Can you commit journalism via Twitter?

Today on Twitter Tips, Jason Preston asks:

“Journalism requires that stories been constructed, facts be tied together, narratives presented, and context created. In short, journalism is the big picture.

“No one would argue that you can get the pig picture in 140 characters. But what about aggregate tweets? One person over a long time, or many people over a large subject?

“Is Twitter a viable, standalone medium for journalism?”

I think this quesion misses the mark regarding the nature of journalism. It confuses the package with the process. That’s understandable, because in the history of mainstream news, journalists and news organizations have often taken a “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” approach to revealing their own processes. When all the public sees is the product, it’s easy to assume that’s all there is to journalism.

Here’s the comment I left on his post:

Hmmmm…. I do journalism, and I know a lot of journalists, and I’ve seen what Twitter can do. It seems to me that any medium — from Twitter to broadcast news to smoke signals — has potential journalistic uses.

Journalism is a process, not just a product. For many professional journalists and other people who commit acts of journalism, Twitter is already an important part of their journalistic process (i.e., connecting with communities and sources, and gathering information). And it can also be part of the product (i.e., live coverage of events or breaking news, or updates to ongoing stories or issues)

So yes, Twitter CAN be a real news platform. As well as lots of other things. Just like a newspaper can be the Washington Post, the National Enquirer, or a free shopper’s guide. It all depends on what you choose to make of it.

And also: These days, almost no news medium is “standalone.” Every news org has a web presence, and many have a presence in social media, and also in embeddable media.

…That’s my take. What’s yours? Please comment below — or send a Twitter reply to @agahran

How to start a Twitter hashtag

More and more people are covering live events and breaking news via Twitter — and usually there are several Twitter users covering the same event. Hashtags are a handy tool for pulling together such disparate coverage.

A hashtag is just a short character string preceded by a hash sign (#). This effectively tags your tweets — allowing people to easily find and aggregate tweets related to the event being covered.

If you’re live-tweeting, you’ll want to know and use an appropriate hashtag. Earlier I explained why it’s important to propose and promote an event hashtag well before the event starts. But where do event hashtags come from?…

Doyle Albee, maven of the miniskirt theory of writing, asked me:

“I’ve used hashtags a bunch, but never started one. If, by some chance, there are two events (or whatever) using the same hashtag, does everyone searching just see both until one changes, or is there some sort of registration or vetting process?”

Here’s my take on this…

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Why CNN’s pseudo “hologram” was such a bad idea

The Dallas Morning News Tech Blog speculates on the next step in holographic election coverage...

The Dallas Morning News Tech Blog speculates on the next step in holographic election coverage...

Someone might want to tell CNN: TV is a two-dimensional medium. Holograms don’t work there — not even in high-definition. That’s even more true for holograms that aren’t really holograms.

On election night, CNN debuted a new type of eye candy into its coverage: three-dimensional video interviews with reporter Jessica Yellin and rapper Will.I.Am, both speaking from Chicago. As the TV camera moved around the studio, the angle of the projected image changed, creating the illusion of an in-studio 3D projection.

Here’s what it looked like (Note: CNN’s embedded video just went flaky, but that article on CNN contains a playable version.)

And here’s why this stunt was such a bad idea…

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Knight News Challenge: 10 Tips for Submitting Your Grant Application

UPDATE 10/31: It’s come to my attention that some applicants have already been rejected from the Knight News Challenge — which may seem odd, because the Nov. 1 midnight application deadline has not yet passed.  The Knight News Challenge just clarified, “Applications that were submitted instead of saved for later editing have been reviewed and either declined or accepted.”

So I’ve amended this post to reflect that information. My earlier advice to submit even if you still wanted to tweak your application was wrong, and I’m sorry for any confusion I caused.

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This year I’ve been mentoring several people who are applying for Knight News Challenge grants. The deadline for applications is midnight on Saturday, Nov. 1 — so this is your last chance to toss your hat in the ring for this year’s round of funding.

I’ve noticed a few idiosyncrasies of the submission process that may confuse some applicants, so here are 10 tips to help you get your application in order…
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Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 2: Beyond Government

NOTE: This is part 2 of a multipart series. See the series intro. More to come over the next few days.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

To compensate for our government’s human-unfriendly info systems, some people have developed civic info-filtering backup systems: news organizations, activists, advocacy groups, think tanks, etc.

In my opinion, ordinary Americans have come to rely too heavily on these third parties to function as our “democracy radar.” We’ve largely shifted to their shoulders most responsibility to clue us in when something is brewing in government, tell us how we can exercise influence (if at all), and gauge the results of civic and government action.

Taken together, these backup systems generally have worked well enough — but they also have significant (and occasional dangerous) flaws. They’ve got too many blind spots, too many hidden agendas, insufficient transparency, and too little support for timely, effective citizen participation…

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Local: Just One Set of Ripples on the Lake of News and Information

Clearly Ambiguous, via Flickr (CC license)
Local is just one set of ripples on the lake of news and information.

UPDATE SEPT. 15: I’ve launched a new series fleshing out this discussion. See Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 1: Human Nature

When it comes to information that helps people function better as citizens in a democracy, how important is local, really?

Geographically defined local communities are the focus of the new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. Earlier this week, I posted this comment (and this one) on the Commission’s blog questioning the Commission’s assumption that community = local.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that Knight is trying to determine what kinds of information people really need to function as citizens today. I agree that’s a crucial line of inquiry these days. However, I’m concerned that by assuming those needs are inherently tied to “local,” the commission could miss a very important (perhaps the most important) part of what “community” really means to people today.

I was honored to see this very thoughtful response to my comment from Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He made several good points, including this excerpt…
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Twitter for Newshounds: My New Strategy

Today I set up a new Twitter account just for following the news. It helps.

I’m both a media/news geek and an avid Twitter user. Also, several news organizations post their current headlines and breaking news updates to Twitter. These facts have dovetailed nicely for me — I follow several news orgs on Twitter.

But this morning, I had to make a change. The news orgs were drowning out the people on Twitter. And I want — and need — to hear both.

Most news orgs that post to Twitter do so with a minimum of effort. They use Twitterfeed: a free service that automatically converts items from your RSS feed into Twitter updates (“tweets”) to your account. News orgs generally update their sites — and hence their feeds — very often. Therefore, it’s common for several tweets from a news org to hit Twitter all at once. The problem is that in a scrolling display like Twitter’s (and most third-party applications for accessing Twitter), this can have the effect of visually crowding out posts from individuals. This only gets worse if you follow more than one or two news orgs via Twitter.

I have several Twitter accounts, which I use for different purposes, so I mainly access Twitter using Twhirl — a popular Twitter application that supports multiple accounts. So I just set up a new Twitter account (newsamy) specifically for managing my news subscriptions. I then “unfollowed” all news orgs at my main Twitter account, and started following them (plus several new ones) at newsamy instead.

Now, when I want to keep an eye on Twitter, I keep a window for each account open in Twhirl. This makes it much easier for me to see what more people and more news orgs are saying. I can close either or both windows when I want less background noise. So far, I really like it.

My plan is to not post any tweets at all from my newsamy account — it’s strictly a listening post for me. So there’s no point in anyone following me on that account, nothing will be happening there. But here’s the list of news orgs I currently follow there. (UPDATE: LOL, I already changed my mind about that. Had to complain to USA Today about a particularly useless tweet of theirs.)

Does your news org post to Twitter? If so, you might want to leave a comment telling Red66, so they can add you to their list. If you want me to follow you, send me an “@ reply” on Twitter to my main account (@agahran) and I may check you out for awhile. (Don’t send a reply to @newsamy, I don’t receive replies there.)

UPDATE: Matt Sebastian mentioned that another Twitter application, Tweetdeck, can help accomplish similar goals by allowing you to create groups within your list of Twitter friends (people you follow). That’s another great solution. However, at this time it doesn’t appear that Tweetdeck supports multiple Twitter accounts. Personally, I need to use multiple accounts (especially since I have amylive for live event coverage via Twitter) — so Twhirl is a better option for me at this point.

NOTE: I originally posted this to Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.

David Cohn: Pushing journalism frontiers

At the NewsTools 2008 conference last week, I had a chance to sit down with one of the emerging luminaries of entrepreneurial, experimental journalism. David Cohn runs the BeatBlogging project for NewAssignment.net, and he also works with NewsTrust . Plus, he runs a great blog of his own and is a constant presence on Twitter. Busy guy. I’m glad I got a few miinutes of his time.

Here’s what Dave has to say about where he thinks journalism might be heading, and what he wants to do to help it get there:

…Oh, and in this interview, Dave called me a "force of nature." I’ll assume that’s a compliment:

Thanks, Dave 🙂