Nerd + Parent = Twisney

As part of my family’s holiday break, we went to Disney World. It’s such a fun place and in my continuing quest to be the nerdiest possible parent, I wanted to try some different ways to document our trip. I decided to try out the citizen journalism-eque Twisney.com site. It’s Twitter for Disney fans… and actually you can use Twitter to post to Twisney.

I decided to give it a try by sending tweets (by adding @twisney to my tweets on Twitter) and emailing photos to the site (twisney@twisney.com). For some reason I was the only person at Disney World using Twisney so it turned into a big Reeves Family adventure on the front page of the website. You can visit our posts from here or if you go to the main site for now, our last 30 Twisney posts show up on the front of Twisney.com. I think there are some very creative ways we could use this kind of technology for something more news-worthy. When photos show up on the Twisney map, they also go to Twisney’s Flickr page. It was easy and quick to use and could be a handy concept during breaking news or a big news event (like a massive rally or sporting event). I realize my family thinks I’m a huge nerd for using Twisney, but it was fun to give it a try!

By the way, Twisney was put together by a Disney fan named Scott Mitchell who is from Naples, Florida (at least that’s where he lived when he registered the domain). The site got a bunch of buzz back in the Spring and Summer… and clearly the thrill is wearing off. Fewer people are using it. But it’s a fantastic project. It got some props back in May if you’re interested in reading a bit about it from the Wall Street Journal.

Now I can’t stop

I’ve talked about social media here and in many different presentations at the Missouri School of Journalism, conferences and training seminars. I feel like all of my ramblings are a little more legitimate as more and more journalists debate on whether these trends are good or bad. Obviously I plant myself into the camp that this is good.

Feel free to view my PowerPoint slideshow.

A slide from my presentation

A slide from my presentation

Twitter isnt the end-all be-all for journalism, but I do see it as a growing news tool. The trick, you need to be in there to understand how it works. For the first time, I recommended to all of my students that they should join a few social networks and learn how they work. I started out in Twitter, Blogger, Flickr, YouTube, Motionbox, Vimeo (I could go on) for my personal needs online and I’ve transitioned that use into ways I can use them professionally. You cannot jump in and think you know how it works. That’s how you end up finding reports like this one. It is so easy to fall into a culture of fear. Journalists shouldn’t allow themselves to do that. I think we should act like journalists, investigate these tools and see how they can be helpful. People are using them. Let’s see how we can use them to our advantage to deliver better news to our markets.

Now I’ll try to stop ranting.

Twitter community grows through Mumbai

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Twitter lately… Heck, a lot of my posts have been about Twitter since I started this nerd blog. But I have to say, Twitter came into its own this week due to the tragedy in Mumbai. It’s been a major focus since the attacks started Wednesday and many media outlets have noticed.

CNN: “Tweeting the terror: How social media reacted to Mumbai”
Forbes: “Mumbai: Twitter’s Moment”
Reuters: “Blogs feed information frenzy on Mumbai attacks”
ABC News: “Social Media a Lifeline, Also a Threat?”
CBS News: “Web a Reliable Resource in Mumbai Madness”
France 24: “Citizen journalism offers intimate view of Mumbai attacks”
The Guardian: “Twitter comes of age with fast reports from the ground in Mumbai”
The Times of India: “Twittering & blogging about terror”
New York Times: “Citizen Journalists Provided Glimpses of Mumbai Attacks”

@tweetip followed the first tweets on the Mumbai attacks

(@tweetip followed the first tweets on the Mumbai attacks)

It’s fascinating to see how people flocked to share information onto Twitter and then watch how some of the more mainstream media tried to explain it. Amy Gahran (who is a consultant and works at Poynter) was kind to speak to a number of these media outlets to explain how information needs to be filtered. She tried to explain how social media is a news source and not an evil threat. Unfortunately, some outlets hear that call, others continue to play to the culture of fear. (Note the title of the ABC news article) She wrote a great piece for Poynter on how to be a responsible tweeter.

In reading the many articles online and watching the conversations on Twitter, I’ve come to a couple conclusions on why Twitter can be a wonderful news source for all of us to use during developing news. First, you can’t understand or rely on information from Twitter without becoming a part of the Twitter community. It’s very hard to trust or understand the information found on there unless you’ve been there long enough to build a community and a reliable chunk of people you follow. I knew about Sarah Palin’s nomination hours before it went puplic. My husband thought I was crazy to bring it up. I knew about the earthquake in China and the kind of damage it was causing before there were full accounts on the international media outlets. I knew about developments of smaller stories across the country because I follow people I trust and I’ve spent enough time following them that I knew what they are experts in. If a mom blogger suddenly started tweeting with financial tips, I would question that information unless she happens to be a day trader and a mom blogger (it can happen).

Second, I consider Twitter like how I work with scanners in a newsroom. When there is scanner squawk during breaking news (such as the #Mumbai hashtag) often it’s correct information… but you have to consider the source and confirm it. Twitter can be more reliable considering if you’ve been there a while you already know your sources, background and reliability. When there’s breaking news, you can follow it through a hashtag but confirm and do follow up with the people you follow.

Watching breaking news through social media

A group of Flickr pictures from Mumbai

A group of Flickr pictures from Mumbai

I am visiting my in-laws for the holidays when I happened to hop onto Twitter this afternoon. That’s when I discovered the horrible news about an attack at the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, India. But as I continued to watch the chatter on Twitter, the situation got worse. More attacks at the Taj Hotel and word attackers were taking people with passports from the US and the UK. Talk of grenade attacks and suddenly a list of people who were in Mumbai emerged. It was amazing to suddenly find people who were in the city give their perspective. I was almost immediately hooked to the Twitter search page where people were using the #mumbai tag with updates on the situation. At some points thousands of new posts would appear in a matter of seconds.

The most fascinating information emerging came from a Twitter user named Vinu. CNN reports his full name is Vinukumar Ranganathan. He had seen the damage first-hand. Many of the explosions happened a couple of blocks from his home. Along with his tweets, he started to upload dozens of photos he took while he was outside. While I read his writing and looked at his pictures, I noticed him comment that CNN had seen his tweets and wanted to talk to him on the air. His phone interview and his photos emerged on that network. His photos can be found online interspersed with AP and Getty Images on CNN.com. CNN started actively recruiting first-hand information through social networks and I suddenly realized the social network of news is going mainstream. It’s fascinating.

While I was having this awesome social media moment, a family member talked to me skeptically about how it was possible I could know so much about what was happening without following a “real” news source. I feel I was getting better and more accurate information following Twitter than anywhere else. Many of the facts I learned emerged 10 minutes, even an hour later through CNN or other outlets. Along with the Twitter feed, a help blog emerged and a wiki that was keeping up with the developments very closely. You can even follow Twitter real-time and within a 15 mile radius of Mumbai. It’s incredible how the world can combine to deliver awesome information.

UPDATE: A nice list of social networks used during this developing story can be found on Poynter’s website and here.

Even the small guy can do great things

I have to leave a quick note here because I jumped into a little experiment with Twitter in the last couple of days. I decided to see if mid-Missouri would be interested in tweeting (that’s the verb used when you want to talk about that act of posting something on Twitter) politics leading up to election day (using a tag of #sd08). Once we all go to the polls, I’m also asking mid-Mo tweeters to send a post or two while they’re casting their ballot (using an additional tag of #votereport)

The #sd08 tag means it’s a part of Smart Decision ’08. That’s a site that I have created with the help of committed students and professionals affiliated with a number of newsrooms in Columbia, MO. It has been my baby project for quite a while. One election day, I’m hoping mid-Missouri Twitter users will add an additional tag to help us keep track of their experience in the polls: #votereport. It’s a quest created nationally by Twitter.com. Hopefully Twitter users across the country will let us know what it’s really like when they cast a ballot. It’s also a way to see where things are going wrong. When I was talking to a representative at Twitter, I hear about this tweet:

OH_observers: #EPOH from 866 report -fake election officials letting people vote from parking lot in Columbus #votereport #43204 http://tinyurl.com/6nfrmw

I think that’s so cool that we can all participate and talk about experiences during the election year. I like this involvement so much that I’m producing a four hour webcast involving KOMU-TV, KBIA-FM, The Columbia Missourian and Newsy.com. During the webcast, you’ll be able to see details about what people are talking about from our Blog Watch Desk and I’ll have a segment where my Twitter watchers will let us know what’s going on. We’re also inviting the public to attend an election watch party as we record the webcast. We’ll check in with the participants and see what they’re talking about. It’s very exciting and it will be interesting to see what really happens. Four newsrooms. Four hours. Wow. You can watch it election night 8:00pm-midnight Central Time from SmartDecision08.com.

Blogging isn’t dead… Yet.

Of all the things I do online, I’ve found this blog is the one that gets the least amount of attention. It’s too bad since it’s the one place where I can really think about my career and the many projects I work on. This summer was not boring. I helped a group of students blog from Beijing while they worked for the public relations arm of the Olympics. They blogged about their experiences for two months in China. From time to time they also shared news reports that I used on the air. It’s so cool to be able to share video from across the globe so easily.

I’ve thought a lot about why I don’t seem to blog enough in this space and I realized why — I spend a lot more time on Twitter and Facebook. It’s a way I share and communicate my thoughts and ideas. But I’ve pondered over whether that is productive or not. To me, Facebook is more personal and not as professional (although I try to keep things relatively professional on my page). Twitter is a great space to share and communicate with professionals AND people with similar interests outside of work. I am able to learn about so many things and share many thoughts in a quick manner. That simplicity allows me to stay in touch and see what is important to so many people compared to the time it would take to read each person’s blog posts. But that got me thinking about this blog. Twitter seems so fleeting. The information shared is brief and often not a full thought. Blogs allow those ideas to flesh out and breathe.

I asked around Twitter to see how many other people have noticed a decrease in their blogging – and many consistent Twitter members agreed their blogging has taken a hit. It makes me think that I should try harder to break free of the 140 character discussions and share my thoughts here. I’m sure someone else would shudder when I say this, but I think blogging is more permanent. It’s a distinct record of thoughts from a moment in time. I should try to commit to spending more time here!

I have some big changes as a new semester starts at the Missouri School of Journalism. For this school year, I have a chance to focus on some pet projects and less time in the newsroom. I’m not leaving it completely, but I will be able to spend more time on Smart Decision 2008. I have some big ideas and I hope to be able to share those big ideas here soon.

Emotions were let loose!

I attended the first day of the Carnegie-Knight Conference on the Future of Journalism today in Cambridge, MA. It’s hosted by the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, & Public Policy. It’s a culmination of a number of initiatives and conferences hosted by the organization. I wanted to share the discourse and thoughts presented during this event. I tweeted all four panels during the day. If you’d like to read all of the tweets (from the newest down to the oldest) click here to download the pdf. I figured I’d give a quick overview of the discussions for each panel.

1) Working Journalists and the Changing News Environment
Moderator: Rem Reider (American Journalism Review)
Carl Stepp (University of Maryland)
Tom Fiedler (Boston University/Harvard University)
Philip Meyer (UNC)
Jennifer McKim (Orange County Register – Neiman Fellow at Harvard)

This was an interesting start to the conference. There were a number of very different opinions on the state of the professional journalism industry. It started with Carl Stepp talking about his belief that managers need to give journalists more freedom to think and invent. He thinks it’s possible one person in a newsroom could change the entire industry.

Tom Fiedler countered and said the business model will have to come from someone on the outside. He thinks the temperament of journalists is to do what they love and that’s gathering news. They aren’t going to be the people who are inclined to worry about a business model. It doesn’t fit their role.

Jennifer McKim (who is a Neiman Fellow) talked about how there are many demoralized professionals in the industry… But they have the passion and talent and want this industry to work.

Philip Meyer has a lot to say after the first three folks. He had an idea that has a lot of buzz in the room: Find a business model that is supported by the elites. A multi-step flow of information would eventually get that information to the general public. CCJ‘s Mark Carter mentioned The Economist as a possible model. There were audience members questioning if that was a viable business model on a smaller readership/viewership level.

2) Communication Research and the Changing News Environment
Tom Patterson (Shorenstein Center, Harvard)
Robert Entman (George Washington University)
Scott Althaus (University of Illinois)
Vincent Price (University of Pennyslvania)

I’d hate to bury the lead on the next panel but the highlight happened near the end. I’ll just quickly summarize this portion of the conference. The group talked about how there’s a discord between scholarly journalistic research and the practice of journalism. My favorite quote from Robert Entman was his thoughts on the state of the journalistic industry: “changing course may be the less risky path.” He may be right.

Scott Althaus showed how just a little knowledge of the past can give a ton of context to how we cover the news of today. He showed combat video from WWI through Iraq and the varying degrees of reality journalists showed through video.

Vincent Price talked about the mainstream media in perspective of the political season. He looked at what is new, what hasn’t changed and the effects changes have on news. His overall message: the mainstream media (MSM) operations are now working in a much more complicated environment. The interactions between the MSM and all of the current information sources (supplementary campaign information, web, audiences) will continue to change the way information is transmitted. He commented on how entertainment can bring the audience to MSM but its up to us to turn that into a teachable moment.

But since the overall message from the group was to encourage practicing journalists to use scholarly research, the most interesting comment was made. Ira Chinoy from Maryland asked the opposite of the researchers. He asked the question over whether it was possible for there to be a problem with scholarly activity. Then he offered a couple of suggestions. First is to have the scholars write for a general audience. He also suggested scholars take the time to conduct confrontation interviews before releasing studies with a one-sided result. If not, give an opportunity for a pre-publication review by some kind of representative audience. There were all kinds of murmur about that. Entman retorted that the current scholarly community looks down upon researchers who publish for the general public.

3) Citizen Journalism
Clyde Bentley (University of Missouri)
Jan Schaffer (J-Lab)
Ryan Thornburg (University of North Carolina)
Steve Yelvington (Morris Communications, Founder of BlufftonToday.com)

Clyde Bentley talked about his work with MyMissourian.com and research on citizen journalism (CJ). He likened CJ to cave drawing from long ago. He also compared citizen journalists to members of the national guard: a citizen soldier doesn’t want a career in the military, he or she just wants to help. Bentley also talked about how Martin Luther could be credited with starting citizen journalism. He opened the idea to the general public to question priests. He showed other forms of current CJ and the differences between how traditional journalists cover information while citizen journalists share information.

Jan Schaffer had some great thoughts on this topic as well. She showed so many ideas and projects that the J-Lab has sponsored. She talked about the trends and how the journalism of the future is the “architecture of participation.” Ordinary people become the “plankton” in the “media ecosystem.” In some ways, journalists would have the job to sift through the plankton to come up with a functioning ecosystem. Another thought that I enjoyed is how this “isn’t about covering community, it’s about building community.” CJs or as Jan put it, citizen media-makers are looking to make a different in tangible ways. Her idea is deputizing a person who has the job to network all of the citizen media in the community. An editor would have the job to figure out what topics need “Big J” journalism for the larger audience. If there’s a pattern in citizen media conversations, it may be worth bringing it to a larger audience.

Ryan Thornburg gave some great perspective about how citizen media is playing a huge role in the political process. Citizen journalists’ impact on politics means more voices in the discourse of a political season. Social networks are offering a more efficient way to deliver those messages. Currently politicians are doing things already that he said newsrooms should take note:
*build an infrastructure for citizen participation
*give volunteers/CJs recognition for the participation
*allow volunteers to easily connect to each other
*have fun
Of course he reminded everyone that this requires “authentic leadership.”

Do you see a consistent trend in these conversations? There is great potential for professional journalists to guide and lead citizen journalists/media creators. I have a lot of hope in these ideals.

Steve Yelvington talked about how most reporters of today are young, underpaid and have no community connections. He feels today’s “broken journalism can be repaired by learning how to participation in unfolding conversations” of citizen media.

You could feel some of the skepticism in the audience. There were concerns over who is liable for libelous blogs. One person considered blogs as a bar conversation. Another wondered how can we ensure blogs remain a supplement to quality journalism.

4) Panel on Innovation in Journalism Education
Tom Fiedler (Boston University/Harvard University)
Wolfgang Donsbach (Technical University, Dresden, Germany)
Nick Lemann (Columbia Graduate School of Journalism)
Peter Shane (Ohio State Law School)

Fielder and Donsbach presented a paper they wrote with recommendations for the future of journalism education. It is still in the vetting process and if we guage the reaction of the audience to the research, there’s more work to be done before it’s published. I’m not going to get into too many details but I’ll mention a couple of things. There was a recommendation to throw out undergraduate journalism programs because it’s too trade-based and not liberal arts enough (Dean Mills of Missouri was pretty quick to counter that). Also, there was a recommendation to “outsource skills.” They thought journalism schools should teach theory and farm out the skills training elsewhere.

There was an unsteady rumble during the many, many PowerPoint pages of thoughts and assumptions. I happened to sit next to UNC’s Dean Jean Folkerts. She gave a very eloquent response to the presentation and the rest of the audience joined in agreement. (I actually asked if she would type out her words – it was written down on paper – and I’m hoping to link to her thoughts when she gets them online) After the room was pretty hot and bothered for about 20 minutes, the conversation continued into drink time and into dinner tine. Long day, lots of thoughts and a TON of emotion.

**Update – Jean Folkerts posted her thoughts from the experience. Take a look.

Heading out to talk about journalism

I’m attending the Carnegie-Knight Conference on the Future of Journalism this week. It’s a collaborative conference between a number of journalism programs (Berkeley, Maryland, Columbia, Austin, Arizona, Nebraska, Carolina, Northwestern, USC, Syracuse and folks where I work: Missouri). The focus: the future. (CORRECTION: Arizona State University is here!)

I’m planning to twitter live during the conference and hopefully blog about conversations on this blog. It would be great to have even more conversations spin off from this event. I’ve been to Boston before – but never Cambridge. I looked at BU and BC, but never Harvard or MIT. I look forward to a new experience and great discussions about our grand industry.

Huge clump of information

Aggregation. It’s a big focus of my life these days. I’m looking for easy ways to collect information and share it with the general public. At the same time, I’m trying to find ways to collect the websites and social networks I visit and aggregate it into one place. That’s why I’m curious to see how Google’s Friend Connect, Facebook Connect and MySpace’s dataportability may help play in this goal to link everything into one location on the Internet.

I look at this on two levels: How can it work for me and how can it work for my news website.

For me, I love social networking. I love chatting, learning and sharing. It’s kind of obvious from my previous posts. But I think it’s so cool to be able to share and see different perspectives from people I trust. It’s the same idea as having a get together with your friends – but I know I’m not alone when I say many of my friends live across the country. We move around a lot! Not to mention, my job has given me the chance to meet really cool and smart people in all kinds of locations. Social networking lets me stay in touch in ways that writing a letter and sending it in the mail can’t do. And in a slightly self-centered way, it gives me a chance to know what my friends are doing after years of them reading my family blogs and never leaving comments! They know all about me but I don’t know a thing about their most recent updates.

On the professional side of things, I want my news product used by my market! So that’s why I tried an aggregated website sharing the news from KOMU.com, the local NPR newsroom and a local newspaper as a test. We’re aggregating all of our election-themed news and sharing it into the SmartDecision08.com website. This is a way to create a one-stop information hub on the election season in Missouri, specifically mid-Missouri. I don’t have enough funding to make it function as well as I would like it to function, but it is deep. There is so much information and it’s delivered in a way that can really let a news and political information consumer learn a lot. I want to find ways to help collect information and give people the change to socially learn and share on this kind of level. Take news and make it personal. That’s been my goal for years. It’s so cool to see how today’s technology is reaching the concepts I thought about a long time ago.

I am trying out a new site called blippr.com – it gives you a way to socially share the things that entertain you: books, movies, music and games. It’s a level of social networking I haven’t really participated in before. Facebook has all kinds of options that include those items, but blippr seems to have a very clean, concise and non-gimmicky way to accomplish sharing entertainment reviews. It connects to facebook and twitter and friend feed so the idea is to use it as an aggregator of sorts to collect and share your likes and dislikes within the products you already use. I think that’s where everything is headed. I just wish I could wrap my head around how we can use these kinds of tools and still help inform online consumers the news they want and possibly need to know to participate in the non-computer based world where they live. I would have something really cool if I had money and programmers who would put up with my constant brain dumps!

My social networking

My Twitter Cloud

I’m deep inside many different social networking tools. I use them personally in order to see how useful they are for my job. If it’s useful for my day to day life, then there may be a great reason for my newsroom to share its information using those tools. A year ago I got into Twitter, but no one else in my circle got into it so I left. I jumped back in last fall and it’s really picked up steam. Now I’m trying to think of ways these short messages can be helpful for my job and I’ve enjoyed what I can talk about in my life. Fun products like Tweetstats can show off what I talk about the most (like kids, work, meetings, newsroom). I spend a lot of time playing with these tools and thinking big — on a personal and professional level. I blog on WordPress and Blogger, I tweet on Twitter, I post pictures on Flickr, I create “scrapbooks” on Scrapblog, I co-moderate a Yahoo group, I connect with people on LinkedIn and Facebook. I oversee a news website and an election website. I text, I surf the web from my phone. It’s a hell of a juggle and someday someone is going to find a way to merge all of these products and concepts that offer a connection into one cellphone based tool. I hope I’ll be able to join in and help with the creation of those tools. It wasn’t that long ago when my boss and I were talking about how he would love to see a small handheld video player — Oh you know, like a video iPod? I’m visioning the world’s most interactive iPhone where you can type, talk or post without any effort. That will be super cool. Who knows. Maybe’s Google’s Friend Connect will do that… When it goes live (and it’s rumored to launch today). This could have major implications on how to help a standard website (like komu.com) connect with its audience in a more social way. (The Washington Post explains)