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My Twittersphere Testimony

If you would’ve asked me five months ago if twitter should be considered a proper journalistic tool, I would’ve laughed and told you it was just a fad. But now, I’m well and truly converted and am here to spread the twitter gospel.

My twitter journey started about a year ago in a print journalism tutorial when our tutor suggested we open an account for a class exercise. I had been thinking about opening one for a while, but honestly didn’t see how I could gain from it journalism-wise. My closed-minded attitude and half-hearted approach to twitter back then never allowed me to reap the benefits of the medium and so my account remained inactive for most of the year.

I had followed a few journalists, news organisations and way too many celebrities, but never felt the draw or addiction to the platform. After all I had my regular routine of the morning paper along with radio and TV news bulletins, including an occasional perusal of ABC online throughout the day – I didn’t need something else to repeat the same information and waste my time. I had barely any followers, so I never felt the need to tweet. At the same time I never bothered interacting with anyone else in the Twittersphere.  My main criticism was that no one could provide any information of substance, let alone news, within the limitation of 140 characters.

I felt all these things because I didn’t know any better and because no one had showed me how to use twitter to my advantage.

It wasn’t until starting the Advanced Broadcast Journalism unit  this semester that I realised how valuable twitter really was. At the beginning I was still sceptical of twitter, but as I began to learn more about it there were short bursts of enthusiasm that kept me going and I slowly started to develop my twitter presence. But it was while live tweeting PM host, Mark Colvin‘s guest lecture that my addiction to twitter was ignited.

The excitement of live tweeting combined with Colvin‘s love for twitter inspired me to delve further into the Twittersphere. I began branching out and following new media organisations and journalists from around the world, some of whom I’d never heard of before. I looked at who the journalists I admired were following and I’d follow them too. I’d click on interesting links that people retweeted and from there I’d discover new blogs and websites to subscribe to. It’s a cycle that still continues and as you probably know, there is endless information out there. Never have I had such a wide variety of information to choose from in the convenience of one location.

Managing Director of the ABC, Mark Scott sums it up pretty well:

Never before would I have had so much on offer, from so many different places or been able to experience the work of so many different journalists. It has increased my hunger for news and information rather than diminished it – and this is from someone who has always loved news and newspapers. (Scott, 2010)

I agree completely with the above statement. Now that I know what’s out there,  I never feel fully satisfied that I’ve consumed all the news that I possibly can.

I’m still just starting off. I have about 50 followers and am following  146. There’s a healthy mix of journalists, politicians, news organisations, celebrities, universities, friends and classmates-  both in english and spanish (I’m using Twitter to develop my language skills too!) I find the 140 character limit makes spanish news easier to digest than trawling through online news sites as they’re direct and to-the-point, but this equally applies to english news as well.

As Roy Clark points out in ‘How journalists are using Facebook, Twitter to write mini serial narratives’, Twitter often resembles the grammar and style of direct, observed reporting (Clark, 2011). Particularly in breaking-news situations, realtime reporting in a series of short, succinct tweets can provide followers with snapshots from an unfolding story (Clark, 2011).

Such a feature enables citizen journalists to get in on the action, tweeting their observations from the ground. A recent example is Sohaib Athar, who shot to fame after unknowingly tweeting about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound (pictured right).

I wish I could say that I heard the big news about Osama bin Laden’s death on Twitter like most of my peers, or any major news story this year for that matter. But without a smartphone with a constant Twitter stream, I was missing out on the conversation whenever I wasn’t at a computer.  However, the moment I heard the news I immediately checked Twitter because I knew that the story would’ve progressed further than traditional news outlets.

It’s the best source of breaking news, which is why other broadcast mediums rely so heavily on it.

ABC Brisbane’s Amanda Dell explains just how crucial Twitter is to radio:

When there was a minor earthquake in Melbourne recently, I knew about it seconds after it happened. It was at least 20 to 30 minutes before any of the online news sites had the information. In radio, that immediacy is a huge advantage. (Cited in Posetti, 2009)

However, there is the inevitable speed versus accuracy issue. It’s understandable that mistakes can occur when competing to be the first to break a story. Sometimes facts are overlooked in the mad rush to get the information out before it becomes out-dated. Thankfully I haven’t encountered this problem yet, but I’m terrified that in the future I could very well fall into this trap, especially since twitter has redefined the word ‘instant’ (Latika Bourke cited in Posetti, 2009). Leigh Sales says it best: If in doubt, leave it out (Sales, 2009). Hopefully by sticking to this advice I’ll be able to avoid situations such as the one Jay Rosen found himself in earlier this year.

Above all, I’d say Twitter’s best, most unique quality is its function as an interactive medium. In terms of audience engagement, journalis’s and their followers can interact on an equal platform. I believe this is important for a journalists credibility, especially in the Twittersphere. Interacting with your audience not only gives you a human value but makes you seem trustworthy too. The ABC’s national youth correspondent, Michael Turtle sums up the importance of open and honest audience engagement pretty well:

I think the very nature of Twitter lends itself towards having an open profile and being honest about who you are. The power of the site is the ability to connect directly with people and engage in conversations. It wouldn’t be nearly as effective if you chose to do that anonymously. (Turtle cited in Posetti, 2009)

But overall, audience engagement on twitter will prove to be a great tool for sniffing out potential news stories, crowd sourcing, brand building and promotion (Posetti, 2009).

So that’s how I came to be a twitter convert. I continue to be amazed by how much twitter has changed the face of journalism in just the few short years it has existed. It’s a platform for sourcing, creating, broadcasting and advertising news.  While it does have its risks, if used responsibly, Twitter will prove to be a rewarding and helpful tool. And that’s why I’ll be proclaiming the good news for many years to come.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Clark, R P (2011) How journalists are using Facebook, Twitter to write mini-serial narratives  http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/newsgathering-storytelling/writing-tools/115607/how-journalists-are-using-facebook-twitter-to-write-mini-serial-narratives/

Posetti, J (May 2009-May 2010) Twitter Journalism Series PBS Mediashift http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/julie-posetti/

Sales, L (2009) How and Why I Use Twitter http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/11/18/2761665.htm

Scott, M  The Drum ABC (2010) The Golden Age for Australian Journalism http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/11/25/3075798.htm

Forums and anonymity: why it’s not such a good mix.

So after that somewhat embarrassing list of my favourite blogs a few weeks ago, I remembered another favourite site of mine that I’d like to add to the list – The RiotACT. It’s actually a forum, not a blog. But we can overlook that for the sake of this post.

Pretty much anything and everything Canberra related is discussed in the forum. Restaurant reviews, press releases, gardening advice, personal grievances, slanging matches – it’s all there. Especially the slanging matches, there’s a lot of that.

RiotACT ‘s comment policy states that it has the right to delete or edit comments that:

Are defamatory or abusive
Promote hate of any kind
Attack the writer not the argument
Are blatantly off-topic
Do not contribute to the discussion
Mislead through impersonation
Don’t make sense

Comments appear to be auto moderated, although human moderators also monitor the site. Their explanation for moderation is to encourage positive contributions and avoid potential defamation lawsuits. It’s a great policy and I’m glad comments are moderated, but I’d still never post anything or leave a comment. And here’s why:

“Is anyone in this forum ever able to help anyone?? all you ever do it give people crap!”

This was a comment by the author of a post titled  Giving 4yo’s syringes?, where a mother expresses her outrage that her pre-schooler was given a syringe (without the needle) to play with after a visit from a nurse. I’ll let you read the post and decide whether the author is an overreacting nutcase or not, but the point is that majority of readers decided she was. There are 12 pages of comments, most of which attack this mother’s parenting ability, intelligence, driving and even her nail polish.

I’ll admit, it was a little funny at first. Some of the comments were pretty witty. Unfortunately the author didn’t think so and after 40+ comments, she retaliated with this:

This place is a joke!! Canberra community forum my a##!!! More like Canberra’s lonely old losers who like to gang up and make a joke out of people!!

And after 300+ comments she finishes with this:

I will NEVER come back here for support, advice or anything else of the kind

…I am well aware that I made an idiot out of myself, but a lot of you bullied me, like children in school bully fat kids… pathetic.. really it is… I hope that makes you all sleep better by picking on my nail-polish and the like

I was left feeling pretty sorry for this lady, regardless of what I thought about her original post. She had asked the community for advice and was instead shot down and personally attacked.  I’m thinking the troll police could’ve done a better job.

(On a side note, found this comical little video about trolls which YouTube won’t let me embed here, so you’ll have to click on the link to watch. Warning: Offensive language)

Which brings me to the topic of anonymity. Obviously the story above is a clear example of when it doesn’t work. People can be ruthless in the online world as there are no consequences for your actions if your identity is concealed. On the upside, people can say what they really mean, perhaps what they wouldn’t want to say in front of friends and colleagues. And I suppose that one could argue that this would promote better discussion.

However, if our identities were clearly labelled for all to see, I believe the same is possible. Sites such as Slate Magazine  require users to sign in though Facebook if they wish to leave a comment, meaning any comment left by them is under their real name. Sure, someone could create a fake Facebook account just to leave nasty comments, but seriously, who would go to that effort?  And sure, there would be the odd few who couldn’t give a hoot about what they say and who reads it. But the majority of trolls would be discouraged.

I’d like to think that the people who really have something worth saying would be more likely to go through the process and not mind revealing their identity.  But at the same time this would also discourage the slightly lazier folk who want to leave a comment but just aren’t bothered to take that extra step to sign in, or perhaps even the slightly paranoid who never provide personal info on the net.

I’m sorry I haven’t come to a nice satisfying conclusion about the whole issue; I’m still on the fence myself. But if I receive any nasty or malicious comments about this post, I’ll let you know where I stand.

Japan Disaster Round-up

Little over a week ago the world watched as Japan was hit with a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake, followed by a  monster tsunami. To date, the number of confirmed deaths totals 7,348 with another 10,947 missing, according to CNN.

It has been one of the most terrifying natural disasters the world has seen, enhanced by shocking photos and videos broadcast by the media.

The front page of yesterday’s Canberra Times showed a heartbreaking image of a woman desperately clinging to the hand of her dead mother, who was trapped underneath rubble. It can be seen here on the Daily Mail website.

Image by Roberto De Vido

Heavy snowfall due to Japan’s current cold snap has made the difficult task of search and rescue even harder.

Yesterday the BBC reported the withdrawal of the UK rescue team from the town of Kamaishi.

According to the UK government, the low temperatures and snowfall meant the chance of finding anybody alive was “extremely low”.

It is also feared the Cold weather may impact the estimated 100,000 children who have been left homeless after the disaster, according to the AFP .

“We’re already seeing families huddling around gas fires for warmth. In these sorts of temperatures, young children are vulnerable to chest infections and flu,” Save the Children’s Steve McDonald told AFP.

The ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant is also a cause for concern. Earlier today the ABC reported that Japan had raised the severity rating of the nuclear crisis from a level 4 to level 5 on the seven-level International Nuclear Event Scale (INES).

After a third explosion and the threat of a fourth on Tuesday, Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan advised residents to stay indoors.

“The level [of radiation] seems very high, and there is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out,” he said in a national address.

Urging the nation to remain calm, he assured the public that everything was being done to prevent further radiation leaks.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has updated its travel warning for Japan, urging Australians not to travel to Tokyo and surrounding areas. Australians within the 80km exclusion zone around the Fukushima power plant have also been advised to move out of the area.