Argentina’s Clarín gets to grip with convergence : exploring multilingual social media

The wonders of twitter, tweetdeck and google translate meant that I got an interesting insight into the way Clarín, the biggest newspaper in Argentina,  is approaching the challenge of a converged newsroom.

What caught my eye was a the visualization of the ‘new editorial cycle’ that journalism news site ELDSD posted to twitter. A translated version below.



The process of transition has clearly not been smooth with staff representation voicing concerns of the process In terms of convergence they are familiar debates.

Despite the cod google translate filtering,  it made for an interesting perspective on an ongoing debate. But it also shows that language isn’t always a barrier to using social media.

Translating social media

Twitter has already experimented with translating tweets based during the ousting of Mohammed Morsi last year but some of their tools have it built in.

Tweetdeck, for example, offers a useful translate option


So if you want to broaden your social media reach, don’t be afraid to follow beyond your language barrier.

Visible not critical: What next journalism?

I read a few interesting posts over the last few days. The first was I’m Glad We Didn’t Have Facebook or Twitter on 9/11.

That’s the real problem with attempting to make sense of 9/11 using social media: The former requires deep thought while the latter feeds on immediacy. Ten years and millions of articles after 9/11, we’re still trying to come to terms with what happened that day. We’re still sifting through the debris and our collective emotions in order to find whatever it is we lost, or to explain why things are the way they are now. I have a hard time believing 9/11 tweets or Facebook updates would have changed any of that for the better. And by now they’d be forgotten anyway, buried under 10 years of more shouting into the abyss.

The second was (a trail for) a piece in the press gazette by the Guardians Paul Lewis on the way the riots have proved the need for paid journalists

“Some people argued the digital era would see paid journalists replaced by an army of citizen reporters,” he said.

“The riots proved otherwise: people might consume news differently, but they still want it told straight, and by reporters on the ground.”

I found myself agreeing with both posts but was a little uncomfortable about that.

The 9/11 post made so much sense given the recent experience of the coverage of the riots on twitter. Not that I am, for one moment, equating the events. No, its more the position that the rumour and hearsay where dangerous, pervasive and perhaps even a distraction from more important stuff.

Perhaps Lewis’ point about the need for journalists in that is even more valid but that in itself makes me feel uncomfortable.

What next, Journalism?

I suppose I can sum up my discomfort in terms of a question. “Ok journalism,. What are you going to do next?”

If you are that important and social media needs your influence and control what are you going to do to keep your place at the table? Do we have to wait for another riot or MP’s expenses or wikipedia to prove that you are doing journalism? All great work but not a huge hit rate given the number of you out there.

Visible not critical

Of course the truth is that there are loads of journo’s doing loads of great things at every level. Really good journalism. But we don’t hear about them. At least we don’t hear about them because we are often too busy telling people why all the other stuff is not as good.

So maybe I feel uncomfortable because, whilst twitter would have had a roll to play the rumour and lack of facts would have been a nightmare. But maybe it would have been a necessary evil. Maybe it would have had to be there to fill a gap.


Twitter: the emergency broadcast system and the journalist

As you may imagine after yesterdays post, I’ve given a lot of thought to how journalists use twitter. Id been thinking about blogging a couple of key points to consider but Mary Hamilton beat me to it in a good (unless you’re Deborah Meadon) post on the Guardian website.

She illuminated a few things to consider when tweeting in times of riot:

  • Unless you can see it happening, don’t tweet about it.
  • Bear in mind that some people are making jokes.
  • Bear in mind that being scared of something happening isn’t the same thing as knowing that it’s going to happen.
  • If you see rumours, question them directly.
  • Get verification.
  • If you see something you know isn’t true, try to correct it.
  • If you’re tweeting about things you can see, be specific.
  • Follow people you trust to be accurate.
  • If you’ve been out looting and rioting, please tweet about it.

Developing the ‘be accurate about tweeting what you see’ point Mary makes an interesting statement:

Remember: if you can see it and you’ve got the means to publish information about it, that makes you a de facto journalist. So be responsible with your power. Be specific about where you are and what you can see.

As a journalist you should know that with great power comes great responsibility.

One way to read that list is ‘if you are going to be on twitter during the riots then be journalistic otherwise leave it to the “journalists”‘ – and by journalist we are saying those who behave journalistically. Defacto or professional.

But could we take that a stage further? Could we say that essentially in times of crisis, twitter is now such an important communication channel that all none-essential users should keep traffic to a minimum. Should Twitter be left to allow the essential users (fire, police and media!) to do their job more effectively? Twitter becomes part of the Emergency Broadcast System.

I know the answer to that is no. Trying to restrict the use of twitter at any time would be like shouting at a hurricane to stop – pointless. The intrinsic value of the network at times like the riots is built on the diversity of the users. It’s also were the value of the ‘journalist’ rests – filtering that content.

But it does highlight one of the challenges we have as journalists using twitter:  not everyone uses it the same way we do.

Twitter without the rubbish

Twitter is a massively valuable journalistic tool. For many it’s a vital part of the process of ‘doing journalism’. So its going to be frustrating when people come along and mess it up. When people get in the way of the process. Wouldnt it be so much easier to find that lead if people would stop tweeting about their lunch? In short, it would be great if people could behave in a way that made our job more straightforward.

But that chaos reflects the dynamic nature of the network – the thing that makes it valuable. It is what it is. So we need to see this and any challenges it brings as an issue with our process.  When things like the riots kick-off, we the media need a different approach to twitter.

That’s not just because (I believe) twitter behaves differently during things like the riot but because journalists do.

Much as I believe that sticking to a basic journalistic process has massive value in social networks for people (journos and none-journos alike), there is an argument to say that just as the media takes on a different role (and a need to be responsible) during events like the riots, so, people who take the role of journalist in particular those who claim the title through employment by the MSM, need change their approach. How?

Well, on top of the good points Mary makes, the best way I can think to develop that is with a couple of questions:

  • Should individual journos only tweet about the event through official twitter feeds for their org, linking to that from their ‘personal accounts’?

Journalists personal motivations for being involved in tweeting clearly came through during the riots and often feeds became a mixture of personal messages and professional information. Normally this mix is fine but when the situation is so serious and the information is so important (and their job as a journalist demands a response) shouldn’t that response be removed from the personal?

Would that better reflect the temporal nature of the event and the powers and responsibilities that bestows on the journalist?

  • Should tweeting of live, ‘crisis’ events always be backed up with a presence on the main publication website?

I thought the Guardians use of a live blog in the riots was an excellent. Actually, in this instance, I thought it was vital. Not only did it give a valuable archive on which to build coverage, it also presented a single place where punters could go and get filtered, authoritative coverage.

Instead of users having to piece together the chronology and facts sifted from the truth and lies in the flow of tweets. It also gave reporters and others something to tweet to direct people away from the steady stream of rumours.

Power and responsibility

I know that some of the changes to process will always be dynamic and responsive; Who knows what the next event will be?

But I know that some of my thinking here (especially in my first question) is being driven by questions about where authority comes from and what that allows you to do. Where does the right to take responsibility for something come from?*

On social networks much of that is down to the quality of the relationship, the quality of your interactions and the value they add to the community.

But at times of crisis it’s not unusual to see the weight of the organisation a journalist works for being bought to bear in terms of authority – one day I am Andy the next day I am the Daily News.  – and that is the journalist changing the terms of the relationship.

You can claim it’s for the greater good but the relationship is still changed.

That shift is a little more fundamental and at the heart of the challenge of working online.


* For me that’s something that is distinct from taking responsibility – I can do this because of what I am compared to I do because of what I am. It seems common for people to see it as the act rather than the motivation

Mea Culpa: No news is news on twitter

I spent a lot of time watching twitter last night. Watching the dynamics of tweets about the riots – the reports, the reaction and the rumours.

I retweeted a few things but tried to avoid directly tweeting. I had an opinion, some tweets I thought deserved a response but others responded in better ways. But then I did tweet:

Reporting that nothing is happening in your area/city? ask yourself is that really news.
Andy Dickinson

I was frustrated by a steady stream of tweets from news orgs and journo’s outside of London (and at that time outside the confirmed trouble spot in Brum) tweeting that nothing was happening in their areas. Since when has journalism been about reporting something that hasn’t happened?

It was a generalised statement (well, rhetorical question) and people happily and appropriately began putting holes in it.

Of course it was worth tweeting. According to Martin Smith that’s how you stop the rumours…

@ no but it may help stem some of the wild rumours on here. #balancingact
Martin Smith

and those rumours where causing mass panic according to Brett Cullen

@ Im not saying that, Im saying reporting that something not happening in your area,at a time when there is mass panic, is news
Brett Cullen

Really? Mass panic all over the country? But we digress…

David Bartlett argued that’s what a journalist should do:

@ don't journalists have a duty to inform? Including to correct misinformation?
david bartlett

as did Neil Macdonald:

@ you're wrong Andy. Lots of tweets saying rumour riots here and there. Up to local paper to set record straight. We tweeted it
Neil Macdonald

Then Louise Bolitin drove the proverbial bus right through my point:

@ actually, yes. I'm talking with other disabled, many are scared if fires start they won't be ab;e to escape
Louise Bolotin

How do I argue with that? Push the point further and I’m in danger of suggesting that it’s fine for disabled people to be worried about burning in a fire!

So, according to twitter, the answer to my original question was a resounding yes. I was wrong and I held my hands-up.

Time and place

I still think that it’s right to question if journalists and media orgs should tweet ‘nothing is happening’.

  • From a journalistic point of view statements without any context are not news.

Despite protestations of its importance ‘no news’ statements like that would never make the front page or head of a bulletin.  As Neil Macdonald pointed out that they where more information than news. Journalism as a source of information – very valid.

A few tweets did quote authoritative voices – police etc. That was better. Some proper information in there. Many did not.

  • Pushing out those statements assumes that tweets are a direct answer to the rumours.

Of course they aren’t – there is no connection to the source. Most didn’t link to the original rumour so how can people know what reports where being talked about? At best you show that nothing is happening at worst you amplify the concern to a new network.

  • It assumes that your tweets go in to the same networks and hold the same weight as those spreading the rumours

That may be true for some networks (see below), but the rumour will always travel further than the rebuttal and that’ll be beyond your network before you have any influence.  This is not like a celebrity apparently dying. It’s not a singular event that picks up momentum in the absence of any other information. This is a dynamic situation that is driving a lot of traffic. Generalised statements will get lost in the noise and new information replaces it. True or not the noise will swamp weak signals.

In this instance I thought that the ‘no news’ tweets simply served to amplify what the network already knew – at best a pointless exercise. Like spitting in the wind. At worse it created the idea of problem that wasn’t there.

I have to say (and did at the time) that Louises example proves the point.

Louise is talking to a specific network, one that she passionately cultivates and serves. Last night she talked specifically to them with information and updates that where directly relevant to them. It wasn’t rumour control, it was useful information. That’s not what a lot of the tweets where. But as she pointed out, the generality of my statement was just as bad:

@ but you just proved to me why I'm happy to see ppl tweeting that their neighbourhoods are quiet. Is reassuring for 99% of us
Louise Bolotin

I found that last statement interesting though “reassuring for 99% of us”. I think that should be 99% of us on twitter. Which is my last point:

  • Panic on Twitter does not equate to real panic

Generalising does not help.

Mea culpa

Which is what I discovered and, of course, exactly what I did with my original tweet. Lack of specifics, a broad statement left me wide open. Lesson learned and, through experience maybe point proved.

I still hold my hands up.

Does journalism need a fail whale?

I thought about the title of this post as I was reading around how the recent update to twitter has caused a flurry of posts outlining what it will mean for journalists.

Over at the Nieman Lab Megan Garber ponders what the new twitter might mean for networked journalism. She makes a good point about how this might be effected by “Twitterers, end-user innovation-style”.

But she ultimately concludes that:

The of today, as compared to the of yesterday, is much more about information that’s meaningful and contextual and impactful. Which is to say, it’s much more about journalism.

You could take a view that she means Twitter has now become more useful to journalism. But I have to ask how much journalism is ready to take advantage of what it has to offer.

In amongst the early comment I particularly liked Laura Olivers pondering on what the new features could offer:

I can also see clever journalists using the embedded feature to tease stories with video snippets and by giving their Twitter audience more content encourage those followers to visit a news site and engage there too

I love that idea. But how many newsrooms are ready to take advantage of it?

It’s easy to dismiss putting time in to getting your multimedia on twitter as a waste of time. Like the ipad, it’s easy to dismiss things like twitters new features as gadgets and technology that get in the way of proper journalism.

But experimenting with getting a video on to twitter is not about video on twitter. That’s the easy (now easier bit). It’s about exploring if you have the capacity to do video at all. Just like exploring delivery of content to the ipad is a way to experiment with html5. Hell, if nothing else it’s a convenient excuse to try.

If you don’t take the opportunity to experiment then you will find that you have less of a capacity to produce the content your audience will want and no ability to chase them as they migrate to platforms that do.

When they come to you, you may as well have the newsroom fail whale up: “Sorry we are over capacity”

Real capacity

Maybe we should be more honest about what we can and can’t do. Be more bullish about what we do well. Perhaps we should get over wanting to chase them everywhere (or corral them in one place behind a paywall).

Or maybe we should take advantage of the free, open and engaged platforms to see just what capacity we really have.

Original image: iwona_kellie on Flickr

Watching the watchers

Isn’t Twitter great? As well as the very entertaining toon theme Friday that Paul B got started last week (kudos Paul) I picked up this page of advice to company/PR type people on “what they should be monitoring” from the masterful Mark Comerford.

In some respects this strikes me as one of those issues like quality –  If you have to have a policy or committee for quality then you have no quality. Likewise, if you arent doing some of the things on this list already, well, you’re not very good at PR are you.

Then again, perhaps that’s harsh.  Somethings often need repeating and the value re-emphasizing. After all who has time for this stuff in real life?

Maybe this is just as useful as a check list for journos to check through? And interesting list though.

On a related note. Am I being rude by posting a link that popped up in a twitter conversation. It feels kind of like e-eavesdropping.