Tag Archives: Jeff Jarvis

Are Sky and BBC leaving the field open to Twitter competitors?

At first glance, Sky’s decision that its journalists should not retweet information that has “not been through the Sky News editorial process” and the BBC’s policy to prioritise filing “written copy into our newsroom as quickly as possible” seem logical.

For Sky it is about maintaining editorial control over all content produced by its staff. For the BBC, it seems to be about making sure that the newsroom, and by extension the wider organisation, takes priority over the individual.

But there are also blind spots in these strategies that they may come to regret.

Our content?

The Sky policy articulates an assumption about ‘content’ that’s worth picking apart.

We accept as journalists that what we produce is our responsibility. When it comes to retweeting, however, it’s not entirely clear what we are doing. Is that news production, in the same way that quoting a source is? Is it newsgathering, in the same way that you might repeat a lead to someone to find out their reaction? Or is it merely distribution?

The answer, as I’ve written before, is that retweeting can be, and often is, all three.

Writing about a similar policy at the Oregonian late last year, Steve Buttry made the point that retweets are not endorsements. Jeff Jarvis argued that they were “quotes”.

I don’t think it’s as simple as that (as I explain below), but I do think it’s illustrative: if Sky News were to prevent journalists from using any quote on air or online where they could not verify its factual basis, then nothing would get broadcast. Live interviews would be impossible.

The Sky policy, then, seems to treat retweets as pure distribution, and – crucially – to treat the tweet in isolation. Not as a quote, but as a story, consisting entirely of someone else’s content, which has not been through Sky editorial processes but which is branded or endorsed as Sky journalism.

There’s a lot to admire in the pride in their journalism that this shows – indeed, I would like to see the same rigour applied to the countless quotes that are printed and broadcast by all media without being compared with any evidence.
But do users really see retweets in the same way? And if they do, will they always do so?

Curation vs creation

There’s a second issue here which is more about hard commercial success. Research suggests that successful users of Twitter tend to combine curation with creation. Preventing journalists from retweeting  leaves them – and their employers – without a vital tool in their storytelling and distribution.

The tension surrounding retweeting can be illustrated in the difference between two broadcast journalists who use Twitter particularly effectively: Sky’s own Neal Mann, and NPR’s Andy Carvin. Andy retweets habitually as a way of seeking further information. Neal, as he explained in this Q&A with one of my classes, feels that he has a responsibility not to retweet information he cannot verify (from 2 mins in).

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. But both combine curation with creation.

Network effects

A third issue that strikes me is how these policies fit uncomfortably alongside the networked ways that news is experienced now.

The BBC policy, for example, appears at first glance to prevent journalists from diving right into the story as it develops online. Social media editor Chris Hamilton does note, importantly, that they have “a technology that allows our journalists to transmit text simultaneously to our newsroom systems and to their own Twitter accounts”. However, this is coupled with the position that:

“Our first priority remains ensuring that important information reaches BBC colleagues, and thus all our audiences, as quickly as possible – and certainly not after it reaches Twitter.”

This is an interesting line of argument, and there are a number of competing priorities underlying it that I want to understand more clearly.

Firstly, it implies a separation of newsroom systems and Twitter. If newsroom staff are not following their own journalists on Twitter as part of their systems, why not? Sky pioneered the use of Twitter as an internal newswire, and the man responsible, Julian March, is now doing something similar at ITV. The connection between internal systems and Twitter is notable.

Then there’s that focus on “all our audiences” in opposition to those early adopter Twitter types. If news is “breaking news, an exclusive or any kind of urgent update”, being first on Twitter can give you strategic advantages that waiting for the six o’clock – or even typing a report that’s over 140 characters – won’t. For example:

  • Building a buzz (driving people to watch, listen to or search for the fuller story)
  • Establishing authority on Google (which ranks first reports over later ones)
  • Establishing the traditional authority in being known as the first to break the story
  • Making it easier for people on the scene to get in touch (if someone’s just experienced a newsworthy event or heard about it from someone who was, how likely is it that they search Twitter to see who else was there? You want to be the journalist they find and contact)

“When the technology [to inform the newsroom and generate a tweet at the same time] isn’t available, for whatever reason, we’re asking them to prioritise telling the newsroom before sending a tweet.

“We’re talking a difference of a few seconds. In some situations.

“And we’re talking current guidance, not tablets of stone. This is a landscape that’s moving incredibly quickly, inside and outside newsrooms, and the guidance will evolve as quickly.”

Everything at the same time

There’s another side to this, which is evidence of news organisations taking a strategic decision that, in a world of information overload, they should stop trying to be the first (an increasingly hard task), and instead seek to be more authoritative. To be able to say, confidently, “Every atom we distribute is confirmed”, or “We held back to do this spectacularly as a team”.

There’s value in that, and a lot to be admired. I’m not saying that these policies are inherently wrong. I don’t know the full thinking that went into them, or the subtleties of their implementation (as Rory Cellan-Jones illustrates in his example, which contrasts with what can actually happen). I don’t think there is a right and a wrong way to ‘do Twitter’. Every decision is a trade off, because so many factors are in play. I just wanted to explore some of those factors here.

As soon as you digitise information you remove the physical limitations that necessitated the traditional distinctions between the editorial processes of newsgathering, production, editing and distribution.

A single tweet can be doing all at the same time. Social media policies need to recognise this, and journalists need to be trained to understand the subtleties too.

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C&binet: The mice that roared. Or at least wrote some things on Post-Its.

I spent today at the hyperlocal C&binet event, organised by Creative Industries MP Sion Simon at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport. I’ve already blogged my thoughts leading up to event but thought I would add some more links and context.

For me, it is significant that this happened at all. Normally these sorts of events are dominated by large publishers with lobbying muscle. Yet here we had a group combining hyperlocal bloggers, successful startups like Facebook, Ground Report, Global Voices and the Huffington Post, social media figures like Nick Booth and Jon Bounds, and traditional organisations like The Guardian, BBC, RSA and Ofcom. Jeff Jarvis pitched into the mix via Skype.

As for the event itself, it began the previous afternoon with a presentation from Enders Analysis, embedded below: Continue reading

New business models for journalism – CUNY provides plenty of numbers

So, students at CUNY have delivered their much-awaited New Business Models for journalism – four in total, that aim to answer “What happens to journalism in a top-25 metro market if a newspaper fades away. Can journalism be sustained? And how?”

The post introducing the models is surprisingly succinct: the real work has gone into 3 spreadsheets which are linked to under each heading (there are only 3 as 2 of the business models have been presented together).

Each model has a separate post which is equally succinct, but invite comments. They are:

Much credit goes to CUNY. Although this has the luxury of being funded by the Knight and McCormick Foundations, it is always going to attract much criticism. And I’m not going to shy from being critical: I’m disappointed. Continue reading

The future of journalism: Will journalists be paying out of their own pockets?

While talking to an editor at a newspaper that had made a splash with a crowdsourced investigative story a couple years ago, I remember the subject of payment coming up, to which she made an interesting point. The citizens who contribute their time and effort have a personal interest in the story and do it because they want to help the paper – this is a citizenry interacting with its hometown newspaper for the betterment of the community and for the good of democracy. It was a valid point. After all, if they paid their citizens, they wouldn’t just be citizens anymore, they’d be employees.

News organizations have long been excused from digital sharecropping, a label that has been attached to crowdsourced businesses that exploit free labor from the public without offering compensation. Perhaps, media entities benefit from the altruistic and democratic nature of information sharing. The millions of Internet users that voluntarily put content out for free are more than a testament to that.

But where should the line be drawn? When should news organizations and media conglomerates begin to have to start paying for utilizing the time and resources of their volunteer contributors while holding complete ownership of the product – or at the very least, making revenue off of an individual’s product? Continue reading

If you’re still thinking about charging for online news in 2009, you’re dead already (a primer)

This afternoon I will once again be working with a group of editors as we look at business models for online news. To their credit, the micropayments/paywall issue rarely comes up – and then only as a ‘devil’s advocate’ question. But it seems others have been asleep for the past 10 years. To those and the unfortunate souls having to field these questions, I offer you the following primer culled from recent coverage of this pointless debate: Continue reading

10 Twitter users that every journalism student should follow?

UPDATE: From the comments: similar lists now available for Norway and Sweden.

I will soon begin teaching my annual module in Online Journalism and one of the first things I get the students to do is set up a Twitter account. It’s often a struggle to demonstrate the usefulness of Twitter, so this time around, in addition to following each other, I’m going to give them 10 people to start following from the off. This is the list I’ve come up with – would welcome your suggestions for others:

  1. @davelee – former journalism student and excellent blogger who landed a plum job at the BBC after graduating. Get the point?
  2. @channel4news – example of how a news organisation can use Twitter in a personal, conversational way, rather than simply republishing its RSS feed (see also: @r4news, @mashable) Continue reading

BASIC Principles of Online Journalism: C is for Community & Conversation (pt2: Conversation)

Continuing the final part of this series (part 1: Community is here) I look at conversation. I look at why conversation is becoming a form of publishing itself, why journalists need to be a part of that conversation, and a range of ways they can join in. Continue reading