Friday 27 May 2011

Twitter for journalists: @fergb: Lose the egg and harvest Twitter lists (#Newsrw)

"Don't have an egg [as your profile picture] on your Twitter page", says AP journalist Fergus Bell.

Like Neal Mann, Bell is also a keen Twitter user and his focus was on the importance of building an open trustworthy relationship with people and the utility of Twitter lists to assist his journalism. 

Rather than following lots of people from his personal account, he said his preferred strategy for newsgathering was to establish a series of Twitter lists using HootSuite.

He also believed that it was more useful to monitor "quality sources" instead of following people simply "because they were interesting".

This strategy enabled him to avoid "the clutter" that would build up in an individual Twitter feed.  

In a daily news environment where time is precious, Bell recommended harvesting existing Twitter lists created by other people.

He cited Twitter's own World Leader list as an obvious example of how a journalist could take advantage of other people's list-making tendencies and suggested that useful lists for nearly any news story had probably already been created.

In terms of verification, Bell said he did use tools that had been mentioned by the BBC's Alex Gubbay, (who spoke just before him), including Google Maps and Street View.

But Bell emphasised investigating "the person" behind the content. He suggested that it was difficult to "fake a social history" and advocated checking whether the content that a person had submitted was consistent with their previous contributions to the Web.

Turning that on its head, Bell also said it was important that journalists were open about their own social profile so that the 'former audience' would know that they were genuine.

He highlighted that he wouldn't run anything prior to having permission from the content owner and said it was important to "gain the trust" of potential contributors.

Hence Bell's call for journalists to lose their Twitter eggs - the default photo icon used by Twitter on sign up - and to embrace the personal aspect of Twitter as a news tool. 

Twitter for journalists: @fieldproducer on structuring the chaos (#Newsrw)

"If Reuters is your example of a solid news wire, Twitter is Reuters on acid, crack and cocaine", says Neal Mann. Often referred to both on- and offline as @fieldproducer, Mann has been building a reputation as one of the leading exponents of Twitter for news.

Mann harnesses his use of Twitter to traditional journalistic practices and values. He says journalists need to structure their Twitter use in the same way that news organisations have always structured newsgathering. 

Mann has lists for topics and subjects in the same way that news organisations have specialist correspondents and areas of interest.

He also describes Twitter as his "patch" and, probably inadvertently echoes Gaye Tuchman's "news net", when he talks about "casting a net" across the platform to find interested journalists, bloggers and news junkies.

Although he now follows thousands of sources, he emphasises standing up the story through traditional sources and verifying information.

Mann argues that merely following people on Twitter, however, does not optimise its potential. He says his newsgathering is enhanced by his use of Twitter as a news publication tool. He says journalists should be broadcasting as well as receiving and interacting with people on Twitter on a regular basis. 

By becoming a known "node" in the Twitter network he claims that people are more likely to tip him off with news stories.

He also builds an interested audience for certain seasons of his journalism. By tweeting daily links around the Wikileaks story, for example, he built a following of people who were interested in Wikileaks prior to his own work for Sky News covering the Julian Assange bail hearings last year.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

The number of staff employed by the BBC

Here is a blog post to save people doing what I've just done to try to nail this one down: how many people work for the BBC?

The BBC press office pointed me to the BBC Trust report 2009/10. Table 2-11 on page 63 contains figures for the "total average PSB [public service broadcasting?] headcount (full-time equivalent)" at the BBC:

Year end 2006     18,860
Year end 2007     17,914
Year end 2008     17,677
Year end 2009     17,078
Year end 2010     17,238

Strangely, this Guardian article in May 2007 says that according to figures from the Corporation, "overall headcount in the public service departments of the BBC is now 21,360."

But that figure would tally with the working in this BBC response to a Freedom of Information request in February 2011 which tabulated the number of BBC staff "employed on permanent and fixed-term contracts":

31-Dec-00    19,914
31-Dec-01    21,741
31-Dec-02    22,592
31-Dec-03    22,968
31-Dec-04    23,199
31-Dec-05    22,111
31-Dec-10    20,753

The FOI response specifically excluded staff working for: BBC Studios & Post Production Ltd, UKTV, BBC World, BBC Worldwide Ltd, World Service Trust (around 500 employees) and BBC Children in Need.

I.e. those areas not funded by the licence-fee payer and thus exempt from the FOI Act.

Presumably if you add in staff numbers working in those departments to the figures in the FOI response you arrive somewhere near the 2006 figure the BBC reported  - 23,500 staff.

Wikipedia says there are around 23,000 BBC staff in total although the three links cited as footnotes contain no figures to back up this number. In February 2008, The Times also used the 23,000 figure.

But why there is such a discrepancy between the FOI request and the figures in the Trust Report escapes me at the moment. Counting or not counting the World Service (2400 staff with 650 due to go) might make a difference.

As the World Service is funded by an FCO grant it could be 'counted in' as tax-payer funded or 'counted out' as it is not funded through the licence-fee.

And what of freelancers in the figures?

If you can help clear any of this up, do get in touch.

In the meantime, it looks like I'll be going with the disappointingly vague: "employing more than 20,000 staff".

P.S. Usefully that FOI request also has a table for the number of staff working in the BBC News Division (with a not so useful gap between 2004 and 2010):

31-Dec-00 2,459
31-Dec-01 3,462
31-Dec-02 3,690
31-Dec-03 3,691
31-Dec-04 3,749
31-Dec-10 6,302

A note explains that "due to organisational restructuring in April 2009 the News division now includes English
Regions, accounting for the increased headcount figure for December 2010."

Monday 16 May 2011

Recent interesting links: BBC, journalism, blogging, social media.

BBC and Blogging

The re-launch of BBC News 'blogs' has sparked some criticism. Going after the new commenting format in particular, Adam Tinworth describes them as a "road crash", while Adam Bowie starts at the scene of the same 'accident' before turning his attention to the associated RSS feeds.

Off the back of that, an unrelated yet interesting piece of research from Canada suggests that blog readers are perhaps not as interested in the ability to comment on blogs as one might think.

Social Media and Journalism

Sky News freelancer, Neal Mann (@fieldproducer), explains how he uses social media to monitor 2,000 sources - a practice he regards as essential to his job.

His post was one in a series for the BBC College of Journalism in the build up to their Social Media Summit on Thursday and Friday this week.

Hopefully, I'll see some of you there!

Thursday 12 May 2011

BBC journalists' 'blog' posts and reaction to new blogging format

Wednesday 11 May 2011

End of BBC News 'Blogs' signals new era for blogging at the BBC

The BBC is in the process of launching 'Correspondent Pages' which will aggregate all the content of a BBC correspondent on one page.

They will replace BBC News 'blogs' and pages for Peter HuntTorin Douglas and others have been running in stealth mode since the end of March.

The change to the new format is explained in a blog post published today by News Blogs Editor Giles Wilson. He describes the move "as a pretty fundamental reinvention" of how the BBC's news "blogs operate".

The pages will collate all the content correspondents produce, including their articles for the BBC website, their radio and TV reports and their Twitter feeds.

The new Correspondent Pages were indicated as part of a broader set of changes outlined recently by the Editor of the BBC News Website, Steve Herrmann.

The BBC is not going to call these new pages 'blogs' and BBC blogger and Northern Ireland Political Editor, Mark Devenport, has already said farewell to his old blog format.

In a post flagging up his switch to the new format entitled 'Devenport Diaries RIP', he said he "fought long and hard" for the retention of his alliterative blog title but the "powers-that-be wouldn't budge". His Devenport Diaries blog is now archived here.

Devenport has been using his new Correspondent Page to report on the recent elections in Northern Ireland. 

The BBC's big blogging correspondents, such as Nick Robinson and Robert Peston, will be moving over to the new format soon so the 'BBC blog' label will be significantly diminished. 

The BBC has always had an uneasy relationship with the word 'blog' because of its association with partial comment and opinion.

Blog-like formats were often called 'logs', evident in Nick Robinson's 'Newslog' which first appeared on the BBC website in 2001 or 'diaries', like Jeremy Bowen's coverage of Gaza in 2009.

In 2005, former editor of the BBC News website, Pete Clifton, temporarily banned the word 'blog' from the website until the BBC had the "tools to produce them properly".

The BBC's live page updates or live text commentaries are also never officially described as 'live blogging'.

Nevertheless these new Correspondent Pages unmistakably draw on the blogging format. They offer a more comprehensive stream of news for a single correspondent. 

The incorporation of Twitter updates means correspondents can offer more regular and shorter updates.

And the pages continue a shift towards news content being organised around an individual personality as well as a news index.

In effect, the personal brand is becoming increasingly important in establishing the authority of the BBC's news online.

Giles Wilson notes that the BBC's decision to move news blogs from Movable Type software to the BBC's main production system enables the BBC's "top correspondents' analysis" to "feel much more like an integral part of the website."

Blogging will continue to underwrite the BBC's approach to online news output even if it looks as though a first era of 'blogging' in news at the BBC is coming to an end.

Monday 2 May 2011

Using Storify to collect social media coverage of Osama Bin Laden's death

I've been experimenting with Storify...(perhaps best viewed there).

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