Newspapers and rules about Twitter

This is an update to a recent post about the Wall Street Journal and its policies on Twitter use by its staff. In that post, I essentially agreed with a post by Jeff Jarvis in which he argued that the WSJ policy “missed the point” of social media in general by trying to lock down the behaviour of reporters too much — by restricting them from discussing their stories, being too personal, etc. Both Steve Buttry of Gazette Communications, in a post at his personal blog and Gina Chen at Save The Media agreed with Jarvis as well, saying the rules were too restrictive and that the newspaper was in danger of missing out on much of the value of social media. Similar thoughts were posted by Pat Thornton at BeatBlogging.org.

Pat, who also writes at Journalism Iconoclast, quotes a Twitter post from John Robinson (editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina) that also caught my eye, in which he said:

Twitter rules: I trust the staff to report the news. Shouldn’t I trust them enough to tweet? Is twitter that much harder than reporting?

Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times (who recently joined Twitter himself) put it very similarly in a quote he gave to Editor & Publisher magazine:

“I have asked people to use common sense and respect the workplace and assume whatever they tweet will be tied to the paper. Even when they are tweeting personal information to their followers, they are still representing the New York Times.”

As both the Editor & Publisher piece and this piece in the New York Observer make clear, there has been a bit of controversy within the NYT about tweets that staffers (including @jenny8lee and @michaelluo) were making during a strategy briefing at the paper. I wondered at the time whether what they were broadcasting was an internal meeting or not, but assumed it was not. As it turns out, some editors were of the opinion that posting such things to Twitter should always be out of the question, and that even posting positive things from the newsroom shouldn’t be done by Times reporters.

(please read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)

Note: Fred Wilson has some worthwhile thoughts on this topic as well, although he isn’t a journalist. And be sure to check the comments, which feature a response from Peter Kafka of All Things Digital (which is owned by the Wall Street Journal) and — as usual — some excellent responses from Fred himself.

Ashton Kutcher and the evolution of media

The standard response from many people on Twitter this week to the news that Ashton Kutcher wanted to get a million followers was thinly veiled (or not-so-thinly veiled) disgust. Long-time Twitter fans were outraged that anyone — let alone a two-bit TV actor — would be so blatantly egotistical, and trivialize such a great social-media tool in that way, just so he could get on the Oprah show. Shane Richmond said that it wasn’t clear who was the bigger “Twitter tool,” Ashton or Oprah. All of these comments, of course, ignored the fact that Kutcher was using his campaign to raise money for malaria relief efforts, and has in fact raised a total of almost $1-million, according to a recent tweet.

So Ashton is more or less using Twitter as the 21st-century version of Jerry Lewis’s telethon for muscular dystrophy. That isn’t the interesting thing about his use of the social network, at least as far as I’m concerned. Far from being just an egotist who wants to take advantage of a medium to promote himself — although there could well be an aspect of grandstanding to it, as there is for many people — it seems clear that the actor has thought fairly seriously about the implications of Twitter from a media-industry standpoint (my friend Andrew Cherwenka seems to agree). And as a celebrity who is in the public eye almost all the time, he also has a somewhat unique take on the media industry and how it is being transformed.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)

Twitter: A workshop for journalists

I did a workshop about Twitter today for some of the journalists I work with at the Globe and Mail, and uploaded it to our internal wiki — and then I figured I might as well upload it to Slideshare so others could see it as well. I’ve embedded it in this post (click through if you’re reading via RSS) and you are free to share it or download it as you wish. I took a couple of slides out that had Globe-related traffic data in them — traffic pushed to stories by Twitter — but other than that it’s as I gave it (without my witty commentary, of course). I’m happy to say that while there was a range of knowledge in the room when it came to Twitter and social media, from a general familiarity to virtual nothing at all, I detected a lot of openness to the idea of using such tools to connect with readers in different ways.

I tried to make a number of points in the workshop, among them that Twitter is extremely simple to use (so why not give it a shot); that yes, it has a silly name, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful or valuable (Google had a silly name at one point too); that it is a great way of a) reaching out to and connecting with users, b) promoting our stories and c) finding sources for stories (otherwise known as “real people”); and that there are a number of tools that can make it even more useful (Tweetdeck, etc.). I also noted that you really only get out of it what you are prepared to put into it, and that the experience depends a lot on whom you choose to follow. And just to drive the point about promoting our stories home, I noted that our most-read story ever racked up a lot of those views because of Twitter.

For social networks, uptime doesn’t matter

Users of social networks choose where to spend their time based on factors entirely outside of those such as uptime and reliability, according to report issued Tuesday (PDF link) by Pingdom, a service that tracks web site uptime and optimization for companies. Not that such things aren’t important — after all, a social network isn’t going to be of much use if people can’t log in or use the features. But the Pingdom report shows that when it comes right down to it, those things don’t matter nearly as much as one might think. Take a look at the chart below, which sorts social networks according to their total downtime in 2008.

(read the rest of this post at GigaOm)

Social atoms and the Twitter ecosystem

When Twitter first hit my radar screen in 2007 sometime, I (like many others) immediately dismissed it as a gimmicky little time-waster with no real value. I mean, a message limit of 140 characters? Lame. And what was it for? Nothing, apparently. It was like the Facebook status message, but all by itself, with no other services or features around it. What could possibly be the point? As we’ve seen since, of course, there are any number of points to Twitter, a service that “is what you make of it,” as a New York Times piece put it recently.

I also wondered why the Twitter team didn’t include more features, and why they left it up to external services to do things like search (which they eventually acquired by buying Summize). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the smallness and lack of features is actually a positive, not a negative. What Twitter did was strip all the clutter of many social networks away and pare things down to their essence.

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