OJR | It’s time for journalists to promote a better ‘Twitter style’ ::redux keywords & the semantic web::

For those of us who follow hundreds (or even thousands) of feeds, fresh information can be lost between endless retweets of old information. Massive retweeting also allows false information to spread globally, gaining credibility with reach RT. While those of us who’ve taken the time to sharpen the list of sources we follow are rewarded with accurate, timely updates, too many Twitter users fail to enjoy the tool’s potential because they simply don’t know which feeds to follow when news breaks.

Read the full piece at ojr.org
Image from adrianzupp.blogspot.com

I guess I cannot really fault author Robert Niles’ effort to suggest Twitter enhancements to make the social network work better for journalism. It’s just that Twitter wasn’t created for journalism. And asking people to change what they do to satisfy our needs seems a bit presumptuous. Besides being futile.

It is reminiscent of media’s big push for semantic web tagging years ago. Wouldn’t it be great, people said, if everyone who published information online included tags in the code to identify people, places and things? Then it would be much easier to find exactly what you’re looking for. Information would be made more available and valuable to everyone, including those in the business of ferreting out information for others – i.e. journalists.

It really is true that things could work a lot better with widespread semantic tagging. A lot of work has gone into it and most serious online publishers use some degree of it. But the vast majority of web content produced by the vast majority of average bloggers and web users does not. Instead, the trend has been for Google, Bing, Yahoo and the big commercial information intelligence services to constantly improve the contextual analysis capabilities of their search engines.

A related example is how full-text search has mostly bypassed massive keyword systems in news metadata for most everyone except news organizations themselves. I sat on the IPTC – International Press Telecommunications Council for a decade and endured so many painful hours of debate among wire services and various news organizations trying to maintain the keyword lists first implemented for stories back in the teletype days. Wouldn’t it be great, they said, if everyone used the same unique keywords in their web metadata? Then all online content could easily be categorized and organized by modern digital systems, particularly ours.

And it’s true; things could work a lot better with unique and unambiguious keywords attached to everything. But we can’t even get photographers at our own newspapers to fill out full caption info in their digital images, little less fill out the full IPTC header, little less get everyone on the web to keyword everything. Most people don’t even put much in the way of keywords into the metadata header of their own websites.

And now this push for more and standardized tagging (i.e. keywords) that everyone should use on their tweets. So ask me why I hear strains of “Blowing in the Wind” playing in the background.

All that aside, some of the suggestions in this article show a real lack of understanding about how real people, not journalists, use communications and communication channels such as Twitter (yes, it is a channel, not a medium). Like tagging a modified tweet with MT so people will know that a journalist has changed the original and added his or her own content — which is how exactly different than this being essentially a new tweet with new content?

And then there is the RR suggestion where journalists should now start retweeting themselves in order to duplicate their old content to appear as current content higher up in their tweetstreams. It’s for all the new followers they will have coming into a story midstream; so what if everyone else starts getting more repeats of everything than we already do with regular RTs.

I do like, however, the idea that part of the job of a modern journalist should be to hook people up with original source tweeters of value so that our audience can follow them directly. If we do that, we become a valuable resource to the audience. Plus we free up our own time from simply repeating what everyone else is saying so that instead we can create original material and a unique news consumption experience to go with it. Now that’s journalism.


2 thoughts on “OJR | It’s time for journalists to promote a better ‘Twitter style’ ::redux keywords & the semantic web::

  1. I am a Communication and Media undergraduate at Bournemouth University, and I’ve been looking into the growing influence of social media on professional journalistic practices. I was wondering if you had any opinions on whether reliance on social media can be considered to trivialise reporting, in the sense of being driven by SEO-based headlines, increasingly emotive or colloquial (and thus attention-grabbing) tweets and statuses, and the emphasis of the audience’s active role in providing and processing information. Or would you consider this approach a form of journalistic snobbery?Many thanks for any help.

  2. Social media does not – necessarily – trvialize reporting; think "return of the serial story"Amy, there are two meanings of "reporting" — collecting information for a story vs. distributing the story. I sense your question is more about using social media to distribute a story since you also ask about SEO-driven headlines and using more evocative wording than a journalist might use elsewhere. But then you also refer to audience involvement with providing information for the story, which is the other end of the process.So one at a time, and then something different — * As regards using social media to help collect information for a story, no, I do not think it trivialises the reporting process. It’s just another communication tool, like email or the phone. But over-reliance on social media is often lazy reporting, and that is what I am starting to see more and more of. Twitter is indeed simply the new telephone. Some journalists seem to think it is so 21st Century to be able to research their stories and get all their interview quotes simply by trolling the Twitterstream. Those journalists are today’s version of the reporters we’ve had in newsrooms for years who worked all their stories over the phone, hardly ever leaving the office. You can usually spot those stories easily because they tend to be shallow, predictable and fairly formulaic. That’s appropriate perhaps when reporting a house fire on deadline. It’s not necessarily appropriate for reporting the town council meeting. TV news has really gone crazy over reporting from social meeting, at least here in the States. It’s stupid listening to an on-air journalist read you something she got of Twitter, with the Twitter screen grab as a graphic over her shoulder, as if you can’t read it on Twitter yourself — where’s the value-added in that? Mobile service provider AT&T did a series of advertisements a while back all with some pseudo-anchorman reporting "This just in from Facebook – local woman can’t find her cat. Twitter confirms." You’d laugh. But just a couple of weeks ago, Brian Williams on the NBC television network reported one night on the improved health of the congresswoman who was shot in Arizona, based entirely on a tweet from her husband, reading it on the air – "Today was a huge day for GG. Lots of progress" – finishing with the admission, "We have no more specifics." Life mimicking commercials. More tragic than funny. * As regards using social media to distribute a story, again, no, I do not think it necessarily trivialises the reporting, as long as the story is appropriate to the audience on the particular network. With 500 million people on Facebook, if I were conceiving of a new online-only news service, I would seriously consider using Facebook as my media hub rather than reinventing the wheel by trying to get all those people to come over to my own site. My purpose as a journalist is to foster an informed society, not to impose a format. On the other hand, Facebook is probably not the appropriate venue for a very long and involved multipart investigative story. Neither would be putting it out 140 characters at time on Twitter. Even if there are audiences on those networks interested in the story, it’s probably not how they would want to access it and I shouldn’t force them to. Instead I’d use the social networks to inform them of the availability of the story, maybe give the gist of it to those who don’t want more and tell those who do where they can interact with it. In either case, I’m positioning the story appropriately to get audience attention, because what’s the point of journalism that doesn’t get noticed? As to perhaps writing the story differently, for example using more emotive wording, if it is destined for publication over a social network where that is the style, I don’t have a problem with that. We write stories differently for a magazine than we do a newspaper, and differently again for broadcast. Just as long as as the presentation remains true to journalistic ethics of accuracy, fairness, sensitivity and accountability. The problems only occur when a journalist starts bending the story to the format rather than using the appropriate format for the story, and the audience. * The something different is a concept I first started exploring when I created the Newsplex some years ago to work with new forms of storytelling. The concept is called incremental editing. We first started using it with early moblogs — blogs that you posted to exclusively from your mobile while on the go. This was pre-Twitter, mind you. The concept was a rethink of traditional journalistic workflows — then and, for the most part, still now — that call for a journalist to reach a completion point on his story before it is published or broadcast. With incremental editing, you instead publish a short version of your story as soon as you have enough to say anything with certainty, then incrementally add to it as you get more information. Not only does the author-journalist add to it but other journalists working behind the scenes add to it with additional context, expansions, resource links, corrections, etc. Each time a reader comes to the story, it could be very different from what he saw earlier because of the constant, incremental editing and improvement. Recently while I was working on some scenarios for the future of journalism and news media, looking at how there might be some forms of journalism completely different than what we think of today, I revisited incremental editing in the context of a social medium such as Twitter. You could ask what if a journalist who is assigned a story reports it in bits and pieces as he goes along gathering information, interviewing people and learning new facts. He might create a new Twitterstream for this particular story, alerting anyone interested to follow it there. He might start with a tweet that simple declares what he is going out to learn. He might add new tweets each time he collects and verifies a new piece of information. He might add more tweets with quotes from people he interviews. Even more tweets as he starts to put facts together to form conclusions or insights. Yet more tweets as he gathers reaction. This going on perhaps over days as he’s working this story and several others, each with its own Twitterstream, simultaneously. All the while followers are adding their two cents, maybe offering tips or contradicting information the journalist reported, asking questions that the journalist tweets answers to. Followers drop off as they eventually lose interest or there is less new information reported. And eventually the story ends. Or maybe the reporting of the story transitions over time into the followers discussing the topic and the the editorial Twitterstream evolves into a commentary Twitterstream. And of course this is Twitter2 with multimedia embedded all along. So now you have not trivialised journalism because of its relationship to social media but a type of serious, quality journalism that could not exist elsewhere. An interesting idea.

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