Why the man who tweeted Osama bin Laden raid is a citizen journalist (but why he might not care)

There of interest in @ReallyVirtual at the moment. Sohaib Athar an IT consultant in Abbottabad Lahore Pakistan. That’s right. The fella who ‘inadvertently’ live tweeted the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. I don’t need to say much more.

The way twitter responded to the event threw up some interesting areas to ponder.

  • How could a journalist new to twitter build a network that would key them in to this kind of thing?
  • How much the discussion on twitter must have been like a the discussion in the newsroom
  • How amazing networks are.

The way the network raised Athar in to the view of more than just his own part of the twitterverse is explored in an interesting article by Steve Myers who traces back through his own network to try and get to where Athar came from.

But it’s the followup article (whose title I hijacked for the title of this one) that caught my attention. Myers writes:

When I wrote earlier this week about how quickly people around the world learned that Sohaib Athar had “live tweeted” the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, I thought carefully before calling him a citizen journalist.

He was prompted to explore that further by an article refuting the claim that twitter has replaced CNN by Dan Mitchell.

Steve Myers of The Poynter Institute declares that Sohaib Athar, a guy who lives near bin Laden’s compound, is a “citizen journalist.” Athar, an IT consultant, wondered what the hell was going on when the helicopters arrived in Abbottabad. Because he wondered on Twitter, in real time, now he’s a “citizen journalist.”

Even Athar, who had 750 followers as of Sunday night and now has tens of thousands,knows this is ridiculous.

Indeed. Although I think Mitchell uses Athars tweet (below) a little out of context to suit his point.

[blackbirdpie id=”64931568094953472″]

All of the articles are worth a read. Myers deconstruction of Athar’s tweets is particularly good. But there is one thing that is ignored.  It’s alluded to. But never asked. Does Athar care?

Does Athar care that he is a citizen journalist or otherwise? Is it important to him.

Pondering that one just reinforces my view that the only people who have a problem with the phrase are the people who use it most – journalists.

I did tweet Athar to ask him if he thought he was a citizen journalist. I don’t expect an answer. His twitter stream make it clear that he’s very busy with interviews.

I suppose one thing you can say for certain in that whether or not he’s a citizen journalist he’s certainly a celebrity.


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#cnnfrontline Mobile and journalism: Part one- some clarification

Big cameras at the Frontline
Big cameras at the Frontline
Last night I found myself at the infamous (and very pleasant) Frontline club to sit on a panel talking about Mobile technology in newsgathering and journalism (Disclosure: It was an invite from CNN and Edleman who bought me tea and put me up in a hotel, which was very nice of them).
The event was a chance for CNNi to launch their new iphone app and, if the chat on twitter was anything to go by, the audience to be a bit frustrated.

One commentator noted the white, male flavour of the panel. I agree and I’ll not go next time. But for many the problem was we didn’t really get round to what a lot of people wanted to know – what are the business models for mobile? @thevideoreport report tweeted that it was all “a bit 2002” and @adamwestbrook noted that, lovely though the panel was, nothing new was learned. I understand the frustration. The conversation ranged round some of the usual subjects – citizen journalism vs. journalism, big cameras vs. little cameras (a subject I’ve blogged in repeatedly) – and it seemed only vaguely touched on mobile itself. I suppose I should apologise for that, I was on the panel when all is said and done. But I just wanted to clarify some points and maybe develop the conversation a little more in to the areas people felt we missed.

As I was drafting this post it started to get a little long so I’m going to do it in a couple of parts. So,to start, some clarification. One point I wanted to pick up was the brief kick around of the ‘attitude’ of students to news and opinion. I was quoted as saying that “journalism students come in thinking everything they think is news” It’s not quite what I said but the point is worth amplifying. Students do come in with very strong opinions and ideas. Opinions about what journalism is, what they will be as journalists, right and wrong etc. As they should and, as I always say, that’s brilliant – not that they need my permission or approval. I love opinionated people and I love the passion that brings. But the reality is that for most jobbing journalists expressing their opinion is a luxury. It isn’t what journalism is about. It’s my job to help them understand that framework perhaps to frame expectations. But it doesn’t mean I don’t thing they should have opinions or that they are wrong (or that journalism is wrong or right for that matter). It’s just there is a time, place and form.

What takes time is building a professional identity that separates that opinion and journalism in a visible and transparent way. I suppose the web blurs that slightly as we still labour under the distinctions of journalists and bloggers for example. (if you want to debate this more you can go read this post, most of which I struggle to agree with, and knock yourself out ) But the truth is journalism works a certain way and if you want to be ‘in journalism’ its worth learning how to bend to that when required.

The issue of citizen journalists also came up. I said that I kind of liked the term because it described what the person was and what they did. They were a citizen, concerned and motivated by what was happening around them and they wanted to tell the world about that. The discussion prompted a question from the floor asking why, if it was so good, it hadn’t taken over from traditional news sources?

For me that isn’t it’s job. It’s there to amplyfy the concerens and interests of a collection of people; hyperlocal, niche, whatever. In that sense it doesn’t aim to replace the mainstream media, just live in the gaps. And, I might add, there is a nice opportunity for a business model there. Not, as I have said before, for the big guys. But big enough to support the community it amplifies. That’s a challenge for mainstream media. Not the threat itself but the fact that it’s happening because of them as they seemingly ignore or having only a passing interest in those communities. I’m going to stop there because I’ve blogged on all of these areas at length before.

Update: I said that there was a killer app on a mobile phone for journos -the phone bit. I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t the first to say this. If you were, let me know.  I also committed the cardinal sin of thinking two Canadians where American. I apologise. Although one did call in to question my dress sense 🙂

The holy grail of digital media


God: What are you doing now?
King Arthur: Averting our eyes, oh Lord.
God: Well, don’t. It’s just like those miserable psalms, always so depressing. Now knock it off!

A bit of link bait that title I know. But imagine that you had followed the link and before you could read the first line of text a video ‘overlay’ appeared and covered the whole page with adverts. You could try it. Hit refresh then close your eyes and count to 30.

That’s the idea behind ex-CNN.com chief David Payne’s new venture ShortTailmedia. Beet.TV reported on the plans for this bug hitter, just out of beta

The company, an ad network of sorts,  allows publishers to insert television spots or “pre-roll” video advertising into users experience as they call up text pages to read.

So essentially its like your first click is ‘end of part one’ and then you have to watch an advert before you get to see the page and get to enjoy ‘part two’

Payne himself has called this the holy grail of digital media. But in this world of timeshift recording will it really work?

We are still having the debate about people skipping ads through when they use DVR’s. Do we really need to strong arm that part of the TV experience back in?  Do we really need something that produces ‘unit’ (their words) that  “are part of a recent movement to bring bigger, more interrupting ad units online”. More interruptions to my browsing? Oh yeah. That’ll endear me to you.

It sounds like a bit of dud to me. So it’ll probably be a huge success.

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Video bullies its way on to the updated CNN website

The new CNN homepage
The new CNN homepage

CNN have updated their website. I like the layout although I think the boxed content and the ad on the right are a little to similar and the movement of the ad is very distracting. But they aren’t going to move their ad’s around are they.

There is a shift in emphasis towards video on the site but the international version doesn’t get a link the Newspulse beta which is a shame. But few things did catch my eye with respect to video and multimedia in general.

The first thing was a neat little feature of their video player. If you drag the play head around on the video it overlays the running time . Not groundbreaking but a nice little touch.

The player overlays the running time as you drag the playhead
The player overlays the running time as you drag the playhead

On the article pages themeselve many stories now have an integrated slideshow at the top. This is nicely done but it will be interesting to see how many articles get this treatment.


The integrated slideshow is a nice touch
The integrated slideshow is a nice touch

The last thing that caught my eye was the use of video embedded in the article page. Video is presented as thumbnails in the left-hand-column which ‘pushes’ everything out-of-the-way on the page when clicked.

Video bullies its way on to the screen when clicked
Video bullies its way on to the screen when clicked

I have mixed feelings about this. In one sense I’m pleased to see video in with the article but the overlay on the article feels wrong.  Many times when watching embedded video I will start it playing and listen to the content – it’s more often than not packaged content (script etc) so I can keep reading and dip back in when the video sounds interesting. (who says men can’t multitask!) This approach seems to bully its way on to the page and does little to integrate. This is made worse by the use of packaged content rather than clips with little or nothing to signpost the link between the article and the video.

I think a better option would be to go with the clickable thumbnail approach of video. Align the images more appropriately to the text and the expand your player from that point.

Still. Lots of interesting new tweaks and experiments.

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ireport the death of newspapers

CNN’s ireport has posed an interesting question

Faced with declining readership and a worsening economy, many newspapers are grappling with whether to stop the presses. Denver’s Rocky Mountain News recently closed its doors, while the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is moving to an online-only format.

How does this affect you? Do you read the newspaper every morning over coffee, or do you catch up on the news online? Is your local newspaper still around?

Put your thoughts about the newspaper industry on video and share your daily news routine. Your stories could be featured on CNN.

The views sum up the general debate. Here are a few that have made it on CNN

Interesting stuff

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