Posts Tagged twitter
Emily Fairbairn The world has stood transfixed as the tragic events in Japan unfold. All over the globe people were able to see instantly the scale of the devastation, thanks largely to the amount of content being posted online by survivors.
Tweets from Tokyo hit 1,200 per minute as the tsunami swept the Japanese coastline, and YouTube is flooded with shakily shot footage of the disaster. In fact, so many videos have been uploaded that the site is collating them on its CitizenTube channel.
It is at times like these that the power of the citizen journalist is reaffirmed. Only those at the scene of the disaster can truly tell the story, and thanks to the explosion of social media and new technology they can tell it better than ever. The last devastating earthquake to hit Japan, in 1995, was nowhere near as well documented. Now the world sees the destruction instantly and graphically, and what a sight it is.
Hopefully the shocking images and testimonials pouring out of Japan will help mobilise the aid effort as quickly as possible. In the mean time, the sheer scale of videos, blogs and tweets serve as a reminder of how much journalism has benefited from the rise of user generated content. How awful that it takes a disaster like this to do so.
Speaking in Toronto this week, Emily Bell, former head of digital at The Guardian, argued that newspapers must be ‘of the web, not just on the web’. She believes that the success of The Guardian’s website is down to it’s determination to embrace new opportunities offered by the internet. This includes user generated content, harnessed most strikingly by the Comment is Free section of the website. (You can read a great summary of Bell’s whole speech here at gigaom.com.)
As British newspapers scramble to cope with the impact of the web, the guardian.co.uk is undoubtedly one of the big success stories. It is certainly the most innovative, and this has been rewarded with more than 39m monthly browsers.
But this is dwarfed by the sheer might of the Mail Online, which attracts a massive 56m users per month.
And this is where it gets interesting. Because the Mail is the opposite of the Guardian. It doesn’t exactly ‘engage’ with its readers. It doesn’t run live blogs, or feature infographics, or podcasts, or any of the other web-only trinkets that the Guardian relies so heavily on. It rarely links to other articles. It’s journalists are not part of the Twitteratti, as the Guardian’s are; in fact, bar a few sports writers, Mail journalists keep themselves to themselves online and are far outnumbered by Mail-hating parodies, (@stopdailymail, @DailyWail, @DMReporter to name a few). Sure, you can comment on the Mail’s website, but you get the sense this is more people mouthing off rather than an actual engaged debate between users, which is what the Guardian has tried so hard to foster.
This goes against all of the received wisdom on making it big on the web. Paul Bradshaw, online journalism tutor at City University, argues that the arrogance of failing to engage, to link, to consciously stimulate debate online is traditional journalism’s single biggest flaw. In his opinion, fostering communities who talk to each other should be journalism’s most pressing aim:
“Any online operation that does not incorporate its users in production is not only democratically deficient, it is commercially inefficient.
Of course some are inclined to see user generated content as a mass of ignorance, abuse and waffle. Those people should ask how much work has been put into attracting good contributors? Into developing a healthy commenting culture? And how much has been invested into giving the good users a reason to keep coming back?”
The Mail is guilty of this very arrogance. It is essentially an old-fashioned newspaper, online. But it remains on top; you could hardly accuse it of being ‘commercially inefficient’.
The reason the Mail Online is so popular is simple; it runs great stories, with even better pictures. And, like the hard-copy Mail, it is persuasively laid-out (who can resist that pink showbiz sidebar?) The old maxim proves true: content is king. And it’s the kind of content that only the resources, access and well-honed skill of a traditional news institution could produce.
So how do we measure success online? Is it level of engagement, or is it pure hits? The Guardian or The Mail? I have a hunch what the advertisers might say.
As someone who made his name by creating characters whose painful self-awareness led to often uncomfortable hilarity, it is perhaps unsurprising that Ricky Gervais is a giant of the blogosphere.
According to trafficestimate.com his blog got some 256,000 hits in the past month, although Gervais himself claims to get over a million.
Posting wittily more or less every day, he gives readers a peak into his daily life without actually telling us much at all.
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