Platform Native Journalism

This report on buzzfeed caught my attention this morning; Tumblr have sent journalists to Tampa to cover the Republican National Convention.

Of the estimated thousands of journalists at the Republican National Convention, these people stand out. For one, they’re not political reporters in the traditional sense of the term. And, though this is less of a novelty than it may seem, they’re posting exclusively to Tumblr. They’re also posting for Tumblr, as part of one the site’s early forays into original journalism.

While this may seem insignificant this is a bold new move on the part of Tumblr and, to the best of my knowledge, is the first time a social network has invested in original or professional content.

What I think is most interesting is the idea of a native experience for reporting. This is not new, people on Twitter will know that a number of journalists use Twitter to report on breaking events and many news organisations have official accounts which are used in much the same way. This is reporting that is entirely native to Twitter; it happens on Twitter first in a form that is native to Twitter. The ABC, to their credit, have even employed a dedicated social media journalist. Latika Bourke, despite her critics (myself often among them), is successful in her use of Twitter for reporting. She is not retrofitting old style journalism for social media, but rather making social media the central focus of her reporting.

Twitter can also be used in a “non-native” way; that is turning to Twitter to promote and disseminate reporting that happened first on an external site (i.e. newspaper’s websites). At present, this is the most common use of Twitter. News organisations see Twitter as a way to drive users to their website where they can serve their own ads or (in the case of News Ltd.) charge admission fees to their paywalled garden.

The difference with Tumblr’s http://election.tumblr.com site is that it is itself the destination, with the “journalism” happening on the social network rather than on a external site to be promoted. This is not an abstract, academic difference, it has significant impacts on a journalist’s focus and workflow. I have already spoken about how important it is for modern journalists to place themselves at the centre of the news and journalistic ecosystem and how important it is for them to be involved in conversations. Native reporting like what Tumblr is attempting, is designed to service the communities of that platform and take full advantage of the features of that service. This reporting fits naturally into the social graph of the service.

It doesn’t seem that Twitter or Facebook are going to move towards content creation anytime soon, preferring cheaper data driven curation, but whether it is driven by the social network themselves or by external news organizations, platform native journalism could prove to be a simple but important idea.

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Is Twitter ruining journalism or are journalists ruining Twitter?

Is Twitter ruining journalism or are journalists ruining Twitter?

A quick article that I found today about Twitter being used by journalists to disseminate information about Rupert Murdoch’s testimony to the Levinson inquiry in the UK.

If journalists stopped reporting via Twitter, would there be no reporting on Twitter? Of course not. Thousands of people were watching and tweeting Murdoch’s testimony live on the internet and TV. Witholding journalism on Twitter because it doesn’t generate income for the company is only going to further distance journalists from the broader news discussion that they need to be a part of. Further distancing themselves will only serve to alienate readers and exacerbate the issues of trust in news media.

I think that this criticism of Twitter is more enlightening:

It makes everything as important as everything else. For political reporting, the mega-tweet eternal motion stream devalues perspective, judgment and reflection, […] that favors the trivial over the substantive […] and events over ideas […]

The result: a second-by-second, self-contained and self-referential closed feedback loop.

What I think is enlightening about this comment (and the entire article) is that it blames Twitter (a tool) for journalists developing short attention spans. Twitter is just a tool that can be used in reporting like a range of others. Twitter is fast, it is chaotic and it can create a closed feedback loop. I think it a valuable tool for reporting and for news gathering, but Journalists need to understand that it is just a tool with its own set of opportunities and limitations. It is not the fault of the tool if journalism is being devalued.

What is the role of a journalist on Twitter? Should they be curators of content? Should they report to Twitter or report about Twitter? I think that for journalism to be open, journalists should be engaging with Twitter, which serves as a hub for political discussion, commentary and citizen reporting, in a conversation that runs in both directions. The role of the journalist in open journalism is a topic that we will spend more time on later, and how they engage with social media will be an important part of that discusion.

Social Media and Open Journalism

Social media is embedded into the everyday life, influencing the way people communicate around the world. Not only is social media an important communication tool, but a production tool in open journalism. It is a two way communication tool that is making it much easier for people to share their ideas, give feedback and interact about an issue. Open journalism is a system that seeks to organize the ideas of many contributors as a mode of production, there is no way that this would be possible without social media. Social media offers a means of collaboration, as well as publication.

The video below shows how connected people have become within their own lives and how this has created a desire to share their personal discoveries with the world wide web at the click of a button. People want to participate, they want to share their ideas, contribute their findings and give their opinions. Open journalism welcomes all of these contributions and seeks to organize them in a comprehensive way.

Often when people engage as citizen journalists they don’t see what they do as “journalism” they simply believe they are “sharing”, which is the fundamental function of social networking.