A new study has revealed the extent to which journalists from around the world are using social media both as a source of news, and to verify stories already being worked on. In their Digital Journalism Study, Oriella surveyed 600 journalists and discovered that more than half (55 percent) used social channels such as Twitter and Facebook to find stories from known sources, and 43 percent verified existing stories using these tools. 26 percent of respondents said that they used social media to find stories from sources they did not know, and almost one in five (19 percent) verified work in progress from sources unknown to them. The figures are even higher in the UK, with 75 percent of journalists using social media to research news from known sources. 52 percent of journalists said their employer’s titles had Facebook pages, while 46 percent had professional Twitter profiles. Oriella’s findings have been documented in an infographic, which takes a closer look at digital journalism today.
The Pew Research Center has come out with a massive new report on the state of media as part of its Project for Excellence in Journalism, and it comes to a number of conclusions about where the industry stands—including the fact that Twitter and Facebook are still driving a fairly small amount of traffic to media outlets (although this segment is growing quickly) and that such tech giants as Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft control almost 70 percent of online advertising. But one other thing that becomes clear from the Pew report is just how big a role aggregators of all kinds—both human and machine-powered—are playing in news consumption.
Despite the growing evidence to the contrary, many newspaper companies and other traditional media outlets still seem to think the vast majority of their audience comes to them directly and prefers to read their content above all other sources. More than anything else, this is the core philosophy behind the rise of paywalls—which more and more papers are implementing—and also the millions of dollars media companies have poured into developing iPad apps and other walled-garden-style approaches to news delivery. The assumption is that readers will want only the content that comes from that specific outlet.
For many consumers, however, aggregators of various kinds are the way they consume their news now, whether through Web-based portals like Yahoo News or Google News, or through a variety of newer aggregation-based apps and services, such as Flipboard, Pulse, or Zite for the iPad, as well as News.me, Summify (which was recently acquired by Twitter), and Percolate. According to the Pew report, almost 30 percent of consumers get their news from a “news organizing website or app,” compared with the 36 percent who go directly to a media company’s website or app.
In effect, many users seem to be looking to generate their own digital-newspaper-style overview of the world rather than accepting one from a single media outlet, and if the content they are looking for comes from an aggregator like the Huffington Post because the original is behind a paywall, then so be it. The problem for media companies is that this kind of behavior is in direct conflict with most of the business models they’re relying on for revenue, whether it’s advertising or app- and paywall-based subscription services—which is why such media moguls as News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch continually accuse Google of “piracy.”
And the problem is actually even bigger than that, since the Huffington Post and Google News are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to aggregation and/or curation. Although Facebook and Twitter may not be huge factors in terms of news consumption at the moment—as my colleague Staci has pointed out at paidContent—with only 9 percent of users saying they get their news from those networks, that figure has grown almost 60 percent in the past year alone and is likely continuing to increase.
To some extent the curation phenomenon is helping mainstream news organizations, because people are sharing links that get clicked on and drive traffic back to news outlets. This is especially the case with Twitter, since the Pew report notes that a larger proportion of users follow official media sources there, while a majority of Facebook users get their news from friends and family members. But just as with aggregation apps and services, the content that any single media company produces just becomes part of the sea of content that is distributed through these networks.
On top of that, Facebook itself is becoming much more of an aggregator of news, through the “social reading” apps it offers from such outlets as the Washington Post and the Guardian. Although both newspapers have bragged about the number of people who have registered for their apps and shared content through them, the reality is that much of the benefit from that activity ultimately goes to Facebook—in terms of the time users spend on the site, the advertising they are exposed to, etc.—rather than the news outlet.
Emily Bell, the former Guardian digital editor who now runs the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, noted in a response to the Pew report on Twitter that social platforms like Facebook are becoming “frenemies” with media companies, since they generate traffic but also suck up much of the benefit in terms of advertising.
Broadcasters are increasingly using Twitter to encourage viewers to interact with their programmes. “We think most programming today is spontaneous, but soon as a standard we expect to see broadcasters using hashtags and @ handles to get people involved, said general manager, Twittter UK, Tony Wang. Drawing largely on US examples, despite the number of UK broadcasters using the social networking site, Wang said broadcasters divided into three categories. The first was when broadcasters relied on spontaneity from viewers that made their own Tweets, the second was when broadcasters gave an on screen call to action, and thirdly an artful approach that would get viewers involved. Wang pointed to Fox News coverage of the Republican presidential debate that had actively encouraged the audience to respond to candidates answers, then analysed the Tweets they had received through the broadcast hashtag. Earlier, Kristin Frank, general manager, MTV said later this year one of the broadcaster’s scripted shows would use Twitter to interact with characters and develop plot lines. Characters would then ‘Tweet’ back to their friends.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has teamed up with the Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation to introduce Facebook and Twitter content to its programmes as part of the broadcaster’s social media strategy. ABC’s manager of new media services, Chris Winter, told Fairfax Media: “It’s about allowing people to engage a little more than they have been able to in the past with what they’re watching.
“One of the great prompters of conversation is what you’re watching on the telly. In the past we sat in the lounge room and talked to the person sitting next to us, in the future it will become easier and easier to engage with people who are not in the same room.” The broadcaster wants to engage with viewers using smartphones and tablet computers while watching TV content. Developed by National ICT Australia (NICTA), the technology can overlay online discussions currently occurring on Twitter discussion on top of any show across the ABC’s multiple channels.
Mashable, the popular Web site for information about technology and social media, said Tuesday that it was expanding coverage to include new sections for entertainment, United
States news and world news, and that it was hiring a veteran technology editor to oversee all editorial content. Lance Ulanoff, 47, the former editor of pcmag.com and senior vice president of content for Ziff Davis Web sites, will run day to day coverage at Mashable. He will work closely with Adam Ostrow, the current editor, who is moving into the position of executive editor, where he will continue to lead editorial strategy, Pete Cashmore, the chief executive and founder, said in announcing the changes. Mashable is now one of the largest and most influential online sites for social media and technology news, with 15 million unique visitors monthly. Its growth has been spurred by the estimated four million people who use social media to follow Mashable’s content and share it with their personal networks on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other social sites. The site’s redesigned homepage, unveiled Tuesday, features tabs for the new sections alongside the existing content channels for social media, technology and business
BBC News political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg built up a large following on Twitter with her mix of news, commentary and colour. Her move to ITV News in September has raised questions over who “owns” the almost 60,000 people who follow @BBCLauraK.
The Guardian suggests that “rather than handing her old account login back to the BBC to start from scratch with a new ITV account, the sensible thing to do is to change the name of the account.” But it looks like Kuenssberg will be starting from scratch, with the Twitter handle, @ITVLauraK. Ironically, the announcement was made by Kuenssberg on her BBC Twitter account. Social media creates an opportunity for journalists to interact on a personal level with audiences. Even if an account is branded as a “BBC” journalist, it blurs the traditional barrier between the professional and personal as tweets tend to reflect the personality of the reporter.
It marks a further step in the shift from the institutional to the individual brand of the journalist, identified by the State of the Media report in 2009: Through search, e-mail, blogs, social media and more, consumers are gravitating to the work of individual writers and voices, and away somewhat from institutional brand. Social media provides journalists with a way to connect and interact with audiences in a more personal and direct way than through traditional news products. But there is an unresolved tension between the journalist and the institution, especially on Twitter, which as Jemima Kiss points out, is designed for individuals to communicate.
Media institutions may have to accept that they cannot own the Twitter accounts of their reporters. The journalist may need to switch to a new account, as Kuenssberg will be doing, but they are likely to take their following with them.
Inspired by the recent Tunisian demonstrations against corruption, protesters are filling the streets of Cairo. And like the protests in Tunisia, the Egyptian ones were partly organized on Facebook and Twitter. And now Twitter appears to be blocked in Egypt, according to various Tweets and tips we’ve received. However, so far only the Twitter website itself is blocked (including the mobile site), but people in Cairo are still using Twitter third-party clients to keep on Tweeting. There are also reports of the entire mobile Web being blocked through mobile carriers, but at least one carrier, Vodafone Egypt, denies that it is blocking Twitter, attributing the problem to overloaded networks instead. Update: one tipster says Twitter apps are blocked as well and that the only way to Tweet is by using Web proxies. Update 2: Asked to confirm that Twitter is blocked in Egypt, Google PR points to this Herdict Report, which indicates that it is in fact inaccessible in that country.
Facebook is also being used to organize the demonstrations, with groups also popping up around the world to document the uprising and lend its support. For instance, one Facebook Group called We Are All Khaled Said, features up-to-the-minute updates on the protests and photos from the scene. Khaled Said was “a young man brutally tortured and killed by police in Alexandria,” explains Blake Hounshell on the Foreign Policy blog, and his death has become a rallying point for the demonstrations which fall on “Police Day,” a national holiday in Egypt.
Update: The Facebook Group is reporting that the police are firing at the protestors with rubber bullets.
Increasingly, social media is playing an important role in organizing and broadcasting protests against governments around the world. Unlike television or newspapers, Twitter and Facebook are not so easy to control other than blocking them entirely because of their distributed nature. By the time a regime realizes its only option is to block a service like Twitter, the protests are usually already well under way. And reports keep coming out via these channels anyway, making them the most immediate way to watch the protests (and sometimes subsequent uprisings) unfold. The reports may not always be accurate right away (confusing rubber bullets for “live ammunition,” for instance, but they tend to self-correct quickly.