Shirky points out, “Most of the uses of Twitter were not imagined by the designers of the service – they were managed by the users of the service.”

As Claire Cain Miller wrote in this NYT piece, Twitter exploded to unprecedented popularity by outsourcing “its idea generation to its users.”

What Twitter did well was absorb it all. Twitter’s founders were not initially pleased that so many other companies were taking advantage of what they had created but then they began to see the advantages. It is not just that dozens of companies are creating tools for Twitter, it is that Internet and social media giants like Facebook and Google are adapting their features to “fit in” Twitter.

Williams and Stone were quick to realize that cross-functionality in various formats would only mean that more people would use it. And it did.

So third parties – be it individual users or companies – were allowed to tinker with it, and adapt it to various platforms. As Shirky points out, Twitter allowed these various applications to be integrated into the service. Retweets and hastags were integrated, among many other user-suggested features, and “Twitter lists” is the latest in a long line of features that is gaining popularity.

While this bottom-up approach is a recurring theme in the case of creative technology companies, Twitter, arguably, owes more to its users in terms of in terms of both social participation and technology.  As Flanders astutely observes in the video, the popularity of Twitter worldwide also has something to do with the fact that it can be used with simple text messaging – and this is especially significant in countries like Iran, India, and China where we’ve seen some of the most productive examples of Twitter usage, from civilian revolutions to terrorist attacks to natural disasters.

But while social media can empower and mobilize citizens, Shirky does believe that organizing power for real world action on the Internet is still lacking. He makes an important distinction between the creation of intellectual property online and real world action through the Internet.

“We don’t yet have a way of incorporating groups that gives people the same kind of access to real world action as the creative commons copyright license do for intellectual property. I think we’re going to see a push for more real world groups using the Internet as their organizing tool and gaining some kind of incorporation as a way to participate in society.”

Social media is still young. All evidence indicates that it will happen soon.

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