Posts Tagged ‘Canada’


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.

Some cross border election advice

Caucuses in Iowa and New Hampshire take place today, with many reporters focusing on candidates and what the scene could be ahead of November's elections. (Photo: Flickr user tom.arthur under CC license)

Caucuses in Iowa and New Hampshire take place in a couple of weeks, with many reporters focusing on candidates and what the scene could be ahead of November’s elections. (Photo: Flickr user tom.arthur under CC license)

In a couple of weeks, in Iowa and New Hampshire, delegates from both the Democrats and the Republicans will begin the process that will formally confirm the nominees for both parties for the President of the United States, ahead of elections in November. That will culminate in July with both party conferences.

Along with the delegates will be plenty of reporters trying to make sense of this, what it means for specific candidates, and the whole of politics in the United States as a whole. Reporters will not only be looking after their specific platforms (be it print, web or broadcast) as well as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media networks.

The feeling is similar to that of the Canadian election, which took place last October and began in August after former Prime Minister Stephen Harper approached the country’s governor general, David Johnston, to call for the election. That election saw Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party (and the son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) be given a majority in the House of Commons, taking the party from third place in polls to the top office in Canadian politics, based on the narrative that Canadians were ready for change after nearly a decade of leadership.

But at the helm of coverage (and indeed Trudeau’s strategy) was social media, and it was essential the night of the vote. Jessica Murphy, a freelance journalist based in the country’s capital, Ottawa, was at Trudeau headquarters the night of the vote, covering it for the British newspaper The Guardian.

In a telephone interview, Murphy said Trudeau’s election was profound, and that his personalities had contrasted with that of Harper, and his personality showed on social media, especially Twitter and Instagram.

“Canadians have known Trudeau for years,” Murphy said. “He was always known as a public figure. Trudeau could harness social media and his energy to talk to more of the population.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had social media at the core of his election strategy. (Photo: Alex Guibord/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had social media at the core of his election strategy. (Photo: Alex Guibord/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

Murphy said social media had grown between 2011 and 2015, the timespan of the recent elections in the country.

“Social media grew up,” Murphy said. “If you’re covering it you can see it was a part of their strategy. Candidates were rolling that into the overall election strategy instead of a side note. Social media is essential in today’s communications.”

Murphy had made plans the night before the vote, and was producing content from photos to contributions to The Guardian’s live blog, in addition to posts on social media, tracking the results of the ridings and calls. It leads to a piece of advice she could give to her American counterparts who will be covering the election process.

Murphy first suggests to take lots of photos, saying they work well on Twitter and get the feeling of the room. The other advice Murphy suggests is to look up from the phone, and get the feel of the room by talking to people. What people say would help describe the environment.

“[You’re doing] the necessary social work as a journalist but [it] ensures you’re doing work as a journalist,” Murphy said.

Ultimately, Murphy says, its down to balance, something most journalists are still trying to get use to considering the constant evolution of technology. She says social media can be overused or underused, and its about the balance of maintaining that presence as well as adding the color and extra content to describe the room that won’t make it on to the traditional platform.

“It’s great but it can be all consuming and the echochamber,” Murphy said. “You can’t have the nose in the phone. You need to look around — its just about remembering to do both. Its a matter of balance. We are all still learning.”

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.

Editor’s note: This post was amended at 11:22am CT to reflect an error in the dates of the caucuses. This was amended now due to a technical error preventing an amendment earlier today.

Facebook: The newest content platform?

Facebook is holding discussions on hosting content from news organizations, which may affect the relationship with users. (Photo: bykst/Pixabay under CC license)

Facebook is holding discussions on hosting content from news organizations, which may affect the relationship with users.
(Photo: bykst/Pixabay under CC license)

It has been a momentous week for Facebook, as it held its F8 developer conference this week in San Francisco, with discussions on how the social network will work and what it can do for the future. One of the most notable features were the plans to make Messenger on a separate platform, creating content apps which include contributions from media organizations including ESPN and The Weather Channel.

Yet, as the conference was taking place, news emerged that could significantly affect Facebook’s relationship with news organizations.

The New York Times reported this week that the social network had been in conversations with various publishers to host content on Facebook itself, instead of being directed to the publisher’s site from a Facebook post.

The Times added that this would be tested within the next few months, with potential partners including BuzzFeed, National Geographic, and the Times itself. However, nothing has been confirmed and a specific timetable is yet to be established. Some concerns had been raised of the loss of some data when it came to readership, as well as a loss of readership within the publisher’s ecosystem, the Times report adds.

So, what would this mean for Facebook’s role with journalism, and journalism’s role with social media itself? Could publishers and Facebook make this work?

Jason Abbruzzese, a reporter with Mashable, says these discussions were expected, as Facebook and media were becoming increasingly intertwined.

“This was almost inevitable,” Abbruzzese said in a telephone interview. “It seemed to a lot of people we were heading this way for at least a couple of years.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (Photo: b_d_solis/Flickr under CC license)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg wants to create a perfect, personalized newspaper for every single user. (Photo: b_d_solis/Flickr under CC license)

Abbruzzese says the big concern should not be on the loss of readership. There is larger readership, and the ability to reach more people quicker, but readership is being done on Facebook’s terms. Readership is being gained despite a loss in traffic to the site itself, Abbruzzese says, as Facebook looks to gain value from an audience used to getting news from smartphones and mobile.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said he wants to create a perfect, personalized newspaper for every user.

Lindsey Wiebe, the Associate Online Editor for Maclean’s Magazine in Toronto, Canada, says that the conversations with Facebook and publishers seemed to have been in work for a while, and notes a similar model from LinkedIn, where content can be submitted onto the platform, albeit it being less scrutinized.

“It’s an exciting time for publishers, and a scary time,” Wiebe said in a telephone interview. “Having more avenues for powerful storytelling isn’t a bad thing, [but] there are challenges and issues to ponder within publishing organizations.”

Wiebe adds that while it is a promising development, issues such as monetization and wider reader engagement need to be debated within newsrooms. It did, however, Wiebe says, grab the attention of many digital journalists, and showed the influence Facebook still has in social journalism.

“Facebook may not be the new shiny thing at the moment, but journalists who work more actively in a digital space would never underestimate it,” Wiebe said. “This has made us sit up and take notice, but no one was underestimating it. It was already a major player for newsrooms.”

Yet, should Facebook go ahead and adapt this wider strategy, are there plans for new social strategies to be in place? Will other social networks be abandoned in favor of Facebook, and perhaps create new content?

“If Facebook can deliver on the traffic promises, it can be hard to not tailor content to the Facebook experience,” Abbruzzese said, adding that Snapchat is already doing so via its Discover platform. “If Facebook can provide me with a tremendous audience, it would be hard not to alter the strategy perhaps at the risk of moving resources from Twitter or Pinterest.”

Wiebe says newsrooms must stay up to date on new technology, and as for Facebook, there is still a value, despite the criticism because of changes in the algorithm, and how that influences what news stories users see.

“It can be at times mystifying of being at the mercy of algorithm changes, but also you have an established reader community,” Wiebe said. “We need to stay on top of changes. Any newsroom cannot afford to rely on one social network. There is always a new platform to be investigated.”

Abbruzzese says its about getting great journalism out to as many people as possible, but the balance is still trying to be figured out. Abbruzzese adds that it can be positive in the short term, but there are questions to be answered long term.

Wiebe says Facebook and publishers are working towards the same goal of great storytelling and great content before a wide audience.

“We’d like to think of a relationship as mutually beneficial where each party has a need that is being filled,” Wiebe said, adding that she hoped content needs would mutually benefit both parties. “Whatever direction, I hope that Facebook will continue to work with publishers.”

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, blogs on social media’s role in journalism for Net Worked, and serves as Community Coordinator for SPJ. Veeneman also is Deputy Editor, Media Editor and a writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

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