Archive for the ‘Twitter’ Category


Twitter tips for Black Friday reporting

Black Friday sale logoFew holiday traditions embolden us and irritate us at once like Black Friday.

Once a hallmark of dread in this country — in the 1960s, it referred to the day President John F. Kennedy was shot — Black Friday turned a profitable shade of green around 2005 when brick-and-mortar stores unilaterally realized its potential as a deal-making gimmick to stem losses from online-only Christmas retailers.

(That was back when the two were still rather distinct. Now, online retailers have their own arbitrary holiday observance, Cyber Monday.)

It’s arguable whether Black Friday has turned from gimmick to myth. Even though 141 million Americans elbowed and shoved each other on the way toward spending an estimated $57 billion on that day in 2013, a study by The Wall Street Journal found that over the previous six Black Fridays, shoppers actually found better deals on other days before Christmas.

Nevertheless, the madness in the aisles returns this week followed by an army of journalists employing social media — Twitter and Instagram in particular — to chronicle the ersatz tradition.

For shoppers brave enough wade through the crowds, perhaps the best advice is to wear pads and a helmet. But for journalists bobbing in Black Friday’s wake, these tweeting tips are paramount:

Always include hashtags, but not too many — Attaching a “#” to the front of a word or conjoined phrase turns it into metadata that search engines sift for and then regurgitate as trend topics. Using them enables Twitter users to find relevant conversations and terms quickly, whether that term is a store name, a popular gift, or a sales event. But limit the number of hashtags to three per tweet; it’s good Twitter protocol.

Be wary of “wow” promotions — Retailers recast themselves as newsmakers when they have big in-store promotions and make liberal use of “first” and “biggest” and “best” and similar unqualified terms to push their products. Before heading to the stores, research retailers’ Twitter accounts — distinguished with an “@” in front of their names instead of a hashtag — as well as brand accounts and compare feeds. Also, it helps to research a store’s or brand’s social media history to see whether supposed Black Friday discounts are better than or comparable to deals at other times of the year.

Track user engagement — Those hashtags come in handy when watching shopper and retailer behavior, but journalists have to pay attention to others’ feeds and not tweet blindly. Monitoring feeds enables reporters to see what people around them are doing and reduces the mistake of tweeting or retweeting contradictory or incorrect information.

Keep an eye on time stamps — And speaking of mistakes, Twitter’s habit of bumping popular tweets to the top of everyone’s feeds also creates confusion about when and where events actually happen. Consequently, in the rush to report, journalists may mistake old feeds for current ones. Take a second to look carefully at the time and date in gray to the right of the tweeter’s account name. Sure, it’s hard for old eyes to see, but a squint beats a gaffe every time.

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Twitter just became a better tool for journalists

Twitter logo and magnifying glassDo you remember your initial tweet?

How about the 20 or 40 tweets that followed?

The first question may be easy to answer. The second, not so much.

But Twitter just announced a way to change that. The 284-million member microblogging platform now has full indexing as well as a search service that can sift for any public tweet ever posted.

So now you can easily dig up the first-ever tweets by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey in 2006, the tweets from the hundreds of people who launched a social media maelstrom this summer in Ferguson, Mo., and about half a trillion other tweets from around the globe.

Before this, only portions of Twitter’s massive archive were available, and those only since 2012.

“Our search engine excelled at surfacing breaking news and events in real time, and our search index infrastructure reflected this strong emphasis on recency,” said Yi Zhuang, search engineer at Twitter, in a blog post Tuesday. “But our long-standing goal has been to let people search through every tweet ever published.”

This opens a door for journalists to find and understand more of the dialog generated online — dialog now considered crucial to our understanding of events and our place in them.

“This new infrastructure … (provides) comprehensive results for entire TV and sports seasons, conferences, industry discussions, places, businesses and long-lived hashtag conversations across topics such as #JapanEarthquake, #Election2012, #ScotlandDecides, #HongKong, #Ferguson, and many more,” Yi wrote.

He noted that the new search is rolling out over several days and is limited to scouring keywords, though other search elements will be added in time. Only viable tweets marked as public are searchable. Deleted tweets won’t appear, but assorted third-party tools are available to uncover those.

For now, search results appear in the “All” tab of the Twitter Web client, as well as the iOS and Android mobile apps. The interface will change as the index evolves, Yi said.

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Deleting your tweeting is cheating

Delete Tweets iconRemember correction fluid? It had names such as Liquid Paper and Wite-Out.

How about correction tape?

Or, how about those pencil- or wheel-shaped typewriter erasers with a plastic brush at one end? The brush was intended to whisk away bits of worn eraser, which usually landed inside the typewriter anyway.

In the days before digital, these were the tools of reputation management. They were cumbersome, messy, and in the case of correction fluid, toxic; the fumes were as potent as gasoline — and anyone prone to typing errors inhaled a lot of fumes.

They also were imperfect at covering imperfections. Shrewd hiring managers held résumés and cover letters up to the light to find the telltale blotches and smudges left by correction fluid. Minus those, an applicant could land the job on perfect typing alone.

Today, we depend on the Delete or Backspace keys to correct mistakes and believe nobody is wise to our errors when they vanish off the screen before our eyes. In truth, the ghosts of our gaffes cling to the Web and leave telltale traces, much like correction fluid.

Nowhere is this more obvious than social media, especially Twitter, where bits of conversations spin off and tumble around inside the platform like socks in a Laundromat dryer. One phrase or image may be plucked out of context and hurled perhaps too far to see where it came from but not far enough to forget. And if that phrase or image is tasteless or inaccurate — well, imagine what happens when one red sock gets mixed in with a load of white laundry.

The solution, many journalists believe, is to delete the offending or inaccurate tweet, also known as scrubbing, but as recent examples suggest that only makes the problem worse.

Bloomberg Politics got caught up in a vicious spin cycle last month when it tweeted about an interview with White House chef Sam Kass about the Obamas’ family dining and paired a portrait of the president with what appears to be a stock image of chicken wings, thus stirring claims of racial stereotyping. The tweet came down without apology but not before thousands saw it and hundreds retweeted it.

The same week, CNN was hit by a tweetstorm after a staffer posted a photo of the network’s morning anchor team apparently making fun of the Ebola scare. The photo was even retweeted by a member of the anchor team before a CNN executive demanded it come down.

The following week, a national correspondent for CBS News suffered embarrassment over her reporting about U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s criticism of federal reaction to Ebola. Amid the dialog, she asserted that Paul lacked the medical wisdom to be objective on the matter. Paul has held a medical license in his home state of Kentucky since 1993, a fact that appears even on Wikipedia. Yet she pulled down the tweet instead of correcting the record.

In each case, the deletion had an impact opposite of what was intended. And not just these three; examples abound of media, celebrities, and politicians smearing their messes over a wider area merely by deleting an errant or inappropriate tweet.

The better strategy? Leave the tweet alone and post a follow-up containing a correction or an apology if necessary. Here’s why:

It minimizes confusion — Retweets, no matter their number, trace back to their origins, and having a string of retweets linked to a blank space in the Twitter time stream can confuse readers who are following the story or merely trying to corroborate information posted by other journalists and readers.

It maximizes credibility — Wherever a gap exists in the Twitter time stream, other Twitter users fill it with conjecture and assumption. Admitting a mistake or issuing an apology not only prevents speculation from seeping into the conversation, it also demonstrates responsibility on the part of the Twitter user and responsible users are considered credible sources.

You can’t change the past — Once a tweet goes live, it never really dies. The Library of Congress signed a deal with Twitter in 2010 to sweep up all Tweets for posterity and now keeps them in a sprawling searchable database.

Typewriters compelled users to think twice before hitting the keys to avoid cumbersome corrections. Treating Twitter with the same respect yields the same result.

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Can Facebook be a successful breaking news platform?

Recent weeks have seen a debate as to whether Facebook can catch up with Twitter and breaking news through its algorithms. (Vicipaedianus x / Wikimedia Commons under CC license)

Recent weeks have seen a debate as to whether Facebook can catch up with Twitter and breaking news through its algorithms. (Vicipaedianus x / Wikimedia Commons under CC license)

Within the last few weeks, there has been much debate on social media’s effect as a platform of journalism. The news coming out of Ferguson, Missouri in particular with the protests in light of the death of Michael Brown, has seen much reflection on what Facebook and Twitter can become for journalists.

What has come to focus is on the matter of the algorithm, how it should be written, and if it should be redone, as much of the news on Ferguson came on Twitter rather than Facebook, where much of the focus this past month was on the ice bucket challenge for the ALS Foundation. As Mathew Ingram noted on GigaOM, the tone on Facebook is set by the powerful ranking algorithms.

Indeed, because of this, some are suggesting that Twitter has become the go-to source to keep up with real time trends, news and conversations, including John Naughton of The Open University in the UK, writing in the British Sunday newspaper The Observer, noting statistics that saw higher Facebook referrals for articles related to the ice bucket challenge rather than the events in Ferguson.

Naughton then wrote this conclusion.

“What you see on Twitter is determined by who you follow,” Naughton said. “In contrast, what you see in your Facebook newsfeed is “curated” by the company’s algorithms, which try to guess what will interest you (and induce you to buy something, perhaps). Having a frank discussion about the racism that disfigures America might not fit that bill. Which is why Facebook is for ice-bucket memes and Twitter is for what’s actually going on.”

In a telephone interview with this blog, Gina Cole of the Seattle Times said Ferguson conveyed a tone for Twitter and the reaction afterward, including coverage.

It’s interesting to see how this was more nationally covered on Twitter and how many were on the ground because of Twitter,” Cole said. “You can turn Ferguson into #Ferguson and everybody knows where to go to get information.”

Cole added that at the time it was an excellent source for breaking news and discussion on the subject, compared to Facebook. Cole said the algorithms caused a difference in how the story was seen on both platforms. Cole notes the follow function on Facebook, which allows users to follow users’ posts that are public, including journalists, however was not sure how much of a role it had.

It’s odd to watch these two platforms try to become more like each other, when really as a user I think of them differently and use them differently,” Cole said, adding that you may not want to see multiple postings by one person. “If something is happening, you want a live stream of event. Twitter’s platform is more suited to that.”

But can Facebook compete with Twitter when it comes to a breaking news platform? Cole says its possible, but significant changes would need to be made.

Algorithms would have to change, posting display would have to change,” Cole said. “Facebook needs to find a way to be differently useful than Twitter. Find a niche. Find a way I can use Facebook that Twitter doesn’t offer.”

Alex Veeneman is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists based in Chicago. Veeneman also serves as Special Projects Editor and writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can tweet him @alex_veeneman.

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The debate on a Twitter edit tool

twitterlogo

Twitter may be releasing an edit tool – but the question is when? Photo via Wikimedia Commons (CC)

It has long been known that Twitter has become an essential social media platform for journalists, either through editorial or career purposes. Yet, there had been recent speculation on if the social network would introduce an edit tool to allow users to edit their tweets.

The most recent speculation came just before last Christmas. This report from The Next Web indicated that users would see an edit feature for a brief period, and would therefore allow these changes to be made. Facebook has a similar editing tool in place where users can edit posts once they are live.

It has been a tool that journalists have been wanting, prompting a discussion on the subject during the #wjchat Twitter chat, held Wednesday evenings at 8 ET/5 PT.

Sara Catania, the vice president for digital at NBC4 Southern California in Los Angeles, an NBC owned station, in a telephone interview for this blog, said it was long overdue, adding there was much excitement when Facebook introduced their tool.

I don’t think you’d find a journalist saying that an editing tool is a bad idea,” Catania said. “There was much celebration when Facebook introduced their tool. We wanted the flexibility to make corrections and add content to a post. Once Facebook enabled that, it created a greater degree of flexibility for us.”

Catania says if a feature is implemented, it should allow the user to look at the edit history, similar to what Facebook does, to show the audience what changes were made,

Those posts are flagged as edited and they can look at the edit trail,” Catania said. “That would be important in a Twitter editing tool. Without that capability, an editing tool would not be as beneficial to news organizations as we would like.”

A spokesperson for Twitter did not respond to a request via email seeking comment for this post.

Catania says overall, an editing tool would be appreciated in the long term by news organizations, especially considering the algorithm Twitter uses, where an incorrect tweet could be retweeted (similar to incidents with the Associated Press on coverage of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17), and a revised tweet could gain less traction as they travel separately.

Accuracy is an expectation,” Catania said. “Twitter challenges and makes it harder to fulfill and carry through that expectation. Having that tool would help that.”

Alex Veeneman is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists based in Chicago. Veeneman also serves as Deputy Editor and writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can tweet him @alex_veeneman or email spjdigital@gmail.com.

Author’s note: This post was updated on August 11 to reflect a correction – KNBC, known as NBC4 Southern California, is an owned and operated station of NBC, and not an affiliate as previously indicated. We apologize for the mistake.

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Digital Journalism takes a big step forward

SPJ DigitalFrom typewriters to Twitter, technology has shaped and reshaped journalism. Only now, the technology is coming faster than we can master it.

In the span of a lifetime, hot type gave way to cold type, which in turn sank beneath a wave of websites and blogs and social media apps. Today, we have come to think that two-year-old tech is obsolete, and that new news can become old news before readers reach the last sentence.

Moreover, we’ve entered an age when, thanks to rapidly evolving technology, the practice of journalism is no longer restricted to journalists.

All of this is why the Society of Professional Journalists has tried to evolve as well — it’s casting a wider net for freelance news gatherers and non-affiliated journalists, and revising its Code of Ethics to meet the needs of the new age.

And it’s expanding the Digital Journalism committee into a digital journalism community.

The new community, SPJ Digital, began unofficially last week but already has a Twitter account (@SPJDigital) and a presence on Google+. It debuts officially in September at EIJ in Nashville under the shrewd guidance of student journalist and editor Alex Veeneman.

Incoming SPJ president Dana Neuts says SPJ Digital’s mission is to “examine and raise awareness of current trends in social media, as well as digital innovations and the digital culture and their affect on the culture, craft and practice of journalism.”

In committee form, Digital Journalism has been chiefly a conduit for information on digital culture. Members met at SPJ’s annual convocation to discuss potential topics for Net Worked, as well as the Digital Media Toolbox and occasional features in Quill, and report on hot tech and trends worthy of special consideration by SPJ leadership.

As a community, SPJ Digital will keep the discussion going year round, encourage input and participation from digitally savvy citizens both inside and outside journalism, and help everyone see the blur of onrushing technology a little more clearly.

The mission is to “serve all members interested in the digital future of the industry as well as the profession,” Neuts said.

A new landing site for SPJ Digital on SPJ.org is in the works. Neuts and Veeneman invite those who are interested in joining the community to stay tuned for updates and registration information at @SPJDigital, Google+, and right here at Net Worked.

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David Sheets is a freelance writer and editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

 

 

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Learn how to be an investigative journalist, for free

Knight Foundation logoHave you ever wanted to learn about investigative journalism but felt you didn’t have the money or enough flexibility in your schedule to do it?

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas knows the feeling.

That’s why the center intends to offer a five-week open online training course covering the nuts and bolts of investigative journalism, for free.

Yes. Free.

The course, “Investigative Journalism for the Digital Age,” begins Monday, May 12, and concludes June 14. Among the planned topics are general concepts about conducting investigations, finding and cultivating sources, analyzing digital data and databases, sifting through social media for useful information, and presenting stories with attention to fairness and ethics.

Four instructors will present multiple videos edited in a college-style classroom format. The instructors are Brant Houston, who teaches investigative journalism and advanced reporting at the University of Illinois; Michael Berens, an investigative reporter for the Seattle Times and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting; Steve Doig, data journalism specialist at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism; and Lise Olson, senior investigative reporter at the Houston Chronicle.

Each week’s work can be completed at the student’s own pace; however, quizzes will be given at the conclusion of each instruction module. Students can request a certificate of completion at the course’s conclusion for a small fee.

The lessons are not just convenient; they’re essential.

“These days, if you don’t know how to tap the Internet, explore the World Wide Web, explore Facebook, use Twitter, use all sorts of social media and search tools, you’re basically illiterate as an investigative reporter,” Olson says in a video that introduces the course.

Anyone who is interested should register now at the Knight Center’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) site. The center is supported by the Knight Foundation.

____________________

David Sheets is a freelance writer and editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Instagram now lets you embed photos, video on websites

Instagram logoInstagram expanded its image-sharing capabilities Wednesday.

The social networking service unveiled a new feature that allows Web embedding for user photos and video. Before Wednesday, most sharing outside Instagram was limited to other social sharing sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Twitter.

Now, users can find share buttons next to their images appearing on Instagram’s website. Clicking on the button, located just south of the comment button, opens a small window containing an embed code that can be pasted into blogs, Web pages and news articles.

Below that code in the same window is a publish button. The photo or video includes an Instagram identity wherever it’s published.

As for technical details, that’s all Instagram said about the new feature. The rest of the service’s news release Wednesday dwelled on content ownership, which Instagram insists will remain with the image’s owner.

“Your embedded photo or video appears with your Instagram user name, and clicking on the Instagram logo will take people to your page on Instagram.com,” the release said.

In December, Instagram changed its terms-of-use policy to permit all user content as fodder for “paid or sponsored content or promotions.” The only way to avoid this was for users to delete their accounts.

Subsequent outcry from privacy advocates as well as Instagram users forced the service to apologize and change the policy after one day.

Instagram launched in 2010 originally for Apple platforms but grew to include Android devices in April 2012. That same month, Facebook acquired Instagram for about $1 billion in cash and stock.

 

David Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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With Twitter, Sometimes Timing Is Everything

 

There’s more to Twitter than just crafting a good Tweet, using the right hashtag and including links.

In many ways, the timing can make or break your Tweet.

Take this Tweet by Robbie Brown of the New York Times. He sent it out in the middle of the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead on Sunday, Dec. 2. It leads readers to an article he wrote about the town where many of the show’s scenes are filmed.

Brown Tweeted right about the time many of the show’s 10 million viewers were trolling Twitter looking for Walking Dead information and chatter.

In an interview last week, he said the timing was coincidental. It just so happened his story was posted right before the episode aired.

But, Brown also knew that it might pick up some extra eyeballs as a result.

“Because so many people watch TV with their phone in their hands like I did, I figured some people would be looking for something to do during a commercial break,” Brown said.

So while several studies have found the best time to do your tweeting is Monday through Thursday between 1 and 3 p.m., that’s more of a general guideline.

Considering your audience, and applying a little common sense, will help boost the number of eyeballs your tweet — and your article — will receive.

Jodie Mozdzer Gil is an assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Southern Connecticut State University. She previously reported for the Valley Independent Sentinel, the Hartford Courant and the Waterbury Republican American. You can follow her on Twitter @mozactly.

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Sometimes it takes an epiphany to get you to think “Digital First”

Steve Buttry, who has the impressive if murky title of “Digital Transformation Editor” for Digital First Media, the entity that now operates the combined newspaper and television properties of the Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group, spends a lot of his time speaking not only to working journalists but to journalism students. He preaches the gospel of digital media as not only the future, but the present reality of the news business.

I happen to agree, and was glad to meet the man at an all-day Digital Media Workshop at the University of Colorado, sponsored by the Digital News Test Kitchen, a cutting-edge media think-tank. Buttry, who’s based in northern Virginia, spent the workshop sharing his views on the importance of embracing the evolving tools and technologies of news, and also giving hands-on tips that journalists can employ to tell stories for the new age.

He had lots of examples of newspapers doing innovative work and trying new ideas, like using a board on one Journal Register paper’s Pinterest page to show the local police’s Most Wanted mugshots (arrests increased). He also offered do’s and don’ts for other social media and digital tools.

In true digital-first fashion, there was a flurry of tweets during the workshop posted by attendees (lord knows when Buttry found the time to re-tweet some of them while he was still presenting), and Buttry posted on his blog about the workshop within a few hours. The post includes helpful links to all the examples of great multimedia and cutting-edge work that he used during his talk, and they’re worth checking out for anyone interested in the best that digital journalism has to offer.

His blog post includes a link to a Storify timeline, a compilation of tweets and photos uploaded live as the workshop progressed, curated by a journalism student, Rob Denton. Denton signed up for Storify when Buttry mentioned it, and created the timeline during the workshop. That’s how easy it can be to try out and learn some of the cool new tools that are available for journalists to use.

On his blog, Buttry also uses a service called Slideshare to upload all the slides from his presentation – a wealth of intelligence available for anyone to learn from. Slideshare is a social network to distribute PowerPoint presentations, and a perfect way to share expertise (assuming that your PowerPoint presentation isn’t a snoozer, and Buttry’s aren’t).

During the Q&A session, I asked if there was an epiphany in his career, which began in traditional newspapers that led him to embrace online media. “It’s really more a process than an epiphany,” he said.

He noted that he went into journalism in part because he knew he’d learn something new every day, and embracing new tools and platforms hasn’t been so different. He did remember that in 1984, he was in charge of a Des Moines Register initiative to raise community engagement by “crowdsourcing” news into a “Hometown” section. The idea didn’t fly with traditional journalists, but he was impressed with the power of the people who contributed.

He also remembered an early introduction to the Web as a research tool through a “Computer Assisted Reporting” (that’s what they used to call online, database-driven journalism stuff back in the day) project for the Omaha World Herald as the closest thing he had to an epiphany.

My epiphany was when I was entertainment editor at the Colorado Springs Gazette in 1994 (we were one of the first five American newspapers to have a website), and I got an email from a reader. He was thanking me for the paper’s arts coverage because he was a local scientist stuck in Antarctica for the winter, and our website allowed him to keep up with the rich local arts scene.

The knowledge that someone halfway around the globe could instantly read what I was publishing online changed my whole concept of news media. I realized that family and friends in Japan could now instantly follow what I was doing, and read my articles. Today that doesn’t seem too shocking, since we could Skype around the world for free and video-chat on Google Hangout, or read live tweets and watch live streamed video from anywhere in the world — or even outer space.

But back then, I have to admit, the idea blew my mind. That’s when I knew the Internet would be the future of news media, and that I had to find my place in it during the dawn of this evolution. I haven’t regretted the decision once.

If you had an epiphany about online media, send it along to gilasakawa@gmail.com — I’d love to hear your stories.

A version of this post was submitted for SPJ’s Quill magazine.

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