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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Under Threat: How Twitter has the journalist in defence mode

There has been an illusion amongst journalists for a long time about getting “both sides of the story,” which is beginning to recede in the digital age. No longer can journalist hide from the criticism from a finished article. Journalism is becoming a dialogue in which there will be constant discussion around a piece of journalism and it is time for the journalist to be ready to converse.

Greg Jericho of Grog’s Gamut delivered a lecture last Thursday at The University of Canberra to discuss how Twitter and other social media outlets are changing the way that journalism functions and in turn how journalists should adapt. “Suddenly they come on Twitter and they are confronted with responses to something that they have said,” says Jericho. “And too often political journalists…think that Twitter is filled with annoying people.” Journalists have long been privileged with an authority that grants their work a sense of finality, however on the internet no story is ever finished and there is no definitive or authoritative account. For the most part, this idea that there can be a response to a piece of journalism is new to journalists. While yes, there has always existed the comments section at the bottom of online articles, nothing compares to the opportunity for feedback that Twitter offers. Bloggers and tweeters are used to the conversational nature of these social media platforms, “Every statement on Twitter is made with the view of there being a response;” says Jericho. “You know you’re not just making it to nobody, you’re making it to your followers.” But journalists are mostly alien to this conversational style of critique. No longer is their work seen as an authoritative account, but as a beginning of a dialogue where the story will be challenged, discussed, interpreted in a de-centred discussion among the audience and, potentially, the journalist.

Twitter, as a platform for dialogue between journalists and audience, is an example of how modes of open journalism are changing the role of the journalist. Gone are the days of publishing a piece with finality. There is no longer the security of posting a story on the web that is unchangeable. This is causing the journalist to go into a defence mode. While they know they must be present on Twitter, partly to show their unbiased and neutral view, they are apprehensive of the open nature. In his lecture, Jericho mentioned Peter van Onselen as an example of a journalist feeling under attack on Twitter. After writing a post that received negative feedback from only 10 followers, van Onselen felt the need to defend himself, tweeting “The one eyed ALP supporters on Twitter are right silly me. The PM is doing a bang up job well done #oopsiadvocatedavotefortheALPin2010 #wakeup” in what Jericho describes as a sort of “High Broderism“; “you’ve got it wrong, I’m not biased I’m telling the truth because I once advocated for the ALP…you can’t accuse me of being bias because I’m in the middle.” Just an example of how journalists feel under threat due to response and in turn how they must defend their unbiased views.

Jericho notes that this defense from journalists is a product of the new lack of control and destruction of the old conditions. He says, “They are unable to cope with this, what I think is a widening gyre of social media, in while journalists words are taken and spun away from their hands.” No longer does the journalist have the final say in what they produce. So what does this all mean for the authority held by journalist? Basically, that it no longer exists. And the journalist better get used to it.

While the author of a piece will still be crucial, they must get used to the fact that their piece will  no longer be finished when published but instead be altered, adjusted, explained, discussed. “No longer will it be the columnist that provokes outrage,” says Jericho. “It will be someone who provokes discussion.” The journalist must become comfortable with engaging in discussion and realize that this is all now just part of the process.

Jericho quotes John Bergin, the director of social media and the digital news at Sky News, “This dialogue between the formerly passive readers and the active journalist is never going to go away. It’s going to be there whether we are still using Twitter or not,” Bergin says. “This is going to need a different set of skills from journalists.”

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.