Posts Tagged twitter

‘If people knew about Twitter, there’d be no need for newspapers’ – UCL protest online guru, Jess Riches.

By Alex Webb

Twenty-year-old Jessica Riches is the voice behind @ucloccupation, the Twitter account which served as the voice for students occupying the University College London campus in protest at the surge in student fees. The account garnered more than 5,000 followers, and the second-year English student has since been hailed by the Guardian as a “Twitter guru” and addressed conferences on how to use Twitter.

Jessica Riches

In this interview, she explains how she fell into the role, how Twitter was used to report events first-hand and what role it can play in influencing opinion. She also recalls how she nearly had a breakdown when, mid-occupation, the main account was hacked by opponents and prank messages were posted.

Did you start with any sort of strategy?

Did you feel a lot of pressure? (Jess tells how a mistake she made led to the decision of the NUS President Aaron Porter to resign)

What sort of influence does Twitter have?

How much more reliable actually is Twitter as a primary news source?

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Celebrity generated content

Katy Perry caused a storm on Twitter (photo: Michael @ NW Lens)

Emily Fairbairn

There’s a lot of scaremongering that goes on about user generated content replacing ‘real’ journalism.  With so many people doing it for free, will we all be out of a job in a few years? cry frightened journalism students. Well no, because amateurs will never have the skills, training and resources of professionals, so they will never replace them.  Kate Dubinski has written a brilliant post on the subject over at the London Free Press, and I couldn’t agree with her more.

“The stuff we’re paid to do is — in part because we’re paid to do it — as professional, accurate and removed of bias as we can possibly make it,” she argues.

“You pick up the paper, you read a story online, and you (should) know it’s been run through several filters before it got to you.  Those filters have hopefully caught typos, glaring holes in logic, bias, and all the rest of the stuff that makes you “trust” us.’

But this is not to say that user generated content is not of terrific importance in modern news-gathering. Crucially, Dubinski adds that “citizen journalists become sources for professional journalists, not necessarily competition.”

And what sources they are. As this blog has previously noted, citizen journalists are the eyes on the ground as humanity suffers earthquakes, genocide, revolution, tsunami. They are the ones who catch the police out if they overstep the mark, and they are the ones who go where the mainstream media can’t. Their videos, tweets and testimonies are gold-dust to a professional journalist,  providing detail, colour and expertise which could not come from anywhere else.

But UGC does far more than simply improve stories that old-school journalists would always have reported on anyway.  In fact, certain ‘users’ create stories by the mere act of ‘generating content’. I am of course, talking about celebs. How often do you see a story which is based entirely on what some tabloid favorite has said on Twitter?  Over at my beloved Mail Online today, you will see that the top story is ‘Katy Perry in Twitter Feud with Calvin Harris over tour‘. The journalist doesn’t even need to do any work; a quick look at Twitter sees the entire story unfolding neatly all by itself, unobstructed by secrecy or worse, PR.

And it doesn’t even need to be the content of what the celebrities are tweeting. When George Michael and Charlie Sheen joined Twitter, the mere fact that they had done so made headline news.

Social media, crowd sourcing, citizen journalism, user generated content; all are undeniably amazing sources. Far from threatening professional journalists, UGC has made their life easier. Stories are there: created, or found, by someone else. Just as citizen journalists need the mainstream media to publicise their content if it is ever to reach the masses, so the mainstream media increasingly takes its stories from UGC. It’s a two-way relationship which is mutually beneficial.

But journalists must not let UGC make them lazy. Reporting on what a famous person says on Twitter is not particularly interesting; any readers who are interested in said celebrity probably follow them anyway, so reporting two hours later on a public online exchange is basically redundant. Quoting Twitter users, many hiding behind a veil of online anonymity, is no substitute to meeting real people and talking to them (Metro I’m looking at you.) As Dubinski says, journalists are the gatekeepers, and they must select, filter and give an intelligent platform to the UGC that really needs to be seen.

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Japan’s earthquake and the power of the citizen journalist

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.

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Guardian vs Mail: is engaging with users really that important?

Cheryl Cole, darling of the Mail Online (photo: dailymail.co.uk)

Emily Fairbairn

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.

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Ricky Gervais: social media pioneer?

Ricky Gervais... obviously

Alex Webb

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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Internet in the tube: what it means for social media

Alex Webb

Tube map on an iPhone

Going underground: Now you can be wired up in the tube.

July 7th 2005 is often cited as the date when the man on the street became the news correspondent. The BBC received 22,000 e-mails and text messages about the tube and bus bombings, whilst 300 photos came flying into the organization’s e-mail inboxes.

So when it was announced this week that free public wi-fi was to be trialled at Charing Cross station, it seemed that the luddites’ last urban bastion was finally being broken down, opening up to the spleen of social media one of Londoners’ favourite gripes: the tube.
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