Tag Archives: social media

On blogs and social media ennui

Image from http://www.smbc-comics.com/

My social media habits have changed over the years. I’ve never been particularly organised or disciplined so I tend to drift in and out of things – I have no strategy for my social media use.  That may come as no surprise to some but what little impression I give of being consistent with this kind of thing really comes from the fact that I’ve been doing this a (relatively) long time. That more than anything else has helped smooth some of this scattergun approach and focus my attention.

I was lucky enough to start blogging, at least in the guise you see it now, when there wasn’t much journalism blogging going on. I’ve been around for the start of many of the platforms that are now common place. (it was all fields in my day) That means that I’ve developed my online presence over time  - it was allowed to evolve. It took me a while to get to where I am but no one was really telling me how I should use it. Ironic given what I do!

During all of this, I’ve seen ‘waves’ of people appear in the j-sphere and each wave has had to work that bit harder.  So I saw (and was influenced by) loads of good people, in the industry and those entering it, old and young, using blogs to build their profile.  People like Jo Geary, Alison Gow, Josh Halliday, Dave Lee, Sarah Hartley, Ed Walker in the UK, people like Dave Cohn, Richard Koci Hernadez, Marc S Luckie in the US. There are of course so many others.

They felt like simpler times. But I saw that, as each new ‘wave’ came through they had to be that little more on the ball; across the debate as the community grew. Pretty soon there was an established community; a legacy newcomers had to get to grips with. Not much room for quietly finding your voice.

A place for blogs?

The new-waves of journos appearing online have a much richer and dynamic pot to call on. First port of call for most is now Twitter; get the profile, engage in the debate and engage with the individuals. Blogs, with notable exceptions like Wannabe Hacks, don’t really feature in that thinking. If they do, they tend to be as platforms for CV’s and work.

That shift away from blogs is something that I think about a lot, but it was reading Martin Belam’s excellent post on the guardians facebook app that motivated me to post. It made me realise just how vital a blog is in giving a place to step back and reflect and how much I miss that in the face of the realtime debates that demand our attention.

Social media ennui

I think it’s that real-time element that is partly responsible for my intermittent engagement with social media these days. The fact that the debate is so dynamic means that it is often repetitive. The same issues and debates get stirred up as new people enter the discussion; a kind of social media ‘what are you guys talking about’ kind of thing.  Often the debates and the views are depressingly familiar. I’ve found myself thinking ‘didn’t we sort this one already?’, ‘why is this still an issue?’.

The best way I could find to describe it is social media ennui (I’m not alone in that).

Of course all this existential pondering is self-indulgent – picture me retiring to my digital loft with a wet flannel over my eyes.  In a dynamic conversation, newcomers are going to express ideas that have been expressed – and there is little time for the context that old debates give to be raised. That’s not their fault at all. It reflects more on me than the tone or quality of the debate or any of the people who engage with it.

Blogs are the new….

That’s why blogs are still important to me. Just when I get fed up with the fast but often shallow debate in the realtime sphere, they are little moments of calm reflection and inspiration. They add depth to the person I see tweeting. They tell me what they think as much as twitter tells me what they say.

I never forget that, for the new-waves, it must be really hard to pitch in to the j-conversation. More challenging is now you have to come out of the traps fully formed. You have to have a strategy and, to be frank, work your arse off across a whole range of platforms to get a profile. You have to listen to people like me telling you how you might do that.

When I started, there was an opportunity to find a voice because, well, not many people were listening. Now, just maybe, there is that chance again because everyone is distracted by that real time, ever demanding river of content that is the statusphere (status as in update not reputation). Get a blog in whilst no one is looking!

I’d love to see more newcomers to the j-sphere blogging. It’s not just that it may be the cure to my social media ennui. A blog might just be the kind of thing that gets you noticed. again.

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Ivory tower dispatch: Social networks are personal

Get off my land

Over the last semester I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about the use of social networks; how and why they might be useful/important/problematic to journalists. But over the months I’ve been hearing an increasingly common complaint from students. The gist of the complaints is something like this:

Stop telling us to use social networks. What we do with social networks is up to us.

The implication is that social networks are personal and not up for grabs as part of the syllabus. Us telling them what to do with their social network would be like us telling them who they could be friends with or what to where. Butt out of our personal lives!

I had to think a little about whether I actually was telling people to use social networks and, reflecting on it, I have to say that yes I was. A bit.

I was telling people that they should sign-up and explore things like Facebook and Twitter because I felt that they were important things to experience and understand as journalists and not just as users. But what I’ve never done is say that people must use their own social networks for that.

In fact I’ve made a lot this year of how you might separate the two things; How important it is that when you do use social networks as a journalist, you do think about how much of you (as your personal social networks represent you at least) you want to see. That might mean, for example, creating a new Gmail account and using that to build new accounts that are ‘work’ related.

The response to that is often, I don’t want another account to manage. Which I find quite an odd thing as it kind of suggest that because you use Facebook to manage your social life you’ll never be able to use it as a journalist  What a missed opportunity!

Person or professional? 

For me, understanding the line between personal and professional is really important when it comes to social media and journalism. There have been numerous examples of people falling foul of social media searching at job interview. And things don’t get easier once you have the job. Stories of journalists coming in to conflict with their masters over social media use are increasingly common. But, thinking about it, maybe there is a case for intruding a little on students personal social media habits.

It’s not just the old standard of employment if you saw you on Facebook, would you give you a job? I sense an increase in the numbers of people finding the content of their personal accounts putting them in a legal (and often moral) line of fire. So in this post-Leveson world where, journalists are having to aspire to higher moral and ethical standards than the audience, isn’t it fair to say that the personal is also up for scrutiny?

OK, in reality, that’s a line I wouldn’t cross. I’m not going to demand to see (and grade) students social media output to assess professionalism. What students do in the privacy of their own social media world is up to them – at least I hope they have thought about the distinction between private and public!  But the idea that this means I can’t talk to them about and yes, maybe make them, temporarily at least, sign-up for Twitter or Facebook is not something I can buy in to. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the developing norm is that social media isn’t where journalism should be. Maybe we should all just be people. Maybe social media is now ‘another country’ where different rules apply.

What do you think? Am I getting old? Just not getting it?

Picture: Nic Walker on Flickr

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Ivory tower dispatch: Fast and slow journalism and innovation must die

Al Jazeera English newsroom

The Al Jazeera English newsroom – Not available as a google app  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A diverse range of things in the ivory tower this week.

Balancing personal and professional social media identities was still on the agenda – the mantra was you might not use it but your boss might want you to. Thinking ‘how would I do this if I was doing it for someone else’ when you use social media as a journalist is, in my view, a good discipline.

But it also got me thinking about the perverse way that social media allows a newsroom, even with limited resources, to spread themselves far and wide and then begins to squeeze those resources all the harder in managing that reach.

From a personnel perspective sites like IFTTT and other social media aggregation tools and apis help. But often they strike me a bit like consolidating a debt. You get so many social media outputs that you have to pull them in to one place. The you start to ‘spend’ until you need to consolidate again.  Put that in a newsroom setting and the problem can get worse. Imagine the social media debt you could get in to if one person holds all the details of your social media account then leaves!

So I spent some time looking at using things like Google apps to help create shared resources to manage this kind of thing. Simple things like having a spreadsheet that has all of the social media accounts of reporters and journalists in one place and delegation of gmails to share accounts. But on the whole managing a newsroom might not be as easy as it sounds with Google apps as the sharing of resources and the capacity for accessing multiple accounts is not as straightforward as you’d think.

If you’re thinking about using Google apps (like Drive not the enterprise stuff) to manage the newsroom, my advice is to look hard at your newsroom structure first.

Quick, slow ,quick, quick slow

Paul Bradshaw’s 21st Century newsroom redux was a timely and useful addition to my lectures around the idea of digital narratives. That was the rather broad title I set myself as I thought about the two (opposing) views of digital storytelling;  The fast and furious, stream driven, exploded pyramid of news Vs more considered long-form journalism.

In principle its easy to contrast the pressures of diving in to the stream with all it’s risks with the apparently more considered and (to some) more journalistic long form. I took a little step back in to the idea of slow journalism. It’s a thoroughly pompous concept in my view, but it’s interesting (and frustrating) to see some of the same discourse applied to support long-form.  It was an interesting coincidence that one of ‘slow’ journalism’s early suporters was none other than David “£2 pound tax” Leigh.

Ultimately though it’s a contrived contrast. In practice you can (and often have to) approach the process of journalism wary of both sides of the coin. Paul’s update to the model helps reinforce that – amazing what more arrows can do! – and was required reading this week.

The whole exercise reinforced for me the idea that in a broad context, thinking multimedia is the way to go when approaching digital narratives. Note the word digital there, not online. Yes, online is a unique medium. For journalists, who are mostly dealing with the stock website page, it comes with some very specific requirements for writing and story construction. But if we are looking to embrace the full opportunity of rebuilding our content across platforms then we still need to address the issue of how we create and curate our multimedia not just our interactions with the audience and their interactions with our content.

All of that echoed several lectures/conversations I had around more general concepts that I thought where touchstones in digital thinking at the moment:

  • Social media
  • Curation and real-time curation
  • Community
  • Data journalism
  • Multiplatform
  • Innovation
  • Entrepreneurship

Nothing ground breaking there, but I think there is an increasingly clear narrative to connect them. Think about how long-form relies on curation and an understanding of community to create content that takes advantage of tablets (where much of the time-shifted reading people engage in happens). It’s a narrative I’ve been trying to get straight for a little while. You can ask the students if they think I’m getting there. But if you want to see a first go, this is me at this years Nordic media festival giving it a go (it’s also the first time the Journalism is a diagnosis not a profession idea get’s an airing)

And finally, in discussing this, and perhaps trawling through endless kickstarters brandishing their slow journalism credentials like a battered copy of fear and loathing, made me realise just how much I hate the word innovation and how hollow it is.

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Social media for journalists is like The Generation game

This week (as a earlier post suggests) I’ve been kicking off teaching with a look at social media and how journos can use it to create a presence. That presence isn’t just about promotion, it’s about connection. It’s about putting your virtual self in front of the audience and the stream of content they produce.

That got me thinking about The generation game.

For those who don’t know it, The Generation game was a UK game show that started in 1971 and ran, on and off, till 2002. It’s big finish was the conveyor belt game. The contestant would be sat in front of a conveyor belt loaded with consumer goods (and a cuddly toy) which they would have to remember. Then they would have a minute to try to recall all the items. Whatever they remembered they kept.

The whole thing struck me as an interesting analogy of the process of managing information for journalists and how it has changed.

In journalism terms the old solution to the game would be to take notes (in shorthand) of what went past. The digital solution would be to subscribe to the RSS feed of the conveyor belt and filter it later on. Job done. Walk away with the booty.

But now the whole thing is more like the end of the game.

When the contestant sits down they get a bit of time to consider the content but then the audience begins to shout. And shout. And shout. It’s noisy. Often helpful but more often than not the helpful stuff is drowned out by repetition and distraction.

The conveyor of news

The proliferation of places where you might find yourself in front of a virtual audience is a bit of a blessing and a curse. Social networks make it easy to build profiles – it’s easy to get yourself to these virtual places –  but managing the sheer amount of information/interaction that they demand is more challenging.

Information overload is nothing new to journalists on the web, which is why I used to spend  a bit of time looking at things like RSS as a means of controlling information. But RSS has, for many, been replaced by the stream  - the realtime flow of information from the connections we make on social networks.

RSS answered the challenge of how we manage information. That’s still the challenge, but now it starts with how we manage the interaction with people who find it for us. Filtering the filterers (maybe).

There is so much value in there, but the prize is for those who can handle the thousands shouting “cuddly toy!” to get to the detail.

 

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Pages of pages: Journalists and (self)promotion

promotion

Shouting about yourself on Wikipedia is not big or clever (Photo credit: Platform4)

I’ve been putting together some basic social media workshops to get my returning students back in to the swing of things. One of the areas I looked at was using social media (and social networks) as a base from which to promote themselves and their content.

Most of the stuff around this tends to settle on the old favorites – Twitter and Facebook. Recent banter also pulls in Reddit (Don’t know why. Anybody would think the President of the United states used it or something). But it was whilst pondering the idea of personal and professional identity that I found myself thinking of Wikipedia.

Multiple pages

Making a distinction between your personal and professional life online is key as a journalist. Platforms like Facebook make that easy – you can have more than one profile. You can also create a little public place for your ‘journo identity’ in the shape of a Facebook page.  A great way to gather and promote content under your chosen ‘brand’.

You can also set up a page on Google+. Now I know that there isn’t very much love for Google+ but hey, if there is a chance to get some of your information in to the biggest search engine in the world, why not!

Connect them all together with something whizzy like if this then that and you have a veritable multichannel-brandgasm of content.

Wikipedia

Of course the grandaddy of all sites with pages about people and things is Wikipedia. So it occurred to me that  a page about ‘journo you’ on Wikipedia might be an interesting thing to have.

The general feeling (when I did a quick twitter-pop) was ‘don’t do it’

@ because 1) it is against site terms and 2) you’ll look like an egotistical fool if you get caught.
@currybet
Martin Belam

But the whole T&C’s thing was a a bit grey.

@ If the subject of page definitely meets WP's notability guidelines, asking an existing member to create a page is allowed.
@JonathanDeamer
Jonathan Deamer

And not everyone thought it was a problem.

@ - if wikipedia is truly a content-neutral platform then so long as the content is true and the individual 'notable', why not?
@simonjgray
simon gray
@ I think if it for transparency re their journalism and what they bring to it, fair enough. If just self-promotion then crass
@BrunelJourSarah
Prof Sarah Niblock

But there was also some good advice for career progression.

@ but they should probably create one for their boss ;)
@paulbradshaw
Paul Bradshaw

So in general the advice was to avoid it:

  • It’s against the terms and conditions (as well as the spirit) of Wikipedia
  • It’s a bit sad

I can say from a quick tootle round Wikipedia it hasn’t stopped some from trying (the history tab in Wikipedia is great)

 Know who you are

I’d be interested in what people think about the whole wikipedia thing. But in general the exercise has just underlined a few things for me:

  • If you don’t know who you are why should your audience – having a clear idea in your head of the kind of content/journalist you want people to see online is key.
  • Be consistent – people will find you in the oddest places so make sure you as consistent a message across as much as you can control
  • Control is not the same as hiding stuff - The ability to control your profiles is not a reason to make stuff up or hide things just as transparency is not a requirement to lay your whole life bare.

 

 

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The responsibilities of the journalist in the internet age.

This the text from my lecture to the undergrad and post grad journalism students for their Ethics module this week. It’s slightly amended to:

  1. make sense  
  2. stop me from getting punched in the face if I ever meet Joey Barton.
  3. to add some links, refs etc.

In writing this I wanted to be a little provocative to try and generate some discussion and add some stuff to the mix in the students seminars (hence the ref to their seminar reading). 

Oh and I posted a version of last years lecture, where I kicked around a few of the same ideas, which you can read and see if I manage to contradict myself. 

I want to start with a few examples. Let’s start by me borrowing from your seminar reading…

The Vanity Fair article - The Man who spilled the secrets  –  by Sarah Ellison looks at the story surrounding the iraq war/wikileaks/Guardian saga.  Nick Davies, having heard that wikileaks may have something really interesting pursued Assange to Brussels to get him onside:

Davies made the case to Assange that the documents would effectively evaporate if they were put up as raw data on the Web—no one could make sense of so much material.

The suggestion was that journalism would give a reliable mechanism both to get the content out to a broader audience and to keep it there. It underlines the importance of journalists in bringing context to huge amounts of data. In fact you could say that the wikileaks data (and MP’s expenses) where two of things that pushed data journalism in to the current journalistic conciseness. 

The use and role of social media was highlighted by the riots in the UK last year. It bought home (by proximity if nothing else) the sheer rate of flow of information that social media can generate. It also underlined the importance of trusted voices in an network; people who could become points of reference. These where often (but not exclusively) journalists.

On an international scale, the use of social media during the Arab spring gave us an almost constant stream of examples of the value of social networks . Tweets, youtube videos, facebook updates all provided journalists and audience alike with a steady flow of information when the sheer dynamic nature (and inherent danger) of the event as well as no small amount of (traditional) state censorship cut off traditional reporting.

Both of these events also highlighted the opportunity, inherent in social media, for individual journalist to harness new technology to report events.

It also showed how that combination of means and motive pushed a number of journalists in to the limelight. Working round practical (and political) limitations to report on events and taking to the streets as self-publishing ‘war/riot correspondents’. Capturing the action with mobile phones and ‘broadcasting’ across and to the social network.

The direct nature of the connections between journalist and audience, built up through events like the UK riots and the Arab spring, did a lot to enable as well as highlight the positive aspects of the changing relationship between journalist and audience. It was sometimes an uneasy relationship but an increasingly symbiotic (rather than the traditionally framed parasitic)one.

But this isn’t a lecture about what social networks can do. The question this lecture poses is what responsibility do journalists have in the internet age?

The simple answer could be none that they don’t have already.

Let’ me give you a simple example…

Late last year the Lord Chief Justice (Lord Judge!) made good on interim judgement allowing tweeting (and other electronic communication) from court. Not long after, but by no means the first trial to be covered, Guardian journalist Jamie Jackson allegedly commits two acts of contempt causing problems at Harry Redknapp’s trial

Was that because he was using twitter?

Contempt is one of those fundamentals in journalism law. One that you are constantly reminded to be wary of.  So maybe we can just say that regardless of the medium  ‘ it’s the responsibility of a journalist not to do things like that’. They know the rules and should stick to them. Many would agree. Especially those that bang on to me about the importance of core journalism skills.

But this is in danger of becoming a very short lecture!  and in many ways that’s a cheap shot; too simplistic. A mistake is a mistake regardless of medium.

Maybe I need to switch the question round a little a bit and ask who are journalists responsible to in the internet age? Let me try and explain.

In the first example one of the (many and complex) reasons that was cited for the breakdown in the relationship (or at least a consistent cause for concern) between The Guardian and Assange was his apparent unwillingness to commit to redacting information from the Iraq memos; names and other details of individuals who might be undeservingly harmed in someway by the release of the information.

The biggest gulf between WikiLeaks and the traditional news outlets lay in their approaches to editing. Put simply, WikiLeaks didn’t have one, or believe in one. “Neither us nor Der Spiegel norThe New York Times was ever going to print names of people who were going to get reprisals, anymore than we would do on any other occasion,” says David Leigh. “We were starting from: ‘Here’s a document. How much of it shall we print?’ Whereas Julian’s ideology was: ‘I shall dump everything out and then you have to try and persuade me to cross a few things out.’ We were coming at it from opposite poles.” The redaction of the Afghanistan files was a point of contention within WikiLeaks as well. Associates say that Assange dismissed the need for editorial care, even as they urged him to take the task more seriously. Smári McCarthy, a former WikiLeaks volunteer, told The Independent in October that there were “serious disagreements over the decision not to redact the names of Afghan civilians.”

We could take a step back look at that in the context of a broader debate about the driving principles of each party. Frame it as web Vs traditional.

On one side, Assange. Trusting the idea of transparency and the power of the network to filter and discriminate (but not trusting much else). Building layers of protection and redundancy like a computer network.

On the other Davies and the Guardian offering the special protections journalists have to protect sources and their responsibilities to those involved. Lending a level of credibility and context to the data.

I covered that clash of approaches in a bit more detail in last years lecture.

But regardless of your view of Assange’s or The Guardians alleged position or the relative merits of transparency vs the more traditional model of institutional balance, in this case it’s clear that the Guardian (and the author of the piece) measured it’s responsibility to the professional standards of journalism and not to the demands of Assange.

The Guardian and Davies were responsible to no body other than good journalism.

The concept of “good journalism” as a constant – something apart – is one we could argue about all day, especially in the light of recent events in the industry and Leveson. So maybe I can suggest (with no value judgment or implied criticism of the wikipedia approach) that, in this instance, good journalism was a collective effort of individuals sticking to core principles -being consistent with the standard of a professional journalist.

One of the challenges in trying to define what a journalist is (and in this context how they should behave) is breaking the link between the individual and the organisation they work for. But the coverage of the riots through social media did a lot to make the idea of an individual, professional journalist that can exist outside of traditional media structures a reality

The personal nature social networks means that individuals can rise in prominence quickly and there is good evidence that journalists, with their professional practice, are better suited to benefit from that than most. In fact it wasn’t uncommon for people to suggest that twitter uses should actively seek out journalists (or those with a track record of acting journalistically) during events like the riots (although, to be fair, it was often journalists saying that!).

I’ve talked in other lectures about how understanding and cultivating these personal relationships is valuable.But in this context it’s not without it’s problems and those stem from that unpicking of individual identity from corporate identity.

Just last week,  a Sky News email about use of social media by journalists was leaked to the Guardian. The memo, as it has been reported, places strict limitations on what a journalist may or may not share on social networks.

“So, to reiterate, don’t tweet when it is not a story to which you have been assigned or a beat which you work.

“Where a story has been Tweeted by a Sky News journalist who is assigned to the story it is fine, desirable in fact, that it is retweeted by other Sky News staff.

“Do not retweet information posted by other journalists or people on Twitter. Such information could be wrong and has not been through the Sky News editorial process.”

The email said: “1. Don’t tweet when it’s someone else [sic] story. Stick to your own beat. 2. Always pass breaking news lines to the news desk before posting them on social media networks.”

One reading of the reported elements of the memo, was that it was typical of a large media organisation that doesn’t get it. Sadly another, depressingly common and depressingly puerile reason, was this was somehow all evil Rupert Murdoch’s doing.

Sky justified the move citing accuracy:

“Sky News has the same editorial procedures across all their platforms including social media to ensure the news we report is accurate.”

Who would want to get caught out tweeting something that later turns out to be wrong?

As I said earlier, I don’t believe that social media makes mistakes more common but it certainly makes them more visible. If they understand nothing else about social media , media orgs have an understanding (borne from bitter experience) that social media will take a mistake and (with no small amount of glee by some) amplify it. (live by the sword and die, again and again by the sword). Even the response to the memo (a mistake in the view of some) shows that.

The Arab Spring really showed the value and bravery of individual journalists risking life and limb to get content out because it was the right (as well as journalistic) thing to do. But, taking the value judgment out of it, the events in the middle east (and others like the Mumbai bombing) show how trust (and the connected idea of editorial selectivity) become more important – when the flow of content turns in to a torrent, people trust mainstream media to collate and filter the ‘truth’ for them. It’s even more important to have the checks and balances in place to maintain that trust as well as have it tested.

I’ll make a distinction between trust and select. Just because they don’t select them it doesn’t mean they don’t trust them or have an expectation (even a demand) that they get it right.  So any media organisation, would worry that their reputation could be undermined by a simple mistake.

There is some evidence to support this concern about trust. We know that whilst people will trust individuals, it’s often a shallow transactional trust. A trust with little at risk. We know that the trust in media organisations is a deeper, more invested trust. Why? because allegedly there is more at risk….

I can trust someone on twitter to show me interesting things but if they don’t, well, I haven’t lost anything. But I have to trust the media because if I don’t, well, we lose a vital protection and connection to the democratic process.  Failure of trust in one means I might say ‘meh’ and log off.  The other means the death of democracy.

We have structures in newsrooms to maintain trust by maintaining accuracy. Those structures tend to work through hierarchy. Though all journalists are responsible for their work, the level of oversight depends on you place in the foodchain. So we see more senior members of a newsroom getting more autonomy – on screeners, columnists etc. – under the assumption that they have the experience not to make mistakes.Those down the food chain have to work their way up and learn the ropes like everyone else.

But this also puts boundaries between journalists and the audience. They deal with recognisable faces. I think that’s why broadcasters often rate higher in the trust ratings than print journalists – they are less anonymous.

Social media is does two things to upset that. It gives  the anonymous a name, a face and a way to interact and it flattens hierarchies.

When the details of the mail where posted on Twitter (in a splendid piece of social media trailing by Josh Halliday ) the twitter community interpreted the ‘rules’ as an attack on one of their own – singling out Neil Mann (@fieldproducer) as a possible casualty of the new rules.

Actually, just as aside, I wonder if the powers that be at sky had a look through Josh’s twitter feed to see which of his followers or followees worked at sky. But I digress.

In his official capacity Mann works for Sky News but, like many other journalists, tweets in a personal capacity.  He does it very well and has rightly been singled out for particular praise (by Sky as well as the broader journalism community) as an exemplar of social media use – He was actually named the most influential UK journalist on twitter).

I think we can also safely say that Twitter has made Mann, anonymous to most people outside the industry, more visible. I think a good part of his credibility online comes from the journalistic way he uses twitter. People follow him for what he does and how he does it, rather than who he works for.

But it’s clear that for Sky News (and they are not alone in this) the distinction between personal and professional is too subtle and the ‘this is my personal feed’ distinction is not enough.  If you are paid to be a Sky journalist then you can’t be a journalist for anyone else. Not twitter. Not even yourself. Personal or professional accounts are all the same to them

But is that really fair?

If a journalist is using twitter ‘unofficially’, as a punter, their feed is likely to be as full of the same collection of “the mundane, the fleeting, the inconsequential, or the just plain ridiculous.” as anyone else’s feed. What about when they aren’t being a journalist? Is it right to consider it all journalistic output and fair game to control?

That line about the mundane and the fleeting isn’t mine. It comes from a paper by Wendy Wyatt who identifies the two ways in which a journalist uses a social platform like Twitter – to distribute facts or to ruminate and ‘muse’.

She suggests that if a journalist uses Twitter as a tool for reporting news, that journalist’s followers will view the posts simply as an extension of the journalist’s news outlet; reading tweets is just another way to get news. On the other hand,she says,  expectations differ for journalists who use forums for ruminating, for sharing personal stories, and for simply relaying things that seem interesting or otherwise worthy of passing along.

Wyatt suggests that, because it is the journalist who creates these two contrasting purposes, they “are obligated to be clear about their purpose with their followers”.

She even goes a step further and suggests the development of a kind of tag that indicates that something a journalist is posting falls in to the ‘musing’ not reporting; something such as “UVBI.”- “unverified but interesting”

In developing the idea Wyatt is actually playing devils advocate. In reality, her gut reaction from a media ethics standpoint, is that:

“standards for social networking sites, for blogs, and for any other platform where journalists connect to audiences should be no different than standards for traditional reporting”

Maybe we are back to our ‘good journalism transcends the medium’ idea.

Of course that doesn’t really answer the question of who ultimately checks that the journalist is sticking to those standards. And as much as the journalist may try and separate their ‘normal’ activity from their journalism, in social media terms, perhaps that’s a wasted effort. It’s the audience who decides on which side you fall.

In that respect you could see any attempt by a large media organisation to control the way their journalist use social networks as a way of controlling access to the audience.

That’s what media wants –  an audience – and it’s OK that they have to fight competitors for that but they don’t expect one of those competitors to be you.

You could read that as a very old media, commercial way of looking at things (control the flow, control the audience). Social media savvy critics may say it’s a false economy. The company lose the ‘value’ and audience that individual journalists using social media interaction brings.

Right or wrong we live and work in an age of big brand journalism and when they spend their money they don’t do it to fund brand “you”.

It’s not as if individual journalists don’t benefit from being associated with large news organisations. In fact is not as if that association with a large media company is the way that professional journalists separate themselves from that mess of cit-journalism people online.

And isn’t it maybe also be a little dishonest to claim a distinction. If you happened to see a story of value in your ‘personal feed’ would you ignore it as as if you were ‘off duty’?

Being part of ‘the media’ gives you special rights, responsibilities and protections.  The powers may make for a really boring super-hero (and a pretty underwhelming costume) but they are powers none the less.

So what does  that tell us about what our responsibilities are, or who we are responsible too in the internet age.

Truth is that it’s complex.

We could take a purist approach, step back from the market forces and commercial issues, just like our predecessors who set up journalism codes and standards, and say have a responsibility to a higher ideal. An ideal that motivates (maybe compels) us, enabled by new platforms for conversation, to strengthen our responsibility to the audience (whatever platform they may be on) resisting all other pressures. Even if that is from our employers.

But we also have to be realistic about where the power inherent in that responsibility comes from. Large media organisations with their complex mix of commercial, editorial considerations, like it or not have their part to play and we can’t easily unhitch the journalist or the publics perception of what that means from that train. That’s where public trust lies.

You can see the frustration (and inherent contradictions) of trying to unpick that in the Leveson inquiry at the moment. Day after day we have journalists and editors trying to defend that mix in the face of dwindling trust – yes, we’ve bollocksed things up but don’t destroy the whole thing otherwise the whole fourth estate thing goes out the window and we’re all in trouble. That big risk I talked about.

It paints a grim (and opportune) picture for those who always believed the web was a threat.  Whilst government and vested interests are trying to kick the front door of journalism down, people are still leaving the back door wide open to the internet and all its challenges.

But we know that the insular approach can’t continue.  New media/the web/the internet, whatever you want to call it, is opening up what we do in journalism like it or not.

At the moment that’s a battle fought on the boundaries of an industry built on closed ethical principles. Maybe it’s trapped by them. Maybe it’s entrenched in them as they feel they are under threat. But I firmly believe that doing what we do as journalists online, under the scrutiny of (and working with) our audience will slowly build new levels of trust.

Ironic isn’t it that the idea of transparency, so doggedly pursued by someone like Assange and so at odds with traditional editorial values,  should be seen by so many as key to the survival of journalism.

There’s a risk though. Taking away the traditional structures and making it personal online means that professional identity is all we have to take with us and we should never lose sight of the broader responsibility to society and our audience that entails.

In the face of the fractured communities the web creates, it may seem old fashioned to talk about our responsibility within the public sphere – a homogenous thing. In fact academics now talk about public sphericles (Gitlin et al) – small communities and collectives of people – each with their own norms and ethical limits.  (try this for more)

It’s easy to see how that idea can work for things like social media (I’m being simplistic here, some understanding where the idea fits in to the concept of a fifth estate adds better context). Maybe twitter is a little public spherical, where rules and discourse are different. Where we can do things we can’t do ‘officially’ as journalists. Think about what the Guardian did busting the Trafigura super injunction.

The danger is that we fall in to the trap of being different within each of those spheres. We become inconsistent – we end up being a journalist on the page following all the rules and regulations and the something else on Twitter where the norm seems to be different, still claiming to be a journalist on both.

Or maybe you think that’s a load of public sphericles.

I think that if we believe that good journalism, practiced with an eye to a strong ethical framework is of value to society, even of we think that it’s only of self-serving value; If we want to be a journalist and work on the web, taking some of that power and status that being a journalist gives us across spheres. Maybe we don’t get to choose when we are journalist and when we are not.

Perhaps we need to accept that we can’t be like normal people on Facebook or Twitter because, well, we aren’t normal people.

We are journalists. The web is 24/7 365.

If we want people to put their trust in us as individuals, underwritten by the long standing tradition and ethics of professional journalism, then perhaps we have to a responsibility to be journalists 24/7 365.

Aftermatter: When I asked the class about what they saw as a professional journalist I got a surprising response. I say surprising because it was a very broad and fluid definition – they certainly saw the distinction between the act and the person and the organisation. That’s in contrast to last year who were pretty set on the idea that a professional journalist was one that got paid to do it (more often than not by a large org)

I appreciate that one of the holes in my argument is that I have assumed that definition but as I said, its meant to be argumentative in that respect and as I (hope) began to argue, whilst it may be shifting, for most people that is still the definition. 

Social media in the newsroom – a small example

A fantastic series of articles by Robert Patterson on the online efforts of Californian outfit KBPS during last years fires.  I was going to type reporting efforts there but it’s clear from the post that it was more than just reporting.

In the first part Patterson outlines how they made use of technology. Making use of free tools like google maps and twitter they went all out to involve the community in what they did.

One thing in their approach I found particually interesting was how they used the homepage of the website

The station stripped everything off their front page to provide a clear focus on the ONE Story that affected everyone.

In the second part, culture comes under the spotlight. One bit struck me:

 I asked whether this was enough. Was it enough to have a small team?

“No not really. What was vital was that the team had a year to get to know each other, to gain the trust of the Senior Management and to “play” with some of these tools in their own time. If the fire had happened just after the team had been assembled, I don’t think they would have had the cohesion, the confidence and the knowledge to act as they did.”

I asked what she meant by “Play”.

“Well we did not have Twitter or Google Maps in our inventory, but the team had been playing with these tools on their own time. They all had their own blogs. Twitter had been discussed and in the week of the fire, we had planned a brown bag lunch to talk about Twitter. Leng, our manager, had played a lot with Google Maps and had been fascinated by their power. You can’t train for this – you have to hire for it.”

Play. Such a vital concept but it shouldn’t just be “in their own time”.

Even if you are not in the US or a small station there are some great ideas in these posts.