Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Michael Yon and embedded journalism

I've been looking at the end of Michael Yon's embed with the British Army in Afghanistan including the views of Michael himself and the Ministry of Defence. It's a two-parter over at the Frontline Club - Part One and Part Two.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Sky News journalists debate the value of Twitter

Picked this up off Twitter. A Sky News field producer (@fieldproducer) debates the value of Twitter with political correspondent, Niall Paterson. My thoughts in italics.

[I bore myself wondering why people don't understand that Twitter has some value to the working journalist. Not least because journalists use it all the time. I mean either they're crazy pretending it's useful to look cool or something or it is actually useful.]
[This was perhaps the weakest line in the piece although the actual unfriendly 140 char quote is: "it is only as useful as the person who is using it wants it to be."]
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer The article's author is equally guilty of the sneering of which he accuses the MSM! The evangelical zeal with which people
[A hark back to bloggers vs journalists. Of course there's no need to sneer on either side really apart from the fact that both commentators in the media and bloggers know that a good old sneer makes more interesting copy than sober assessments. I'm sure some twitterers link to, read, watch and appreciate Sky News coverage. In a few lines Niall's about to sort of maybe recognise the point that it might possibly be a useful, if limited, tool to do journalism.]
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer greet every latest web 2.0 innovation is nothing new. give it a couple of mins and there'll be another emerging
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer tech/app we'll be asked to integrate into our already busy days. christ, when did you last receive a hand-written letter? how
[I'm sure there will be another emerging web innovation. Re: letters. Riding a horse is also nice, I've heard, but most people don't use them to get around these days. Receiving a letter is probably more satisfying than it used to be when letter writing was common, precisely because it has become rarer. But it is nice to receive a letter. I don't dispute that.]
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer Plus, has twitter actually made any money yet? best not to slag off the "ailing industry" when this thing isnt profitable.
[As far as we're aware Twitter hasn't made a great deal of money. But Evan Williams, the CEO of Twitter, has form in snatching finance from the jaws of bankruptcy. He co-founded Blogger which almost died in February 2001 because of a lack of funds. Two years later Blogger was bought by Google. We don't know how much money he made from the deal, but I doubt he's poor.]
[The short answer is: we don't know. Because Twitter won't tell us. Tech Cruch estimated 1 million users and 200,000 active users in March 2008. But there's been significant growth in 2009. According to the BBC, Comscore guess there are 45 million users worldwide. It's not the be all and end all of social networking sites - "During May 2009 ranked as the 38th most visited website in the UK and the fifth most visited social network".]
  • fieldproducer: @niallpaterson ahh, but as journalists we have broken quite a few stories after getting leads from twitter. Profitable or not, bloody useful
[I think this is more like the point. Why is Niall Paterson worried about whether Twitter will make a profit? I think the point about Twitter is not the company but the concept. And as Evan Williams said on Newsnight the other week, if Twitter doesn't make it work, it will be because somebody else will have done it better.]
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer you make my point for me - it's just another tool. might as well evangelise about the telephone. or more approp. the internet
[So it's the hype that's getting to Niall really (but I think he likes an opportunity to have a rant so he can't complain too much). It's the same sort of thinking that happened with blogging when blogging was new and as a journalist told me for one of my interviews, the hype 'puts people's backs up'. And some of the hype is rather mistaken. See my thoughts on Moldova's Twitter Revolution.]
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer arent profits important? they are to our employer and the vast majority of journos. and where in the article were T's faults?
[There were no examples of Twitter's faults in the article. But then the blogger doesn't have any obiligation to be fair and balanced. If you want to ask this question, you might ask yourself where in Jackie Ashley's article was there room for the advantages of social networking?]
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer i'm sick of faceless webgeeks being so condescending to those who fail to share their unfettered adoration of social network
[Nice line.]
  • fieldproducer: @niallpaterson but it isn't like a telephone is it? It is more like a wire feed. I don't think pofits are important to maj of journos either
[Oh so Twitter does not mean the 'end of face to face' communication, then. And people who use social networks do meet in real life.]
[Dean Kirbky uses #gmpraids to report for the Manchester Evening News. Click on the link for more.]
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer Interesting. a rolling tally of arrests? wow. perhaps time would be better spent crafting an easily updateable blog piece
[You can imagine someone a few years ago suggesting a rolling tally of arrests on a blog and someone else saying: 'Wow. Perhaps time would be better spent crafting an easily updateable online piece.]
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer which could actually tell me what's going on... i'm being a tad facetious, but look at how many followers he has...
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer I'm not saying twitter doesn't have its uses - just that as a journalistic tool it has a number of drawbacks
[Ah. Good point. Twitter is not good for a lot of things. For a start, we've already acknowledged that this debate would be better held over a pint. Twitter doesn't do radio or TV so well. Try using Twitter as an audio editing suite. It won't work. You don't get context and background with Twitter. It's too short. I mean I could go on but the disadvantages of Twitter are pretty obvious aren't they. As a journalist, Twitter's a great tool but it's just one tool.]
  • fieldproducer: @niallpaterson irrespective of the subject matter it is a constant flow of info which you recieve passively in real time.
[Some tweets are unverfiable. A lot are verifiable. I've verified who a lot of twitterers are in my time. Indeed, Twitter do some of the hard work for you and verify accounts. If you know who you follow then it's much easier to verify what they say. Raw data is pretty useful I'd have thought.]
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer eh? HE'S the hack! This is what journalism has come to? trawling twitter feeds for tips?! i've just phoned the GMP phonebank
[These are just two different aspects of the journalist's job. Journalists have always trawled for tips wherever they come from. Why not use Twitter as well? But then journalists can't spend all their time trawling for tips, because they have to work on those tips by getting hold of more information and reporting the story. But it's not: either, or; it's both.

Or, if you work in a media organisation like Sky, you can afford to have people performing different roles. What does Sky's Twitter Correspondent do? Surely part of her role should be feeding tips to journalists from Twitter? Then the journalist can worry about following the tips up, phoning people and doing
all that 'old-fashioned' stuff. Though there's nothing old-fashioned about it in my opinion.]
  • fieldproducer: @niallpaterson we broke the Conrad Murray vid before anybody else, how? I saw it drop on twitter. Wires 20mins & BBC 2hrs after us.
[@fieldproducer says he meant to say 'ran' rather than broke.]
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer Your argument would see me spending most of my time standing up twitter tips rather than actually doing my job properly!
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer Yep, as a source of links twitter really is useful. but didnt the person who tweeted in fact "break" the story?
[This does the raise issue of what 'breaking news' is in the 21st Century. (But I'm running out of steam.) It's changed a lot is the point. But then as an organisation Sky News like bigging up that they are 'breaking news' - the institutional culture captured by Jon Grip's capitalised tweets.]
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer Ah. that old chestnut. if i read something in the papers then do a telly turn before the beeb, am i breaking it?!
[Can't really be bothered but there are some significant differences.]
[Apparently it was a producer not a correspondent]
  • niallpaterson: @fieldproducer had he been in the HoC rather than in front of his computer, we might have had it sooner. you know, proper legwork!
[Sad fact is that a lot of journalists are stuck behind their desks. Most of them don't want to be.]
[An interesting point.]

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

BBC's Nic Newman: "better links within blogs amongst the most effective"

Last Friday, BBC Online conducted an open meeting about plans for the website over the coming months. The meeting was held in response to criticisms that the BBC's online services were not sufficiently open and transparent. The talks and discussion are available in a series of videos on the BBC Internet Blog.

I haven't watched them all yet, but I thought this section on the BBC's approach to external linking by Nic Newman, Controller, Journalism, FM&T*, was worth pulling out, (especially as it ties so neatly with last week's wee rant):
"Our aim is not to link indiscriminately, but to link in line with our public purposes and editorial guidelines. So we look to add value through our links. We look to take people to content that further enriches or informs.

"We will continue to use a mixture of manual and automated methods to do so. So we've already talked about Search Plus which is part of our automated solutions but a lot of the evidence points to the focus on editorial linking as being a really important part of the mix.

"One of the most trafficked pages on the Sports site is the football transfer page and the deep editorial links that we've added here in the last few months are responsible for delivering a significant amount of that uplift that you see in the previous graph. [Showing a rise in external clickthroughs from around 8 million a month to over 12 million a month for].

"In news, the better links within [BBC] blogs, are amongst the most effective because of the editorial relevance that comes from the authorship of that (sic) blogs and the relationship that people have with that content."
These are steps in the right direction and I think editorial linking, rather than automated linking, is vitally important. Regular readers will know that I wrote a post about the value of link journalism a while back and as I did then, I still think more could be done which would involve some significant changes to the working practices of BBC journalists.

That sort of thing doesn't happen overnight. But the BBC has a responsibility to continue to work on the area of external linking - it's absolutely key to the BBC Trust's aim of the Corporation being 'a trusted guide to the Web'.

*That's 'Future, Media and Technology' for those outside the BBC's jargon-laden walls. Although actually I remember talking about "FM&T" to a BBC journalist who looked at me as if I was talking about a souped-up form of shortwave radio so the previous sentence might be of some use to BBC employees as well!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

A rant: adding value by leaving links in comments

I submitted the following comment to the Defence Management website on an article they had written about the MoD's new social media guidelines: "MoD wants personnel to use Twitter". (Something I covered here for the Frontline Club.)
"If you read the guidelines in full you'll see that the remit for using social networks is very narrow, (which is only hinted at in this article.) They certainly don't encourage soldiers to tweet from the field or in fact say a great deal which would be of much interest without permission. I've written a blog post which includes a discussion of the excpetions at the Frontline Club which might be of interest"
When the comment was published a couple of hours later Defence Management chopped off the last sentence with the link to my post leaving just the following:

"If you read the guidelines in full you'll see that the remit for using social networks is very narrow, (which is only hinted at in this article.) They certainly don't encourage soldiers to tweet from the field or in fact say a great deal which would be of much interest without permission."
Now, if I was a bot leaving a spam link then by all means edit out my link. But I'm not a bot.

I rarely promote my own blog in this way, because it takes too long. So I'm not one of those people that constantly leaves links in all sorts of random comments sections as a promotion tool.

Of course, I was hoping to push a few readers (probably one or two) my way. But apart from the fact that it's nice for me to think that a couple more people might read my work, it doesn't make much difference to me.

I don't make any money from my Frontline blog. It's not like I need readers for my share of the advertising revenue because there aren't any ads on Frontline.

(Unlike Defence Management, I note. And I wonder how much pressure they are under from their advertisers to keep people reading what their advertisers want people to read on their site and not be directed to anyone else's point of view?)

My main reason for adding the link on my comment was because I thought it might have been of interest to the readers of Defence Management.

I thought this would be a neat way (rather than copying and pasting my whole post into the comments section) of letting people know of a different take on the issue at hand and letting them decide if they wanted to find out more.

In short, I thought I was doing Defence Management a favour by adding value to their content. How naive of me. I won't make that mistake again.

I mean, maybe I'm wrong and my blog post doesn't add any value to the discussion and they were right to edit me out. Or maybe my comment adds enough value without the link to my post and the extra information it provides. You can decide for yourself.

But whatever you decide, that's the last time I'll be commenting on the Defence Management website.

If I'm way off message with this, let me know in the comments or write your own post and stick a link in the comments! Is there an etiquette for promoting your own work in comments? Did I fall foul of it?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Links for today: BBC Newsnight, Twitter and a few others

BBC Newsnight, Twitter and journalism

I couldn't possibly comment on Newsnight's interview with Twitter CEO, Evan Williams, but here's some links for those of you who are interested...
Blogging in Afghanistan
  • There's a lot of news from Afghanistan at the moment. Most of it far less positive than this blog post about an online journalism and blogging workshop in Helmand. Twenty-eight attendees had to share two computers but they were determined to learn new ways to make their voices heard.
Money makes the media world go round?

Monday, 3 August 2009

Social networking and the 'decline' of face-to-face communication

Archbishop Vincent Nichols is worried about the impact of social networking on community. He has many concerns but at least one which I think is slightly overblown is the alleged decline of face-to-face communication.

Whether through Facebook 'Event' groups, Tweet-ups or online dating, it seems to me that a lot of people on social networks use them to help them meet people in 'real life'.

So here's one for any historians out there. When the telephone was invented or perhaps more pertinently when it became a standard household item was there also grave concern that people would stop meeting face-t0-face?

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