Archive for the ‘Twitter’ Category


Why Twitter’s changes are good for journalism

Twitter has unveiled changes to its 140 character format in response to investor concerns on user numbers. (Photo: Anthony Quintano/Flickr)

Twitter has unveiled changes to its 140 character format in response to investor concerns on user numbers. (Photo: Anthony Quintano/Flickr)

Recently, Twitter announced plans to revise its 140 character length. The changes come as chief executive Jack Dorsey continues to try to find ways to engage new audiences with the social network, amid a history of decline of the number of users.

The most notable changes come in embedding multimedia on the platform, as the photo, video, GIF, poll or quoted tweet (a retweet with added comments from a user) will no longer be counted in the 140 characters you would have available. Additionally, when tweeting a user, the @username will also not count against the 140 characters.

It is unclear as to when the changes will specifically be rolled out, but a blog post on Twitter’s corporate web site says these features would be rolled out within the next few months.

In an interview with the BBC last week, Dorsey said the focus was on ensuring that when people tweet, it makes sense.

The soon-to-be rolled out updates are good for journalism on the platform, as users look to Twitter to engage with journalists and news organizations, either through discussions on current issues, or to be informed about events on the go. Journalists and news organizations also can do crowd sourcing on the platform, and the changes would likely allow more context to be put into a request or verification of user generated content.

Yet, the big item will come from live tweeting a story, especially a breaking news story, and how multimedia elements can help tell that story on Twitter. Journalists will be able to tell a story better on the platform with more context, alongside the photos and videos, whether its a local piece, a sports event, or a story on the forthcoming elections.

These changes allow journalists, irrespective of beat, to truly have Twitter become another platform alongside conventional platforms, to expand the two-way conversation between journalist and user, and to practice accomplished and quality storytelling.

While there is a ways to go before Twitter’s problems are properly solved, this is a step in the right direction, and will allow journalism to flourish on the social network. It will benefit not only the engagement strategies for news organizations, but to the people that matter most — the audience.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

The SPJ Ethics Code applies to Twitter too

SPJ's Ethics Week, held next week, is an important time to remember the Code of Ethics, and how they apply to reporting on Twitter. (Photo: SPJ)

Ethics Week is an important time to remember the Code of Ethics, and how they apply to Twitter. (Photo: SPJ)

Next week is Ethics Week here at SPJ, a time to celebrate the Code of Ethics, and to examine and consider its four principle values in journalism — to seek truth and report it, minimize harm, be accountable and transparent, and act independent.

The subject for this year’s Ethics Week is best practices in new technology, including social media. Social media, most notably Twitter, has had significant influence in not just how people consume journalism, but how it can enhance the journalism that we practice. We use Twitter to curate conversations, reach out to sources, but most importantly, report, engaging audiences through 140 character messages, challenging and complementing the traditional means of storytelling.

It is therefore important to consider the four principles of the SPJ Code of Ethics and how they apply to journalism by Twitter.

Seek truth and report it: Twitter is another platform for your journalism, and the rules for fair, impartial reporting apply. Report what you know. If you are reporting while trying to confirm a specific piece of information, tell your audience about the report, credit the report, and say you are working to confirm it. Additionally, for curating conversations, ensure all sides of the conversation are being shared. As my SPJ colleague Lynn Walsh wrote here earlier this year, look for all sides of the conversation as you would for any other story.

Most importantly, accuracy is key. It is more important to be right rather than be the first one with the story. Your audience will thank you for it.

Minimize harm: When it comes to breaking news, including disasters, you should be respectful of your sources as if you were interviewing them face to face. If you are asking for an interview over Twitter, be considerate in the language you use to ask for an interview. If the source declines, move on.

When interviewing, show compassion for those who have been impacted by events, and consider if the information you are being told is important to the story you’re telling. In this case, not everything you’re told is essential, so consider what is necessary to inform while balancing the privacy of a source.

Be accountable and transparent: Honesty is a quintessential part of the relationship between you and your audience. As I wrote here last month, an honest reporter is a forthright reporter, and audiences appreciate forthright reporters, for they’ll trust you and come back to you for information in the future. Do not be afraid to cite — do it early and often. Identify all of the angles. If there is a mistake, own up to it and correct it. Don’t let it wait.

Honesty is the best policy — and it will serve you well. You know what you know, and that is all that you know.

Act independent: Disclose any conflict of interests with your audience, and if you encounter a source on Twitter that pays you for information, refuse it. As mentioned earlier, cite and identify your reports clearly and correctly, and distinguish between what is news and what is advertising.

Most importantly, tell the story the way it is meant to be told, without bias or pressure to influence coverage, irrespective of beat, and reject pressure raised by advertisers, donors, organizations, or others that would impact your story.

Twitter has shaped how we practice journalism today in many ways. We must be able to practice it the way it should be practiced — fairly, impartially, accurately, and ethically, no matter the platform, not just for us, but ultimately the people we work for, our audiences.

Ethics Week is April 24-30. SPJ’s Ethics Committee will have blog posts on the subject over the course of the week on Code Words, the Committee’s blog.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Informing and engaging through Twitter

A new report suggests Twitter is responsible for 1.5 percent of traffic to news organizations' web sites. (Photo: Pixabay/CC)

A new report suggests Twitter is responsible for 1.5 percent of traffic to news organizations’ web sites. (Photo: Pixabay/CC)

New data released Wednesday suggested some interesting conclusions about Twitter. The data, compiled by the social media analytics firm parse.ly, suggests that while Twitter has significant influence, it doesn’t help when it comes to traffic for news organizations.

The data says that 1.5 percent of traffic from 200 of the firm’s clients web sites within the last two weeks came from Twitter, and the report raised questions about Twitter’s role in journalism.

I disagree with the report’s findings. Twitter as a platform is more than just about linking to news. Twitter has become itself a platform for news. We use the platform to curate a conversation on issues, to help us find sources to tell stories, but most importantly, to inform.

Indeed, many users flock to Twitter to catch up on the events around them, even in circumstances where they may not have time to look at an organization’s web site. The ability for them to stay on top of the news can come in the 140 character live-wire messages that is a quintessential component of the social network’s distinctiveness in the marketplace, all customized to their interests and to what they need to know to plan for what’s ahead. For them, 140 characters can tell the story.

Twitter does have issues that it has to face and questions that it has to answer when it comes to future. Yet in spite of all of its faults, Twitter has become important to supporting the future of journalism, and has become just as essential of a platform to engage and inform audiences on the events of the day.

In this increasingly digital age, for news organizations, it is more than just the traffic to web sites. It is how much engagement that can be done on all platforms — print, broadcast, or digital, and what can be done with that reach combined.

Twitter is a part of that engagement, and has allowed journalists and news organizations the ability to practice the fundamentals of journalism — informing, educating, entertaining and enlightening. It may not be traffic to your web site, but it is traffic and engagement with you, your organization, and your journalism, something that must never be taken for granted.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Point Taken and the new social media conversation

Carlos Watson moderates a debate on the American Dream from Point Taken, airing on PBS. (Photo: Meredith Nierman/WGBH)

Carlos Watson moderates a debate on the American Dream from Point Taken, airing on PBS. (Photo: Meredith Nierman/WGBH)

Social media has allowed us to do many things in journalism, from help tell a story and inform new audiences, to curate a conversation on various subjects. For WGBH, they have shown social media can do that and then some through the new program Point Taken.

Point Taken, a late-night, weekly debate on a current affairs topic, presented by Carlos Watson, premiered last night on PBS and is produced by the Boston based public media station. The subject was the future of the American Dream, and at the core of the conversation was social media, utilizing the hashtag #PointTakenPBS.

Yet, how social media was portrayed was different compared to most current affairs programs on television that discusses topical subjects. Tweets had appeared on screen, but also data of interaction was also present, indicating how many users were tweeting with the subject at that given time. It gave a visual complement to the discussion, allowing audiences to see a full lens of the conversation.

There was also the ability to vote on whether the American Dream was dead or alive, data which was shown on Twitter, as well as the ability to use polls to gain more insight into the thoughts of viewers.

However, the prevalence of social is not exclusive to a half hour broadcast. Other platforms had been used, including Facebook for engagement and interaction, as well as Snapchat, where through a filter audience members could record their thoughts on the subject being debated. Point Taken having a platform on Snapchat is part of a number of WGBH produced programs signing on to the platform, notably the current affairs documentary program Frontline and the science documentary program Nova.

In addition, the first episode is available to watch again (or to view if you missed last night’s airing) on Facebook, through PBS’ fan page.

The subjects will change from week to week, but one thing is for certain. WGBH and Point Taken have revolutionized how social media is used to curate a conversation, and has allowed new ways for public media as a whole to engage with younger audiences. It is a strategy that is inspired, and can go a long way in engaging new audiences and retaining current ones.

Tuesday was a win-win scenario for WGBH and for this industry, allowing not just for a discussion on the future of the American Dream, but also how social media can be used to enhance and innovate journalism, making it better for those curating the content, and, most importantly, those consuming it.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

In defense of 140 characters

Twitter turned ten years old on Monday, and as the occasion was marked, a debate continued to play out. The subject at hand was how to reverse the long term decline in users to the social network, and how chief executive Jack Dorsey plans to tackle it.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, seen in 2009, has said no to getting rid of its 140 character limit. (Photo: Brian Solis/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

One item that was being considered was expanding the character limit from its signature 140 characters to 10,000 characters. That is now not going ahead.

In an interview Dorsey gave to NBC’s Today Show on Friday, Dorsey ruled out the expansion.

“It’s staying,” Dorsey said as quoted by a report in Reuters. “It’s a good constraint for us and it allows for of-the-moment brevity.”

Twitter’s ability to have 140 characters has been good for the platform, as well as for journalists who use it. While it may cause common frustrations when constructing a tweet, the brevity that comes in the 140 characters can be beneficial for audience engagement, as users flock to the social network to get instant news and information, and might not be in a position to read, hear or watch something in-depth.

Indeed, it may only take 140 characters to tell a story and spark a discussion on an issue, which can help journalists build a following and credibility on the platform. While there are recommended ethics and tips to consider, especially in live tweeting (something I wrote about earlier this month), 140 characters has become a quintessential part of Twitter, as well as the development of its relationship with journalism, something that journalists should embrace.

Indeed, there is something that every journalist can do to make 140 character tweeting really work. Twitter, with its livewire elements, can help tell a story, but it is down to what can be offered, any bonus content or color that won’t make it onto traditional platforms, that can allow a 140 character tweet to help make your reporting stand out…something that might not have been accomplished if 10,000 characters were used.

After all, users that come to Twitter seeking instant information can also get a great story, despite the brevity.

So while Dorsey considers his next move to help boost user growth and engagement on Twitter, keeping 140 characters will keep its signature space in the social media marketplace, as well as give journalism a reason to flourish on the platform, now and for the next ten years.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

The importance of notifications

As Twitter celebrates its tenth birthday, its influence on journalism has become significant. As part of a series leading up and celebrating its tenth birthday, SPJ Digital is looking at Twitter’s influence, as well as best practices and advice.

Here, Alyssa Bloechl, of the Door County Advocate in Wisconsin, considers notifications on Twitter and the culture of reporting on the platform.

Twitter, which celebrated its tenth birthday March 21, has allowed journalists to engage with audiences in new ways. (Photo via Anthony Quintano/Flickr under CC)

There are an exponential amount of ways a journalist can use Twitter in their work, be it learning about breaking news, connecting with sources or live-tweeting an event. However, a recent exchange with someone in my community got me to thinking about how the Twitter accounts of journalists can be tools for readers.

Obviously, Twitter is a way to share breaking news that readers look to retweet, but I think more day-to-day tweets from journalists sharing their finished stories or reporting from an important meeting are not necessarily getting the attention they deserve.

The exchange, concerning a coming major detour routing through the downtown business district, went as follows:

Me: “Hi, how are you? Do you have a few minutes?”

Source: “Yeah, I’m free. You want to talk about the detour?

Me: “Um, yes. How did you know that’s why I was calling?”

Source: “I saw your tweet and figured out why you’d be calling. I get notifications for all of your tweets.”

I was stunned. She has notifications for me, a person with under 600 followers and an unverified account.

As a tweeter for some time, I began reflecting on this. I was mostly honored to learn she sees ALL of my tweets, but then nervous she might turn them off when she realized I don’t tweet just stuff I’m working on. (I’ve recently gotten into the fun habit of tweeting with GIFs.)

The Twitter snob in me thought, what worth would all of my tweets have for her? I only turn on the notifications on an account when I know a local journalist or news source is covering a breaking event and I need/want to keep up on what they are saying. Once the event is over, I turn them off.

Alyssa Bloechl of The Door County Advocate in Wisconsin says notifications can help engagement on Twitter, especially for community reporters. (Photo via LinkedIn)

After some thought, I tried to put myself in my source’s shoes. She is the director of a local tourist organization and a well-known community member. If I were in her position, it would be to my benefit to keep up on the day-to-day tweets of a journalist, as they would typically tweet about local news and ongoing stories, which would help me in my work.

She mentioned she appreciates all of my tweets when reporting at city meetings and she even mentioned a string of live tweets I had put together while in the courtroom a few days before.

I have concluded that it is entirely possible that people other people may use Twitter notifications to source local journalists. As a result, I took to Twitter!

Through a poll, I encouraged followers to tell me if they 1) Use notifications, 2) Do not use notifications or 3) Do not know what notifications are. I referenced this as a way they may gather the news on the social network.

As a low-profile account, I got a grand total of 11 responses. 45 percent of those polled indicated they do not use notifications, 36 percent do use them and 19 percent did not know what they were.

It’s not much to work with in terms of the millions that use Twitter, but I believe that margin between using notifications and not can be closed with the right marketing. If journalists took the opportunity to encourage readers and followers to turn on notifications for their tweets, I think communities will have opportunity to be more informed.

That information can empower further sharing and possible social action based on what the journalist is tweeting about while on the job.

I also think if journalists are also thinking about people actually reading all of their tweets and the writer is not just sending characters off into a mass of other tweets, we may become more thoughtful and responsible when tweeting for our audience.

We local journalists can make a difference, encourage readership and tweet responsibly and ethically about their community’s happenings. I know I’ll be working on getting more people to turn on notifications.

Alyssa Bloechl, an SPJ member, is a reporter with the Door County Advocate in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. You can interact with Bloechl on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Reflecting on Twitter

As Twitter prepares to celebrate its tenth birthday, its influence on journalism is significant. As part of a series leading up to its tenth birthday, SPJ Digital is looking at Twitter’s influence, as well as best practices and advice.

Here, Dawn Walton of CTV Television in Canada considers the role Twitter has had in the culture of journalism and the broader culture of storytelling.

A late adopter of Twitter, I only started tweeting in 2010 when the newspaper I worked for suggested it might be a good idea for those of us covering the Winter Olympics. I didn’t really understand how it worked – or the point – but now, 15,500 tweets later, it’s the first website I read in the morning.

I’ve also come to learn a thing or two about what Twitter has done to journalism for the better – and worse.

It has, in some cases, made the jobs of journalists, easier, but at the same time, some journalists, lazier.  Confirmation of deaths, and condolences, appear in real time. Why call anyone or knock on doors when you can comb through, and then Storify, tweet reaction? You can instantly see trends in your region, country and the world. But just because something happens on Twitter, it doesn’t mean it’s a story. Nobody, however, has quite figured out the formula to tell the difference.

But 10 years in, Twitter has firmly planted itself in the media – and public – consciousness.

Want to gauge the impact of David Bowie’s death? Skip the publicist. Go straight to Twitter, where every social media conscious celebrity tweets – along with their fans. Never before would we have known how Barbra Streisand felt about Celine Dion’s husband’s death without waiting for Entertainment Tonight’s coverage, assuming any of those reporters reached out to Streisand for comment.

But then again, why do we care what Streisand thinks? But hey, instant, and high-profile, content, so it’s news.

Twitter has also helped reporters quickly find leads on the stuff that fills local daily news, monitor our competitors and post breaking news. Traffic tie-ups. House fires. The name of the latest murder victim as a friend posts an RIP message.

CTV's Dawn Walton says Twitter has had equal influence in journalism and public culture. (Photo via LinkedIn)

CTV Television’s Dawn Walton says Twitter has had equal influence in journalism and public culture. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Beyond local events, Twitter has also become a forum for massive international events. Journalists watch as active shooters or terrorist attacks unfold minute-by-minute, tweet-by-tweet by eye-witnesses (or those who claim to be).

Police, also noticing this trend, are quick to ask the media – and the public – to resist tweeting (or, engaging on any social media platform) in dangerous situations or risk identifying the whereabouts of tactical teams.

Twitter has also profoundly shaped world reaction to major news events making “trending” a common term and, at times, a measure of newsworthiness.

There’s the lighter trending news. Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar selfie, actually taken by Bradley Cooper, was retweeted more than 3.3 million times, and racked up 225,000 tweets per minute, a Twitter record in 2014. Besides the celebrity eye candy, that made news. What also made news: Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar win this year, which trumped Ellen at 440,000 tweets per minute.

More often than not, I’m left figuring out what all One Direction and 5SOS fuss is about, only to realize it’s just another thing happening on Twitter that isn’t really a story, at least not to anyone who isn’t a die-hard boy-band fan.

But there’s also the serious stuff.

The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie became a global rallying cry after gunmen stormed the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015. And, #porteouverte became the ubiquitous signal for where Parisians could find safe haven during last November’s terrorist attacks on that city.

The Canadian election was one of the most tweeted about events, and was part of the strategy for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Photo: Alex Guibord/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

The Canadian election was one of the most tweeted about events, and was part of the strategy for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Photo: Alex Guibord/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

Tweet gaffes have also caught fire and sunk many politicians and celebrities.

Canadian political hopefuls were bounced from their respective parties during last fall’s federal election over inappropriate – and often old – tweets. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s recent ill-advised “America.” missive featuring his monogrammed handgun backfired, helping put an end to his Republican presidential bid. Kanye West’s stream of conscious tweet plea for money made the rapper a public mockery.

Those types of Twitter trends are quick to become stories or memes and sometimes the meme is the story.

But when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie didn’t tweet anything on Super Tuesday, yet stood behind Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, his seemingly silent screaming took on a life of its own. Twitter exploded with reaction, and news stories inevitably followed.  But as the Poynter Institute rightly questioned, was it a story? Probably not.

Not long ago, I received an email about a “cat fight on Twitter” involving two rather well known Canadian female politicians – one federal, the other provincial – both believed to be testing the waters for leadership bids of their respective parties. I got lost in threads debates and never did find the ball of yarn that originally started rolling. It never really did become a story, and rightly so.

Some marketing experts prefer Instagram and Facebook to reach their audiences, saying Twitter is on the wane, and its sliding stock prices may suggest the same.

Lately, it feels like only journalists are on Twitter in Canada with trending topics of interest to only die-hard news junkies. It’s become a hub for reporters trying to out-funny one another. Heck, I’ve even found myself trending, which is clearly, not a story.

Still, even those with the rarefied verified, blue check mark still to get a kick out of follows, retweets and replies from those similarly stationed in the Twitterverse. No other venue would allow me to engage in an intellectual public debate over gun control with children’s entertainer Raffi Cavoukian, whose records I sang along to as a kid, or a claim as a follower Sloan, a band I thought was just the coolest in university.

Maybe that’s what a decade of Twitter has done for journalism. It’s a 140-character tool, outlet and equalizer. Now, if only it had an edit function.

Dawn Walton is an award winning journalist based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Walton currently serves as the Managing Editor of CTV News’ local coverage in Calgary and previously served as a correspondent for The Globe and Mail newspaper. You can interact with Walton on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

The art of live tweeting

As Twitter prepares to celebrate its tenth birthday, its influence on journalism is significant. As part of a series leading up to its tenth birthday, SPJ Digital is looking at Twitter’s influence, as well as best practices and advice.

Here, SPJ’s Alex Veeneman revisits Britain’s general election to highlight the best practices of live tweeting and credible reporting on the platform.

British Prime Minister David Cameron won a majority in Britain's general election, something that drew a lot of attention on Twitter. (Photo: russavia/Wikimedia Commons)

British Prime Minister David Cameron won a majority in Britain’s recent general election, something that drew a lot of attention on Twitter.
(Photo: russavia/Wikimedia Commons)

May 7, 2015. As the clock struck 5pm on the East Coast, over in the UK, polls closed in the general election, and a predicted exit poll result no one had predicted appeared. David Cameron, whose Conservatives shared a coalition government with the Liberal Democrat party for the last five years, was set to receive almost a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

At 7pm ET, as the ballots continued to be counted and results came in through constituencies up and down the UK, my colleague, Current Affairs Editor Kirstie Keate, and I took to Twitter for Kettle Magazine to live tweet election results, as well as examine the implications the results would have on voters, as well as British politics itself.

Live tweeting during a developing story or breaking news event consists of the delicate balance of engaging audiences but also informing and adding something of value, something that they can’t get with another platform. In the digital age, the balance of curating a story on Twitter whilst reporting for another platform is something that is trying to be perfected.

That being said, here are some things to consider when live tweeting, and to allow your coverage to stand out:

Monitor sources: In breaking or developing stories, reporting accurate information is crucial. Monitor sources to see the root of information. Try to confirm it, and report on Twitter citing the sources. An honest reporter is a forthright reporter.

Plan ahead: Have conversations with the team you’re working with before the night of a live tweeting to develop ideas. What stands out? What can help create value? Bounce ideas off of each other. Not everything has to be set before the coverage develops — you can even bounce ideas while you’re in coverage mode. Kirstie and I had conversations before election night and spoke during, exchanging ideas and discussing angles. Again, not everything has to be set, but its better to have an idea and be ready to adapt that idea for what is ahead.

Alex Veeneman of Kettle Magazine says live tweeting says honesty with your audience on Twitter will keep them coming back. (Photo via Twitter)

Alex Veeneman of Kettle Magazine says honesty with your audience on Twitter will keep them coming back. (Photo via Twitter)

Look at key story elements: Consider key points in a story to evaluate and follow up on. For example, in our general election coverage, Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats struggled with the issue of university tuition fees, something they promised to repeal, but instead were raised when they were in a coalition.

As they targeted the student vote, the party’s response to fees was something students considered, so their views on election night helped develop an interesting part of the narrative, and helped audience engagement.

Be careful when you post: When you are live tweeting, you need to consider the importance of what is posted. Is there value in what you are going to post, or are you posting for the sake of posting? Will that post truly help your audience understand the story better? Consider before you compose.

Be honest: You may be working on a different platform, but its still reporting. Be honest with your audience. If you don’t know something, mention the reports and try to confirm it. Report what you know. As I said earlier, an honest reporter is a forthright reporter, and audiences appreciate forthright reporters, for they will come back to you after your coverage is over.

By the time our coverage concluded, a small number of constituencies remained, but it was clear — the political landscape in Britain would be changing. The Conservatives would get their majority in the Commons while the Liberal Democrats lost a majority of their seats. In addition, the Labour Party had to figure out their next steps, and the Scottish National Party made significant gains, becoming a force to be reckoned with.

One other thing was clear as well. We engaged with our audience in new ways, showing how important Twitter is in not just communicating with audiences, but also in reporting a story, showing the power the social network can have in major events. Though no story is alike, these tips hopefully will allow news organizations and reporters to do one common thing — inform, educate and enlighten audiences, no matter where they are.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer on journalism and media issues for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Editor’s note: This piece was amended on March 22, 2016 at 9:13pm CT to correct a caption.

Why GIFs help make good stories

As Twitter prepares to celebrate its tenth birthday, its influence on journalism is significant. As part of a series leading up to its tenth birthday, SPJ Digital is looking at Twitter’s influence, as well as best practices and advice.

Here, Randi Shaffer of the Chicago Tribune explores the rise of GIFs, and as news of tests emerge on Twitter, why they can become valuable in telling a story.

News isn’t static. So the way that we share it shouldn’t be, either.

That’s why media outlets use a combination of tools — such as words, photos, videos and social media — to tell a story. One of those tools — GIFs — is becoming a lot more commonplace in the digital storytelling word.

chicago_tribune_twitter

The Ron Swanson GIF during the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2015 Stanley Cup run. (Screenshot by the author)

Mashable reported that Twitter recently started beta testing a new feature: a keyboard that allows the user to easily access a range of GIFs browse-able by category or search bar. The feature makes inserting a GIF into a tweet just as easy as inserting an emoji.

The GIF button is awesome for people who love using GIFs to tell a story, like some of us here at the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune has used GIFs on its social platforms to tell stories on multiple occasions. During the Blackhawks’ 2015 run to the Stanley Cup, our digital team posted several well-received Ron Swanson GIFs along with post-game score recaps.

While Nick Offerman has absolutely nothing to do with post-season hockey, the Parks and Rec character is over-the-top expressive. Using GIFs of Swanson’s reactions was a great way to emulate the anxiety, joy and frustration felt during the roller coaster-ride of a playoff series.

chicago_tribune_twitter_2

Some user reaction to the Ron Swanson GIF. (Screenshot by the author.)

It’s not just Twitter. GIFs work great for telling stories on other social media platforms that the Tribune has a presence on. The head of our social media team — my boss, Social Media Editor Scott Kleinberg, has been pretty proactive about experimenting with new social app Peach. He uses GIFs — along with more traditional mediums — to tell stories on the platform.

Kleinberg said he uses GIFs when sharing personal and professional content on multiple social media platforms.

“GIFs make storytelling fun,” he said. “While some stories always have to be told straight, not all do. And the ones that don’t that lack compelling art can really benefit from a fun GIF.”

Even if a GIF isn’t directly related to the story at hand, like in the Blackhawks/Ron Swanson example, the emotion of the GIF is a great way to capture and express the emotion of a thought or story.

Whitney Carlson, another social media assistant here at the Tribune, created our Tumblr page in mid-2014. Carlson said she relies heavily on GIFs for an engaging following, since they’re more dynamic than a photo and less of a time investment than a video.

“They’re useful on Tumblr, especially, where the audience is younger and greatly appreciates pop culture references,” she explained. “The perfectly placed GIF can capture the attention of people on your website or social platform, and on the fast-paced Internet, capturing someone’s attention, even if just for a few seconds, is a feat.”

GIFs work for the Tribune off social media, too.

Randi Shaffer of the Chicago Tribune says the GIF is a welcome addition to storytelling, especially on Twitter. (Photo via the author's LinkedIn profile)

Randi Shaffer of the Chicago Tribune says the GIF is a welcome addition to storytelling, especially on Twitter. (Photo via the author’s LinkedIn profile)

Earlier this month, we ran a story about “The Strandbeest”, a moving sculpture in downtown Chicago. Tribune Video Editor Brian Nguyen said pairing a GIF with the story was a natural fit for the nature of the content.

“The still images didn’t do the story justice because it’s all about how these sculptures move,” he explained. “The GIF allowed us to show the sculpture in motion without taking the reader out of the written part of the story.”

GIFs work well to bridge the gap between photos and videos. They allow the storyteller to illustrate moments — like photos – while providing additional visual context — like videos.

“(GIFs condense) a lot of information into a looping, immediate and accessible form,” Nguyen said. “There’s less friction between the GIF and the reader than the video.”

Because logistical barriers to using and consuming GIFs are rapidly dwindling, media outlets should embrace GIFs, Nguyen added.

The once-tedious process of making a GIF has become commonplace, so now, the only challenge with using a GIF is identifying and creating an editorial process for it.

“If you look at GIFs as a culture rather than a file format, you’ll see hugely innovative ways of storytelling,” Nguyen said, echoing Carlson’s thoughts.

The eyeroll gif.

The eyeroll gif.

That’s also how I use GIFs personally. I love the GIF keyboard function in Facebook Messenger. Having it so easily accessible makes it easier to convey emotion — especially in a text medium, where heavy sarcasm can often have unintended consequences.

A perfectly placed Krysten Ritter eye roll takes only a few seconds to find, send and loop, and the entire experience adds a whole new level of context to a text-only conversation.

And, when you only have 140 characters to tell a story on Twitter, easy access to a context-enhancing GIF keyboard is a welcome addition.

Randi Shaffer is a social media assistant at the Chicago Tribune. A former reporter, Randi is a graduate of Central Michigan University and loves corgi videos, hockey and coffee. You can interact with Randi on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Tweet responsibly: Consider the ethics code

As Twitter prepares to celebrate its tenth birthday, its influence on journalism is significant. As part of a series leading up to its tenth birthday, SPJ Digital is looking at Twitter’s influence, as well as best practices and advice.

Here, SPJ President-Elect Lynn Walsh shares tips when it comes to sharing and curating a story. 

As it prepares 10, Twitter is regarded essential for journalists. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons under CC license)

As it prepares 10, Twitter is regarded essential for journalists. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons under CC license)

By now, I think it’s fair to say most people are on board and understand the important role social media can play in journalism. From helping journalists obtain information and connect with sources to providing an online space to share information quickly, around the world, social media, especially Twitter, is a journalists friend.

As we have learned, a tweet can be as powerful as a headline story in a major newspaper. Some may argue Twitter users are also more forgiving of mistakes or errors, but that doesn’t mean we, as journalists or bloggers, should be less diligent about what we are sharing on the social media site.

RTing:
Attribute. If you are sharing someone else’s story, give them credit. This goes for publication and/or individual journalists. Also, attribute to and mention people involved in the story directly, including their usernames in the Tweet. In breaking news, attribute quotes and information whenever possible.

Confirm. This is especially important in breaking news situations. Just because there are 100-plus tweets saying one thing, if you or your news agency cannot confirm, I would wait to RT. Or make sure you are attributing or making it clear where the information is coming from. You could also tweet it, but say you are working to confirm.

SPJ president-elect Lynn Walsh says a tweet is powerful in the digital age, and standards should apply with anything you write. (Photo via Twitter)

SPJ president-elect Lynn Walsh says a tweet is powerful in the digital age, and standards should apply with anything you write. (Photo via Twitter)

Share developments. If you say you are working to confirm, be sure to follow-up with your followers with new developments. This is extremely important when it comes to breaking news or when you are live tweeting. For daily stories, if there are big developments, be sure to share those, even if you are no longer covering the story for your news organization.

Be fair. Are you sharing both sides of the story? Are you only RTing certain individuals? Could there be others, with different opinions you should also be sharing? Fairness is one goal, you as a journalist, should aim for. Look for all side of the story on Twitter and the people representing them just like you would any other story.

Corrections:
Make them. While it is never fun to be incorrect, the best thing to do is correct the information when you are. It can be hard but it’s important. Even if it is a misspelling, send out a follow-up Tweet with the correction.

Be timely. As soon as you realize something was incorrect, fix it and fix it on every platform. Not just in the web script or TV script, on Twitter and social media too. We are quick to share news, let’s be quick to correct anything we got wrong.

Clarify. Maybe you weren’t incorrect but for some reason the tweet is confusing your followers. Be sure to respond and clarify the information. You can do this by responding directly to people or sending out new Tweets explaining or clarifying.

Mention. If there was something I corrected and you named people directly, be sure to include them in the correction so their followers can see it as well.

Even though the posts are short, they can be powerful. Use the same standards you would with anything you write and as you prepare your next 140 character post, don’t forget about the SPJ Code of Ethics.

Share responsibly my friends.

Lynn Walsh is President-Elect of the Society of Professional Journalists and a member of the SPJ Ethics and FOI committees. Outside of SPJ, she leads the Investigations team at KNSD, the NBC owned station in San Diego. You can connect with Walsh on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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