When sources become journalists…..

13 02 2012

photo credit: I don't know, maybe

If the saying used to be “everyone’s a comedian”, now it should be “everyone’s a journalist”. Social media is changing the way we source news, the way news sources information, and the ease with which information is publicised.

A March 2010 survey on where people got at least some of their news information from revealed that 61% got it from social media. 61%! And it’s probably more now.

Now the statistics sceptic in me thinks – sure, but they probably promoted the survey online and hence got a biased sample. And that may be the case, but the fact that people are looking to social media for news items is interesting in itself.

The stats from the survey read:

  • social media – 61%
  • radio – 54%
  • newspapers – 50%
  • (no stats on TV news here though.)

Almost 92% said they got their information from more than one source. Not really surprising when I think of my own Twitter and Facebook habits, where a large number of sites or feeds I am following are in fact news media, magazines, journalists and publicists. And the occasional friend!

The roles and dominance of “old media” and “new media” seemed to have been changing quite significantly over the past couple of years. I first noticed this in 2010 when the South Australian Government announced they were going to close The Parks Community Centre. A lobby group was rapidly set up on Facebook and gathered thousands of members (eventually topping out at over 6,800). The interesting thing about this – other than the whole facilitation of social organising, which will probably form the basis of another posting later on – was that the traditional media sources seemed to be subscribing to the Facebook group and gaining their information from the Facebook site. New media was driving and providing content for new media. Eventually a couple of local newspapers got involved in organising rallies, thereby, one could say “creating” the news, but the Facebook group very much led the way, and, at the same time, made a minor local celebrity of the unsuspecting mum who had set up the group in the first place.

So then we have the recent article about BBC News, CNN and Sky News having difficulty setting guidelines for journalists about where to send information first – to subscribers or on Twitter. One presumes they may have a financial interest in getting it to subscribers first, but also, many news tweets are actually pointers back to a website, so the link needs to be set up before it can be tweeted. For non-linked tweets though, those that just provide information…..well, they need to remember they have competition out there and time is of the essence. Not only can you be scooped by a rival broadcaster, you can be scooped by the punters as well! The only difference is, journalists need to stop and make sure it is correct information. We punters are allowed (it seems) to be amateurs at the fact-checking function.

Yes indeed, it is not only journalists that are tweeting news, we punters are joining in. I recently posted about American Airlines and Weber Shandwick’s case study of how they managed social media and old media during a hijacking hoax at New York’s JFK Airport. The major sources of information were a couple of passengers tweeting from inside the plane in its ‘hijack quarantine”. Journalists then started contacting these tweeting passengers and asking for information beyond what the company was providing (presumably on the advice of police and security). So you could follow the journalists, or you could follow the passengers themselves – or both.

And so we come to today’s sad news about the death of Whitney Houston. And again it turns out that news of her death was tweeted 42 minutes prior to the official confirmation by Aja Dior M., who claimed that her aunt Tiffany worked for Whitney and had “just found [her] dead in the tub” – only 20 minutes after the official time of death (3.55pm). The news was again tweeted 27 minutes prior to the official spokesperson by “Big Chorizo” who claimed unnamed “sources” had informed him. (Of course no-one is actually reading ALL Twitter feeds so unless you were subscribed to either of these, you probably still didn’t know unless you happened to be looking up Whitney on Twitter at the right time…)

Was this how Whitney would have wanted news of her death handled? Was Aunt Tiffany employed to release information about Whitney? Or does the contract become null and void upon the death of the celebrity? We have no way of knowing if there were confidentiality clauses in the contract between Whitney and Tiffany (although I suspect this may become the subject of a future court case). While the phone-hacking and bribing scandals currently hitting various UK newspapers are (hopefully) bringing journalists and management to account for the ethics of how they gather information (and such activities are illegal for us all), are we going to hold citizen journalists to the same standards? How?

If everyone has become a journalist of sorts, sourcing and releasing information, and we are all moving to accessing our information online….there are a whole lot of ethical questions to be sorted out. And maybe a new understanding of confidentiality and privacy.

Other recent postings on the worlds of social media, marketing….and espionage!
And today’s bizarre social media news……
more from the bizarre worlds of marketing and espionage

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And today’s bizarre social media news……

9 02 2012

I haven’t done a social media news round-up for a while, but today seems to have thrown up a couple of bizarre stories.  Stories worth commenting on for their improbability…..

1.  Salem Witch-Hunt comes to a high-school courtesy of YouTube.   This might be a stretch for you, but when I read about the bizarre illness allegedly being spread amongst teenage girls at an American high School – an illness that has symptoms such as tics and spasms – I thought of Tituba and her nice Puritan girls throwing fits in the Salem Courtroom and accusing the gentlefolk of witchcraft.  Ergo (some may say), the internet is of the devil.

OK, a stretch too far perhaps.  But here is the actual story:  LeRoy High School in New York has had an epidemic of teenage girls coming down with strange Tourette’s-like symptoms – twitching, tics and uncontrolled verbal outbursts.  Being teenage girls and particularly now that the media is interested, they have been posting videos of their symptoms online.  Extensive environmental testing has demonstrated no neuro-active toxins in the environment that might be causing such symptoms, so experts have diagnosed conversion disorder – the modern term for mass hysteria. And now there is potential for an epidemic as the symptomology spreads via social networking. Yes, that’s right – a real life computer virus. (You knew that pun was coming, didn’t you?)

Read more in Huffington Post. There’s even a video / slide show section at the bottom where you can test your psychological resilience and/or come down with the plague yourself. You have been warned and no liability is accepted by this blogger for the link!

(For more info on this story see Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”.)

2. Putting censorship to the test. Twitter’s recent announcement that it would with-hold content in some countries in compliance with local laws is to be put to the test by Brazil. Thank-you, contestant Number One. Brazil is using the relatively minor issue of speed-cameras and roadblocks as its test case, suing Twitter for users publicising locations of these devices to alert other road users. (Gee, cos then they might slow down and not get booked for speeding – wait, isn’t the point of it to stop people speeding? Hasn’t the Twitter message just achieved that? And if it is only for a short while and on that road – it is arguable that the speed traps have a similar effect as well, except for lightening your wallet at the same time).

Anyway, the relevance of this article comes back to the Middle East uprisings in Spring of 2011. If Twitter decides it will comply with local laws, then it is arguable that the dictators of an oppressed country will simply make a law saying that social media cannot carry information against the government – and hey presto, the end of any uprising. This comes back to my previous posting Shades of Grey for Social Media. Whether you are a “good guy” is a matter of perspective, and while you may be in favour of people slowing down on the roads (and I am) and support police enforcement of such road rules (and I am), censorship is a slippery slope.

Twitter has now said it will comply only if it believes the requests are “valid and applicable” – both a very powerful and vulnerable position to put themselves in, and one that Brazil apparently wants to challenge. Twitter’s postings on this subject are here: Tweets must flow

3. News to Sheldon Cooper: Mathematics does not hold all the answers. A study into the algorithms used by online dating services has found (shock, horror) that you are as likely to find love in a bar as you are through their websites. While the websites do at least provide you with links to people who have declared themselves available and interested, and geographically appropriate, the comparing of various interests and similarities cannot determine if the sparks will fly and true love will strike. So the Big Bang Theory’s example where they linked Sheldon up with the delectable and bizarrely appropriate Amy, is a fluke – or as Sheldon would say, “what people who don’t understand random numbers would call a coincidence.” Indeed.

Of course that is assuming that it is true love that you are seeking on these websites. (It was true love you were looking for, wasn’t it???) But then if you just want a hook-up maybe the bar is as good for that as well. Probably quicker, anyway. The article is here and will be published in an upcoming edition of Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

There are a few others in today’s bumper crop:

– something about a social network called Path(who?) accidentally uploading people’s entire address books without consent thereby ensuring that I won’t be using them anytime soon. They have fixed it, by the way. (Can anyone tell me if I am missing anything at Path? Other than privacy invasions?)

– And another one about BBC News, CNN and SkyNews grappling with how to deal with Twitter coming out of their newsrooms. They want it to go first on their website for their audiences, then onto Twitter for the rest of the unwashed masses. Oh wait – perhaps “their audience” and “Twitter followers” (aka UWM) are the same people? A watching brief, I suspect.

And finally, an article about Pinterest adding tracking codes to certain pins so they can report back to interested users (aka commercial interests) on activity and earn….money. While it perhaps would have been nice for Pinterest to disclose it was doing such a thing, I think those who have had a look at Pinterest will have spotted that amongst the very many “community” pins, there are certainly some linking back to commercial sites. So the idea that Pinterest might want to (let’s use that horrible made-up word) MONETIZE their site really shouldn’t be a shocker. As the site remains free to use, the bills have to be paid somewhere. I for one am not really bothered.

And I am very disappointed that WordPress did not pick up the word “Monetize” in spellcheck.