Tag Archives: social media

20 recent hyperlocal developments (June-August 2011)

Ofcom’s Damian Radcliffe produces a regular round-up of developments in hyperlocal publishing. In this guest post he cross-publishes his latest presentation for this summer, as well as the background to the reports.

Ofcom’s 2009 report on Local and Regional Media in the UK identified the increasing role that online hyperlocal media is playing in the local and regional media ecology.

New research in the report identified that

“One in five consumers claimed to use community websites at least monthly, and a third of these said they had increased their use of such websites over the past two years.”

That was two years ago, and since then, this nascent sector has continued to evolve, with the web continuing to offer a space and platform for community expression, engagement and empowerment.

The diversity of these offerings is manifest in the Hyperlocal Voices series found on this website, as well as Talk About Local’s Ten Questions feature, both of which speak to hyperlocal practitioners about their work.

For a wider view of developments in this sector, you may want to look at the bi-monthly series of slides I publish on SlideShare every two months.

Each set of slides typically outlines 20 recent hyperlocal developments; usually 10 from the UK and 10 from the US.

Topics in the current edition include Local TV, hyperlocal coverage of the recent England riots, the rise of location based deals and marketing, as well as the FCC’s report on The Information Needs of Communities.

Feedback and suggestions for future editions – including omissions from current slides – are actively welcomed.

Case Study – Two political blog articles which went viral

One of the areas which interests me is how independent publishers can cut through to build an audience, or drive a story into the wider public arena. This is a cross-post from the Wardman Wire.

Two articles from the last month by the Heresiarch and Anna Raccoon form an interesting study in articles by political bloggers which gained widespread attention. Both of these pieces went viral via Twitter, rather than Facebook or any other social network.

Firstly, a piece, which caught the moment when the conviction of “Twitter Terrorist” Paul Chambers was confirmed. This piece achieved almost 1000 retweets.

This is the headline and abstract:

Heresy Corner: With the Conviction of Paul Chambers, it is now illegal to be English.

There is something deeply and shockingly offensive about the conviction of Paul Chambers for his Twitter joke, almost unbelievably reaffirmed today at the Crown Court in Doncaster. It goes beyond the normal anger anyone would feel at a blatant injustice, at a piece of prosecutorial and judicial overkill that sees the might of the state pitted against a harmless, unthreatening individual for no good reason.

Secondly, a piece from Anna Raccoon last week, about the case of Stephen Neary, who seems to have been caught up in a bureaucratic whirlpool through his autism:

The Orwellian Present – Never Mind the Future.

Steven Neary, Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, Welfare Deputyships and The Court of Protection

These numbers of tweets are 50-100 times more than will be achieved by a reasonably well-received article. As a comparison the last 6 articles on the Heresy Corner homepage this morning are showing 3, 5, 4, 9, 40 and 2 retweets.

My observations:

1 – Both are non party-aligned writers embedded in the political blog niche, but also cover political questions from a position of non-political knowledge, with a degree of authority/respect which has come from their own work over two years or more.

2 – In these instances, both are amateur or professional subject specialists in the areas they cover here, and have an established readership who are able to give a boost to a piece in the social media nexus. As a comparison, in the world of Internet Consultancy much time (and money) is spent trying to build initial traction for articles and websites to give them a boost into wider internet prominence.

3 – The importance of “connectors”. Anna Raccoon’s piece received a significant boost from Charon QC, who provides an important hub-site in the legal niche – which of course is one place where a real difference can be made to Stephen Neary’s situation.

4 – The “edge of the political blogosphere” has become very important – both for specialist sites writing about political questions, and political blogs who “do more than politics”.

5 – These are two different types of article. The Heresy Corner summarised the online reaction to the “I’l blow you’re airport sky high” Twitter Joke Trial case at the right time to catch the Zeitgeist, while Anna Raccoon’s piece is a campaigning piece trying to direct attention to a particular case, in an area of society she has written about on perhaps a dozen occasions.

6 – Several legal commentators (eg Jack of Kent in addition to Charon) have pointed out (correctly) that for campaigning piece to convert attention into action, there needs to be more complete information about both sides of the story. A spotlight can be directed onto a perceived abuse, but there needs to be objective investigation afterwards.

That is a good distinction; but the rub is that officialdom can prevent both sides of the story being available to the public, and often only react to media spotlights – not to problems which they have not been embarrassed about.

7 – Neither of these bloggers are deeply embedded in the Facebook ecosystem, which is a distinct difference from some other mainly political sites, which report Facebook as a major source of traffic (example). I’ll write more on this another time, because I think it is important.

8 – During November, when the Paul Chambers piece was published, Heresy Corner jumped from 134 in the Wikio blog ranks to number 15 (illustrated). This was after changes which introduced a “Twitter” factor into the Wikio rankings. I’d suggest that this level of volatility may illustrate that they’ve overdone it.

Wrapping Up

The missing link for independent publishers is the ability to translate incisive observation or reporting into an effective influence.

I’ll return to that subject soon.

Can I ask a favour from brave souls who’ve reached the end of this article. I need a couple of dozen Facebook “Likes” for my own site’s new Facebook page to gain access to all features. You can “Like” me at the bottom of the rh sidebar here.

Summary of "Magazines and their websites" – Columbia Journalism Review study by Victor Navasky and Evan Lerner

The first study (PDF) of magazines and their various approaches to websites, undertaken by Columbia Journalism Review, found publishers are still trying to work out how best to utilise the online medium.

There is no general standard or guidelines for magazine websites and little discussion between industry leaders as to how they should most effectively be approached.

Following the responses to the multiple choice questionnaire and the following open-ended questions -

  • What do you consider to be the mission of your website, does this differ from the mission of your print magazine?
  • What do you consider to be the best feature of aspect of your website?
  • What feature of your website do you think most needs improvement or is not living up to its potential?

- the researchers called for a collective, informed and contemporary approach to magazine websites with professional body support.

The findings were separated into the following 6 categories: Continue reading

Teaching blogging: the Social Media Treasure Hunt (#bsmth #snowbrum)

Today I’m trying an experiment with a group of students on my undergraduate Online Journalism module – a ‘Social Media Treasure Hunt’ on their patch: Birmingham.

The students are all reporters who will, next week, be reporting for the environmental news website Birmingham Recycled. Last week they set up their systems – RSS reader, Delicious, and Twitter – and this week they are setting up their blogs. They’ve already had the lecture about the theory – now comes the practice. But instead of the usual workshop-in-a-computer-room, I’m taking them into their community.

This year I’ve made a significant change to how I teach blogging. The focus is explicitly on social capital, and ideas of sharing their processes. So here’s what I wanted to do:

  • Get them meeting people in person rather than virtually – a much more effective way of building social capital
  • Get them away from a desk. It seems to me that most people approach online journalism as a deskbound job – actually, it opens up enormous opportunities for production on the move: moblogging, liveblogging, photoblogging (one student has already tried all 3 in one go).
  • Get them to open their eyes, ears and noses. These students have spent 18 months learning how to be journalists – looking for angles, structuring a story. Now I’m asking them to unlearn some of that when they approach a blog: put out unfinished material; observations; raw material. Sharing – not processing. That can be a hard habit to get into.

Oh, and of course I want to make it fun and engaging. So…

The Social Media Treasure Hunt

At 9am this morning a group of around 15* 7 students will gather at Coffee Lounge in Birmingham city centre. They all have phones with web packages and/or laptops with wifi. I will make sure they are all set up with a blog, and are able to post to it from their phone or laptop.

They will then be given, in pairs:

  • A map of wifi coverage in Birmingham
  • A name
  • The rules of the game

The rules of the game

  1. You have been given the name of a person with a social media presence in Birmingham (e.g. blogs, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook etc.).
  2. You must find a way to contact that person, and arrange to meet them as soon as possible, today.
  3. When you meet them, you must find out about them – then ask them to name another person in Birmingham that they think it would be useful for you (as an environmental reporter) to meet. (If you are unable to meet any person, contact @paulbradshaw for a new name)
  4. From the beginning of this process you must keep your eyes, ears and noses alert – and comment on what you see/hear/smell…
  5. …As you travel, you must generate as much content as possible on social media – tweet; take and upload pictures; bookmark webpages; record or stream video or audio; and of course: write blog posts containing all of the above. The purpose of this hunt is to share as much as possible – experiences, insights, opinions, questions – so that others can get to know the city – and you – through your senses.
  6. Tag everything that you do #bsmth (Birmingham Social Media Treasure Hunt) – and follow all the other material using that tag.
  7. You cannot ‘hunt’ a person who is already being – or has been – hunted by someone else.
  8. Points are awarded as follows:
    1. 100 points for meeting someone named;
    2. 50 points for meeting and finding out about someone else;
    3. 20 points for every blog post;
    4. 5 points for every other piece of valid* social media generated.
    5. *Material generated to ‘game’ the contest (e.g. flooding with meaningless material) will not be counted

Winners will receive a prize of non-monetary value…

So that’s the Social Media Treasure Hunt – I’ll blog about the results in due course. Meanwhile, you can of course follow the tag on social media…

*UPDATE: We had a couple inches of snow overnight, which disrupted transport (yeah, I know – just a couple of inches) and prevented around half of the students from taking part, so I adapted by starting a second meme, #snowbrum, for those who were housebound. This was overseen by Birmingham Recycled’s editor, Natalie Adcock, and I’ll blog about that in due course too.

Technology is not a strategy, it's a tool – part 2

A couple weeks ago I blogged about how people often confuse using technology as a tool with using technology as part of a broader strategy. While that post focused on the objectives of news organisations in using UGC, I thought it might be useful to write a short follow-up post about strategies.

It’s very simple. Often, I find that people will say their strategy will be to ‘use Twitter’ or ‘use Facebook’ or ‘use Flickr’. They are then surprised (or, for the sceptics, vindicated) when they ‘get no results’.

The following is a simple list of translations from tools to typical strategies:

Tool Sample strategies
Twitter Follow people in your ‘market’; tweet useful information; monitor searches on key terms in your field; respond to relevant people with @ messages; use relevant hashtags; retweet anything useful to your followers, or anything that might help users you need to build relationships with
Flickr Upload photos regularly; comment constructively on other users’ photos; participate constructively in Flickr forums and pools.
Blogs Post useful content (you might have a particular strategy around the type of content, e.g. linkbait, evergreen content, etc. – this obviously applies to Twitter, Flickr, etc. too); link to other blogs in your field; post constructive comments on other blogs in your field; link your blog presence to presences elsewhere on social media

Of course, as detailed in that previous post, the tools should come after the strategies, and the strategy should come after the objective, but I thought this might be a useful way to clearly communicate what you really want when you ask for a ‘social media strategy’.

I’ve only mentioned 3 tools, because after that you get the idea. If you can add any other strategies for these or other tools, I’ll happily add them in (I’d love to hear them too).

UPDATE: This process in action with an MA TV and Interactive Content group.

UPDATE: This post takes a similar angle on so-called social media strategies and the ‘tick-box’ syndrome.

UPDATE: Below is a very useful diagram on Twitter strategy from Ogilvy PR:

Twitter strategy

Thanks to Jashpal Mall, whose conversation sparked this post.

Augmenting reality through journalism

It should come as no surprise that “augmented reality” – the technology that overlays virtual layers of data upon the real world – could be useful for journalism. If Yelp’s augmented reality application downloaded to your smartphone can generate a digital screen with ratings and reviews of a restaurant even as you enter it,  it’s not hard to envision a time in the future when your handheld could offer real-time news from your surroundings, almost as it unfolds.

Not surprisingly, news organizations are jumping on the bandwagon. In the past couple of months, Esquire magazine in the US and Wallpaper in Europe unveiled fancy “augmented reality” editions. Robert Downey Jr. came to life on the cover of Esquire, and videos and animation augmented text through the pages of Wallpaper. Last summer, Popular Science used a GE-powered augmented-reality feature with 3-dimensional wind turbines on its cover.

While all of this is “cool,” allowing publications to improve reader experience and perhaps, revenue, by providing interactivity and entertainment, none of them specifically utilized the potential of augmented reality to enhance delivery of serious content, as the Guardian’s Mercedes Bunz eloquently pointed out. While these publications have provided a good prelude to how the technology can be utilized, news organizations should segue into actually doing journalism with augmented reality instead of merely offering it as dessert.

Event reporting

One of the obvious uses of the technology would be in the reporting of live events. This has particular relevance in planned or staged events, which can range anywhere from international climate summits to polling booth stats to reporting from live games, and by extension, perhaps, award shows and concerts. Similar to the superimposed first-down line on NFL football fields, which has often been used to describe how augmented reality can overlay virtual information on real objects, stats about the distance of a quarterback’s pass, the speed of a tennis player’s serve, exit poll results on election days, or data released at international summits can be virtually generated so people can view them on their smartphones even as the event transpires.

Mixed media
Another way to utilize the technology more relevantly for journalism is a method employed by the company Moving Brands for its paper, Living Identity. Holding up the print edition of a story in front of a webcam in this case generates a live feed of the latest news and updates about the content in question. Such an integration of various forms of media might indeed be one of the biggest benefits of the technology – allowing users to engage and interact online through special tags and markers in the print product would enable news organizations to not necessarily charge for online content, but offer additional features accessible only through the print version. This might be an avenue to generate profit for an otherwise dying print product.

Localizing content
Augmented reality thrives on hyperlocal content, as seen by applications like Yelp’s Monocle and Mobilizy’s Wikitude, which can offer a user facts on a restaurant or site of interest, based on his location. Such applications utilize a smartphone’s GPS coordinates in conjunction with localized data garnered from the Web in order to provide information. If you can wave a smartphone in front of the Niagara Falls to get stats about the popular destination, why not point it in the general direction of a location of interest and generate a digital screen of the latest news from the region in question? It would be nice to see publications invest in providing local, breaking news through applications downloaded on smartphones, for instance. This would also allow national publications to “localize” themselves. Some radio stations already do this by providing news and traffic updates based on the location of a user’s handheld device.

User-generated content
Another important point to note is that many augmented reality apps are based on social sites, so much of the content for data points is user-generated; Wikitude even allows users to integrate to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, thus making the application socially aware. This concept brings up a whole host of possibilities for news organizations to not only provide more local information to readers, but also to seek user-contributed content. The New York Times, rightly taking a leaf out of the books of these companies, plans to implement augmented reality for its movie and restaurant reviews. While it’s at it, what the Times might also consider is reader input. It would be cool to whip out a mobile phone and see what Sam Sifton has to say about a restaurant, but in keeping with the ways of social media and technology, it would be somewhat wanting if users aren’t allowed to offer their own views and ratings.

Explaining concepts and background
Augmented reality also allows an interactive, engaging way for publications to explain background and concepts for issues they report on. Mainstream media entities like the Times and the BBC, and independent online startups like Flyp media have effectively used multimedia to elaborate on complex principles – from climate issues to African history.  Augmented reality could add a new dimension, quite literally, to this format of content delivery, without a reader having to navigate hyperlinks or popup windows.

In addition, it can enhance charts and graphical representations of information and localize them to make them more pertinent to a reader. Layar, the first-ever augmented reality browser, has developed an application that can help users track bailout money that was given to US banks by the Obama administration, for instance. News organizations would do well to augment their reporting in similar fashion; reading about a big bank miles away from where readers live can be informative, but knowing that a local company received federal money is often more relevant to people.

Apart from content, however, augmented reality’s more important potential might be in the area of revenue generation. Despite being a brainchild of technology, one essential factor in case of both the Esquire and Wallpaper augmented-reality issues is, of course, that readers need to have a print edition of the magazine to be able to experience the features. In addition, the features are interactive and engaging, and regardless of whether they offer exclusive information, they have the potential to keep readers riveted.

Advertising and revenue generation
Much has been said about the success of rich media ads in driving purchase intent; augmented reality can and is providing more effective strategies for advertising. In addition to making advertisements fun and engaging, publications could also use the technology to provide targeted advertising, which would be less rather than more disruptive for the user.  In a simple case, only users interested in purchasing that BMW would hold up the print ad in front of their computer screens to generate a virtual car that shows off all its features, for instance (though who in their right mind wouldn’t want a digitally-generated Z4 to zip in front of their very eyes?). The great potential of this technology for advertising is already being seen, as more and more brands jump on the augmented reality bandwagon. In fact, companies have perhaps implemented it most innovatively and effectively in order to help consumers get a real sense of the values and functions of their products.

With the growing number of paid smart phone apps, news organizations are beginning to understand that the audience is more likely to pay for technology than for content. Augmented reality (and mobile phones) have a long way to go before the technology can become mainstream, but it certainly has the potential to be one of several revenue streams that the media can begin to employ.

What augmented reality can do above and beyond everything else is make information relevant and tangible to a reader or viewer. For years, media puritans have worried about the Internet causing fragmented communities, and taking citizens away from their local communities. Smartphones enabled with augmented reality might be the answer to bridge that divide, as they provide a necessary interface between the real and virtual realms, offering as they do virtual information in a very real world. Geotags and location-aware digital maps not only unleash Web 2.0 information in front of the user, but also keep him or her firmly rooted to the ground he’s standing on.

A glance at the magazine industry

I am speaking to the various digital heads at the major magazines for an overview of the industry as we approach 2010.

Emanuela Pignataro, head of Conde Nast Digital UK, spoke of relaunches and a new focus on social media.

What are you working on now?

We are focusing on the relaunch of CNTraveller.com – version two of this site is due to go live at the beginning of December with exciting new services.  In addition we are looking ahead to early 2010 where we are working towards unveiling an evolution of the successful men’s quality lifestyle site, GQ.com.

What is the biggest challenge you are currently facing?

The ability to keep innovating and investing in spite of the current economic climate. We have shown consistent investment over the past two years – this year alone we have launched a brand new website – wired.co.uk, as well as relaunching CNTraveller next month, and we will be continuing this investment in order to ensure we stay ahead of the competition.

What do you hope to achieve in 2010?

A robust social media platform which can support our editorial content and increase user engagement

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.” Continue reading

Growth of Newspaper Twitter accounts running out of steam

English national newspaper Twitter accounts continue to grow – but at an ever slower rate, according to the latest figures for the 130 accounts I’m tracking:

The detail

These 130 accounts had 1,801,811 followers on November 2nd, up by 137,568 from 1,664,243 on October 1. Of that increase, 95,007 (or 69%) was for the @guardiantech account (which benefits from being on Twitter’s suggested user list).

(NB the Telegraph has renamed its @TelegraphScienc account, so this month I’ve restated October’s figures to be for 130 accounts – I thought it had deleted it when I downloaded the latest figures.).

The biggest mover was @MirrorFootball, up 11 places to 81st (from 455 to 809 followers), suggesting the Mirror is finally making some use of Twitter (most of its other accounts are near the bottom – and only appear to have moved up a place due to the demise of the Telegraph’s Science account).

The full spreadsheet is here or you can see the iframe below.

Arriving at an ideal social-media policy for journalism, Part 1: Perspectives from journalists and news organizations

Much has been said about the Washington Post’s now-infamous incident with issuing restrictive social-media guidelines after Managing Editor Raju Narisetti expressed his not-so-subtle views on war spending and public-official term limits on his Twitter page. Narisetti’s own first reaction to the policy was another tweet: “For flagbearers of free speech, some newsroom execs have the weirdest double standards when it comes to censoring personal views.” He since retracted and shut down his Twitter page on account of “perception problems.”

The Post’s own media reporter Howard Kurtz poked fun at the incident with this tweet: “I will now hold forth only on the weather and dessert recipes.” He then gave a half-hearted, almost contrived endorsement to his organization’s policy, calling the furor surrounding the incident “much ado about nothing” while emphasizing that social media are important channels for communication with readers. The newspaper’s technology writer Rob Pegoraro was also quick to insist that journalistic interactions through social media are indispensable.

It is hard to deny the fact that opiners are neatly divided between journalists and news organizations–in other words—between those that use social media and those that want to regulate it.

The very essence of social media is that it offers readers a glimpse of the “person” behind the journalist. Citizen journalism pioneer Dan Gillmor looks at social networks as an opportunity for news organizations “to show readers that news is not a commodity produced by a faceless institution but a rich, collaborative process.”

For instance, Post political reporter Chris Cillizza, whose Twitter account, “The Fix” is named after his blog at the paper, entertains readers not only with snarky political comments but also by finding humor in life’s little trials, and his Twitter page has been surprisingly—and comfortingly—unhindered by all the drama. If his tweets were to trickle down to news article URLs in keeping with the Post’s new regulations, I wouldn’t follow him. It’s safe to say, neither would 14,540 others.

Despite these differences, even old-school news organizations agree that social media are important. But can managers, editors, reporters and readers agree on a social media policy? To that end, it would, perhaps, be helpful to analyze guidelines that have so far been proposed by different news organizations, and more importantly, how they have been received.

The policies

The Wall Street Journal laid down its own set of social-media regulations over the summer to much opposition.“Sharing your opinions,” the Journal said in an e-mail to staff members, “could open us to criticism that we have biases and could make a reporter ineligible to cover topics in the future for Dow Jones.” A tad more ridiculously, it continued, “Openly “friending” sources is akin to publicly publishing your Rolodex.”

Apart from confidential sources that any journalist would be expected to protect through sheer common sense, social media interactions with reporting contacts can only serve to enrich the exercise of newsgathering, and allow a more transparent process while at it.

Continuing in the same vein of going against the grain of journalistic transparency, the WSJ guidelines also insist that reporters not “detail how an article was reported, written or edited.” Social media guru Jeff Jarvis rightfully points out that these rules challenge the very idea of the collaborative nature of journalism that is promoted by online media.

The ability of a journalist to interact with his audience, be it by seeking story ideas, soliciting sources or sharing the newsgathering process is one of the main advantages of social media. Time’s James Poniewozik astutely calls blogs and social networks, the “DVD director’s cut with commentary.”

Perhaps, one of the most ridiculous of guidelines comes from the AP, which over the summer issued a set of rules, among them, asking employees to control not only what they said on social networks but also what their friends and acquaintances said: “It’s a good idea to monitor your profile page to make sure material posted by others doesn’t violate AP standards; any such material should be deleted.”

The AP’s rules came in the aftermath of one of its reporters posting a critical comment about the McClatchy newspaper chain on his Facebook profile. Mashable’s Ben Parr expressed rightful outrage at this, pointing to the ridiculousness of holding an employee accountable for another individual’s words.

Some guidelines, of course, are acceptable, though none seem to require much more than common sense and ethical awareness on the part of the reporter. For instance, the WSJ’s following rules:

  • “Don’t recruit friends or family to promote or defend your work,” or
  • “Don’t disparage the work of colleagues or competitors or aggressively promote your coverage.”

Also reasonable are rules curbing the sharing of confidential company information. “Posting material about the AP’s internal operations is prohibited on employees’ personal pages” is acceptable as a standard for all staff members at an organization, not exclusively for journalists.

This was one of the reasons why the NYT found itself in a tight corner earlier this summer, when its reporters tweeted about internal discussions at the paper. The Timessocial-media rules are actually more reasonable than most, merely asking reporters to avoid conflicts of interest, maintain political impartiality, and exercise good judgment.

But when a group of journalists decided to broadcast proceedings from an internal staff meeting, the Times decided to throw down the gauntlet. Craig Whitney, the standards editor, made a valid point: “When you’re in an internal meeting that is not public where you’re discussing policy, you would no more Twitter it than pick up the cell phone or call up one of your friends and say, ‘Hey you’ll never believe what (Executive Editor) Bill Keller just said!”

And while that is perfectly reasonable, Jennifer Lee, one of the tweeters from the meeting insisted that there is often something to be said for sharing internal information about your news organization with your audiences. For instance, her tweet about Times’ Pulitzer winners was not only acceptable, but also good for the paper, she said.

Are readers excited to learn these nuggets of information directly from journalists they follow? Sure, it’s certainly more personal than reading a press release. And when the news is about the organization itself, it is especially helpful to hear employees’ unfiltered opinions. If not for Twitter, I probably would have had no way of knowing what Howard Kurtz thought about the Post’s regulations.

Distinction between individual tweeters and institutional ones

Where the Times went a bit far in its regulation was Bill Keller’s insistence that tweeting policies should follow what was already being implemented with regard to what reporters say on television or speeches: anything said was representative of the entire institution. This seems reasonable till you consider that Twitter is a “personal-social” page. It is not like appearing on television to talk about your thoughts and viewpoints on an issue as a reporter from the NYT might be expected to on Meet the Press.

This sentence among the Post‘s guidelines, rings a similar tone: “Post journalists must recognize that any content associated with them in an online social network is, for practical purposes, the equivalent of what appears beneath their bylines in the newspaper or on our website.”

Along the same lines, Rob King, Editor in Chief of ESPN.com, called Twitter a “live microphone.” The site’s guidelines state that “editorial decision makers (such as reporters and writers) essentially represent ESPN in all social networks, and hence, should exercise appropriate judgment (this is as opposed to policies for the rest of ESPN’s staff who may extricate themselves from ESPN affiliation in personal blogs).

ESPN sparked its own controversy when it recently banned reporters from using Twitter for content not sanctioned by ESPN.com, and Mediaite actually questioned the use of the “live microphone” metaphor in an interview with ESPN spokesman Paul Melvin: “Does ESPN recognize the difference between a Twitter feed and a live microphone on television (which requires incredibly exclusive access as well as millions of dollars of broadcast infrastructure)?”

Melvin’s response: “The point here is that all of these media are public. Whether it is TV or radio or a blog, a column a tweet or any other publishing format, these are all public media. The words we use have impact, and we should be mindful of that.”

This is significant. What a journalist says in a tweet cannot be similar to what would appear under a byline or on live television or on radio. Social media don’t operate strictly within the sphere of the workplace. Social media are part of what journalists carry home with them; it is where they ought to be able to express views wholly unrestrained by the rigid rules of traditional journalism. It is also where they delight their readers with a goofy tale about their dog and the latest controversy unfolding on Capitol Hill with equal aplomb.

A distinction should be made (as is done in the business world) between “individual” tweeters, and tweeters who tweet “under the umbrella of an organization.” Corporate policies on social media separate the personal from the professional, and hence are less restrictive on an employee’s right to tweet or blog. By these standards, @washingtonpost would clearly cross the line by tweeting about enforcing a term limit on senators such as Mr. Byrd, but @rajunarisetti was entitled to his opinion. As individual tweeters, journalists should not “relinquish some of the personal privileges of private citizens,” as the Post guidelines require them to.

The BBC, perhaps comes closest to adopting this sort of hands-off approach to the use of “personal” social media by its reporters: “Many bloggers, particularly in technical areas, use their personal blogs to discuss their BBC work in ways that benefit the BBC, and add to the “industry conversation”.  This editorial guidance note is not intended to restrict this, as long as confidential information is not revealed.” In addition, it excludes “personal” blogs from the guidelines, as long as no affiliation to the BBC is mentioned, and even encourages employees to include a disclaimer.

Is unadulterated objectivity possible?

It does, however, specify that editorial staff “should not be seen to support any political party or cause.” It also warns employees to discuss “any potential conflicts of interest” with managers and editors. This is a common theme among regulations cited by all news organizations. Perhaps, if a reporter did not share on his social network opinions and viewpoints on subjects he was reporting on, that would be acceptable.

But then again, restricting specific types of content is a slippery slope. As Editor & Publisher editor Jennifer Saba questions,“Somebody could say, ‘Oh I really enjoy Mad Men,’ and if they cover TV, does that mean they are biased?”

Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander raises this very question in his piece: “Can a reporter who doesn’t cover sports tweet that a team’s owner is a tyrant? Should an editor in the Business section post a comment on her Facebook page that gun owners are paranoid?” I’m not sure if his question is rhetorical, but unfortunately for Saba, he fails to answer it. The New York Times, ever our reliable source for information, jumps in, however: “A City Hall reporter or a politics editor might be “friends” with several different City Council members as well as the Mayor, but not just with one of them. But a reporter or editor whose work has nothing to do with City Hall could be “friends” with people who work there with no conflict of interest.”

But then again, is unadulterated objectivity on a subject a journalist has studied closely, even possible? As James Poniewozik writes, “any person who immersed him or herself in a vital, contentious subject all day and formed no opinion about it whatsoever would be an idiot, and you do not want to get your news from idiots.” And if he does have an opinion, is it in keeping with journalism’s goals to shield it?

Not surprisingly, organizations that appear to be least restrictive of journalists’ use of social media are also the ones that have embraced social networks to effectively disseminate information, engage with the audience, and promote content, such as the BBC and the New York Times, and NPR, which is touted by many as the most effective user of social media, most notably, Mashable.

Alan Rusbridger, Editor-in-chief of the Guardian, another organization known for its utilization of social media tools for citizen journalism and crowdsourcing, has perhaps been most convincing in his ringing endorsement of journalists’ use of such networks to interact, engage and impart information. He has clearly stated on the site’s editorial pages that one of the advantages of Twitter is that it allows reporters to publish, unhindered by the confines of the newspaper and its Web site. This is also reinforced in the site’s social media statement, which promotes the idea of an open forum that promotes all forms of social networking interactions with readers.

Any set of reasonable rules for social media, then, are more common-sense parameters than anything else. And one would hope that journalists would be smart enough to not broadcast something on Twitter that would jeopardize their own credibility, alienate audiences, or embarrass their organizations.

As NYT’s David Carr writes “if you can’t trust the women and men who put out your newspaper to use their keyboards wisely regardless of platform, what are they doing working for you?”

[Part 2 will look at perspectives from history, such as the role of objectivity and the influence of technology on the changing rules of journalism]