The wonders of twitter, tweetdeck and google translate meant that I got an interesting insight into the way Clarín, the biggest newspaper in Argentina, is approaching the challenge of a converged newsroom.
What caught my eye was a the visualization of the ‘new editorial cycle’ that journalism news site ELDSD posted to twitter. A translated version below.
The process of transition has clearly not been smooth with staff representation voicing concerns of the process In terms of convergence they are familiar debates.
Despite the cod google translate filtering, it made for an interesting perspective on an ongoing debate. But it also shows that language isn’t always a barrier to using social media.
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!
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.
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?’.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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’
@digidickinson because 1) it is against site terms and 2) you’ll look like an egotistical fool if you get caught.
Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in-between
How can we be wrong
Dolly Parton! Well, actually the BeeGees (well if we are being really pedantic Hemingway). What the hell is that about Andy!
Well, Mary Hammilton (a must follow @newsmary on twitter) highlighted a post by entrepreneur, writer and geek living imploring us to stop publishing webpages and start publishing streams:
Start moving your content management system towards a future where it outputs content to simple APIs, which are consumed by stream-based apps that are either HTML5 in the browser and/or native clients on mobile devices. Insert your advertising into those streams using the same formats and considerations that you use for your own content. Trust your readers to know how to scroll down and skim across a simple stream, since that’s what they’re already doing all day on the web. Give them the chance to customize those streams to include (or exclude!) just the content they want.
I found it a little bit of a mish-mash really. In principle, lots to agree with but the practice was less clear. It makes sense if you’re in to developing the ‘native clients’ but harder to quantify if your’e a content creator.
More interesting was the twitter discussion it generated between Mary and her Guardian colleague Jonathan Haynes (the equally essential @jonathanhaynes) which I hitched my wagon to. Haynes didn’t agree with the premise of the post and that generated an intersting discussion.
I’ve created a storyfy below but it got me thinking about some general points which are a little ‘devils advocate':
What is this stream anyway – is it the capacity to filter or is the depth and breadth of content you have to filter. I would say it’s the latter. Facebook and Twitter are streams because of the sheer weight of numbers and diversity of users.
Why be the stream when you can be part of it – Part of what Anil posted about was making stuff available to use in streams. I can’t disagree with that but it strays in to the idea of feeding the content ecosystem that, in blunt terms, is often played as parasitic. For all the advocacy of allowing user control, the one thing news orgs are still loathed to do is move people outside the site. Is looking at new ways to recreate the stream experience within a site simply a way of admitting that you aren’t really part of the stream?
Are you confusing your consumption habits with your users – whilst the stream might be useful for information pros like journos is it really what consumers want for their news. The stream suits the rolling nature of journalism. Not in the broadcast sense, just in the sense of ‘whats new’. Do your audience consume like you do?
Are you removing the value proposition of a journalist? – by putting the control of the stream in the hands of the user are you doing yourself out of a job. I know what the reply to that will be: “No, because the content of the stream will be done by us and we will curate the stream”. Well in that sense it’s not a stream is it. It’s a list of what you already do. Where’s that serendipity or the compulsion to give people what they need (to live,thrive and survive) rather than what they want?
Confusing presentation with creation - That last point suggests a broader one. You can’t simply repackage content to simply ride the wave when your core business different. It’s like calling a column a blog – we hate that don’t we. So why call a slightly different way of presenting the chronology of content a stream?
That’s before we have even got to the resource issue. News orgs can’t handle the social media flow as it is.
So, Islands in the stream? Well, thinking about the points above, especially the first one, what’s wrong with being something different. What’s wrong with being a page is world of updates. What’s wrong with being a place where people can step out of the stream and stay a while to dry off and get a bit of orientation.
Like others in J-school I’m getting to know new classes, spending a bit of time talking about the ‘gathering’ part of journalism and how digital tools can help. So yesterday I bullied my class of postgrads through, among other things, RSS and Google reader.
When I raised the topic, one of the class commented that “it’s just like twitter”
I initially disagreed, talking about the differences of simply gathering, organising and filtering content and actually interacting with people. But I’ve had a little time to reflect and, do you know, I don’t think that’s a bad way to think about RSS at all.
Twitter is about building a network of people who you can engage with and (positively) use. A network that is big enough not only to give what you want but also what you thought you didn’t need. The serendipity of twitter is one of its charms.
RSS is a lot like that but with websites and not people. The bigger your ‘network’ of websites, the more chance you’ll find something of interest.
For journalists a lot of the motivations for using the tool are the same: network building; time managment etc.
Points of reference
When I introduced Reader, a few people in the room had heard of it (and used it); Most had not. That’s always a surprise to me, but not a criticism of the students. The early days of new classes are always an interesting reality check for me. My world (geeky and riven through with online as it is) is not always the real world! So it’s nice when something gives you pause to reflect.
It made me think a little more about points of reference. I’ve worked through a chronology of this stuff. Started using Reader before twitter and felt the transition in passive to active engagement as the web has developed. That makes sense to me. But a lot of people in the room have come the other way. Facebook and twitter are their point of entry and reference.
Maybe that shows that digital/online journalism is really maturing now (or maybe just my view). Like many other things it’s now as important to look back at how this stuff has developed as it is simply to use it. Even if that ‘history’ is only five or six years young!
Update Kate, the one who suggested RSS is like twitter, reminded me that I should quote my sources.
@digidickinson Aren't you supposed to attribute quotations? ;) *cough* itwasme *cough*
The reasoning for that distinction was interesting:
We label the Twitter accounts of some presenters and correspondents as “official” – and are also today publishing some specific guidance for them [64KB PDF]. This activity is regarded as BBC News output and tweets should normally be consistent with this, reflecting and focusing on areas relevant to the role or specialism, and avoiding personal interests or unrelated issues. A senior editor keeps an eye on tweets from these accounts after they’re sent out.
Finally, we remind people that programme or genre content – like @BBCBreaking andBBC News on Facebook – should normally be checked by a second person before it goes out. The guidance also urges people to think carefully about the practicalities and editorial purpose of this activity. It shouldn’t be started “because it’s what everyone does these days”.
The statement actually suggest that it should only be started if you have the resources to see it through. In principle, sound advice. In practice it could be a charter to simply not do it.
Credit where credit is due
The guidelines are pretty much concerned with output – what BBC people put out on social networks. But it’s the area of attribution that generates the most comment (when people are not bemoaning the character limit). The BBC came in for a bit of stick during the riots for crediting platforms not people for pictures from social networking sites. Pictures where from Twitter and not the person who put them there.
It seems that some people think that the ‘undue prominence’ argument is a suitable lever to get the BBC to change their approach. I think that’s a red herring. In this context they are sources first and commercial entities second. Taking that approach would suggest that no commercial company could be mentioned during the news. Perhaps the best you could argue is that there is an ‘undue reliance’ on social media instead of putting journalists on the street.
But I digress. FishFingers flags the issue asking:
if a comment is sent to the BBC and it is read on air or posted as part of “live” coverage, why are we told that it came from Twitter? Why does the communication medium have to even be mentioned? Why not simply say that the person sent a message?
It’s a good point but I think you do need to say where it came from as well as who said/posted it. Credit where credit is due but as journalists we should where possible, always cite our sources – makes it a bit more transparent doesn’t it?
She illuminated a few things to consider when tweeting in times of riot:
Unless you can see it happening, don’t tweet about it.
Bear in mind that some people are making jokes.
Bear in mind that being scared of something happening isn’t the same thing as knowing that it’s going to happen.
If you see rumours, question them directly.
If you see something you know isn’t true, try to correct it.
If you’re tweeting about things you can see, be specific.
Follow people you trust to be accurate.
If you’ve been out looting and rioting, please tweet about it.
Developing the ‘be accurate about tweeting what you see’ point Mary makes an interesting statement:
Remember: if you can see it and you’ve got the means to publish information about it, that makes you a de facto journalist. So be responsible with your power. Be specific about where you are and what you can see.
As a journalist you should know that with great power comes great responsibility.
One way to read that list is ‘if you are going to be on twitter during the riots then be journalistic otherwise leave it to the “journalists”‘ – and by journalist we are saying those who behave journalistically. Defacto or professional.
But could we take that a stage further? Could we say that essentially in times of crisis, twitter is now such an important communication channel that all none-essential users should keep traffic to a minimum. Should Twitter be left to allow the essential users (fire, police and media!) to do their job more effectively? Twitter becomes part of the Emergency Broadcast System.
I know the answer to that is no. Trying to restrict the use of twitter at any time would be like shouting at a hurricane to stop – pointless. The intrinsic value of the network at times like the riots is built on the diversity of the users. It’s also were the value of the ‘journalist’ rests – filtering that content.
But it does highlight one of the challenges we have as journalists using twitter: not everyone uses it the same way we do.
Twitter without the rubbish
Twitter is a massively valuable journalistic tool. For many it’s a vital part of the process of ‘doing journalism’. So its going to be frustrating when people come along and mess it up. When people get in the way of the process. Wouldnt it be so much easier to find that lead if people would stop tweeting about their lunch? In short, it would be great if people could behave in a way that made our job more straightforward.
But that chaos reflects the dynamic nature of the network – the thing that makes it valuable. It is what it is. So we need to see this and any challenges it brings as an issue with our process. When things like the riots kick-off, we the media need a different approach to twitter.
That’s not just because (I believe) twitter behaves differently during things like the riot but because journalists do.
Much as I believe that sticking to a basic journalistic process has massive value in social networks for people (journos and none-journos alike), there is an argument to say that just as the media takes on a different role (and a need to be responsible) during events like the riots, so, people who take the role of journalist in particular those who claim the title through employment by the MSM, need change their approach. How?
Well, on top of the good points Mary makes, the best way I can think to develop that is with a couple of questions:
Should individual journos only tweet about the event through official twitter feeds for their org, linking to that from their ‘personal accounts’?
Journalists personal motivations for being involved in tweeting clearly came through during the riots and often feeds became a mixture of personal messages and professional information. Normally this mix is fine but when the situation is so serious and the information is so important (and their job as a journalist demands a response) shouldn’t that response be removed from the personal?
Would that better reflect the temporal nature of the event and the powers and responsibilities that bestows on the journalist?
Should tweeting of live, ‘crisis’ events always be backed up with a presence on the main publication website?
I thought the Guardians use of a live blog in the riots was an excellent. Actually, in this instance, I thought it was vital. Not only did it give a valuable archive on which to build coverage, it also presented a single place where punters could go and get filtered, authoritative coverage.
Instead of users having to piece together the chronology and facts sifted from the truth and lies in the flow of tweets. It also gave reporters and others something to tweet to direct people away from the steady stream of rumours.
Power and responsibility
I know that some of the changes to process will always be dynamic and responsive; Who knows what the next event will be?
But I know that some of my thinking here (especially in my first question) is being driven by questions about where authority comes from and what that allows you to do. Where does the right to take responsibility for something come from?*
On social networks much of that is down to the quality of the relationship, the quality of your interactions and the value they add to the community.
But at times of crisis it’s not unusual to see the weight of the organisation a journalist works for being bought to bear in terms of authority – one day I am Andy the next day I am the Daily News. – and that is the journalist changing the terms of the relationship.
You can claim it’s for the greater good but the relationship is still changed.
That shift is a little more fundamental and at the heart of the challenge of working online.
* For me that’s something that is distinct from taking responsibility – I can do this because of what I am compared to I do because of what I am. It seems common for people to see it as the act rather than the motivation
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
I can also see clever journalists using the embedded feature to tease stories with video snippets and by giving their Twitter audience more content encourage those followers to visit a news site and engage there too
I love that idea. But how many newsrooms are ready to take advantage of it?
It’s easy to dismiss putting time in to getting your multimedia on twitter as a waste of time. Like the ipad, it’s easy to dismiss things like twitters new features as gadgets and technology that get in the way of proper journalism.
But experimenting with getting a video on to twitter is not about video on twitter. That’s the easy (now easier bit). It’s about exploring if you have the capacity to do video at all. Just like exploring delivery of content to the ipad is a way to experiment with html5. Hell, if nothing else it’s a convenient excuse to try.
If you don’t take the opportunity to experiment then you will find that you have less of a capacity to produce the content your audience will want and no ability to chase them as they migrate to platforms that do.
When they come to you, you may as well have the newsroom fail whale up: “Sorry we are over capacity”
Maybe we should be more honest about what we can and can’t do. Be more bullish about what we do well. Perhaps we should get over wanting to chase them everywhere (or corral them in one place behind a paywall).
Or maybe we should take advantage of the free, open and engaged platforms to see just what capacity we really have.