Social media: it’s how we engage

According to Poynter Institute one-third of people under 40 used the Internet to follow the presidential debate.

This comes on the back of the Olympic games, which were deemed the first ‘social media’ Olympics.

The Poynter article notes that a Pew Research Centre poll released on Thursday found many Americans used digital devices simultaneously to engage with the event.

Source: Poynter Institute.

According to Poynter “the poll focused on which media Americans used during the first presidential debate. It finds 32 percent of people under 40 used digital devices while watching the debate and the same number followed public reaction live online”. It also noted “a majority (51 per cent) of people under 40 got at least some coverage online or through social media”.

Poynter says this phenomenon creates a huge demand for news organisations to provide live second-screen coverage. The Washington Post told Poynter its Politics app for the iPad saw a 44 percent jump in visits the night of the first debate, and a 600 per cent increase in usage of its Forum section that tracks political players on Twitter.

“A separate Pew Internet and American Life poll found that 27 per cent of voters with cell phones are using them to follow the election, and 35 percent have used their phone for fact-checking,” says Poynter.

This means journalists and news organisations need to be ahead of the game (or the ‘citizen journalist). They need to be live-blogging, tweeting, updating news stories on their websites continuously. This is where professional journalists’ comments can weigh heavier than ‘user-generated’ content, because the professional journalist should be across this topic, they should have a lot more knowledge on the topic, they can provide expert analysis and can source information from industry professionals. Citizen journalism is more opinion based so you are not receiving reputable, reliable and credible information.

Audiences are turning to online sites on their mobile devices to be able to watch the event, similar to an Australian watching a football match, but look to their news organisations as a reputable source for further in-depth analysis about the event. They are expecting the news media to set the agenda and to lead the conversation. This is just one of the reasons journalism is still a vital pillar within our society. Because as the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Code of Ethics notes:

“Journalists help society to describe itself, they animate democracy and they convey information, ideas, options, a privileged role.”

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Can journalism survive the Internet?

After watching the documentary Page One about the New York Times I wanted to look into the big question that has been on everyone’s minds for a long time: Can journalism survive the Internet?

From what I saw, it seems the print news industry is taking a huge nosedive in America, possibly more so than in other countries. In Australia the paper giants are feeling the pinch but not as extensively as America, or so it seems.

When the documentary was filmed in 2009 WikiLeaks had just released the controversial video about the U.S soldiers in Bagdad who carried out an air strike attack on civilians from their aircraft.

This was a big eye opener for the news industry and reporters/editors at the New York Times recognised this as a major turning point for the news industry and news organisations. In the documentary, the New York Times noted that previous insider leaks and whistle blowing had been broken through newspapers, especially the New York Times.

“But instead they [WikiLeaks] just dropped it [the footage] off on YouTube and waited for people to find it”.

They were however one of the first news organisations to run the story. So instead of the news coming to the organisation as we often saw with traditional media we now see the organisation seeking out the news or ‘scoop’.

This is where the debate about online content and user-generated content starts. As it was said in the Page One documentary:

“News isn’t dying…newspapers are”

The word on the street goes something along the lines of: everyone and anyone can be a journalist thanks to Twitter, blog sites, Facebook and YouTube. But the documentary also believes in something called the New York Times effect (well in America especially) where that specific paper sets the majority of the news agenda and by the time it reaches the public they don’t even know it came from the New York Times. I guess this is where the money making problem comes into it and so many of the papers are becoming bankrupt. It is no secret that many Australian news networks are tightening their spending belts. From what I’ve heard many local news organisations aren’t sending out helicopters as frequently to cover events as it’s too costly and are opting to source information from the internet if they don’t think it is worth sending a journalist on site. Money is tight for a number of reasons, but for me, at the core of the problem is that people no longer depend on these traditional mediums because they can get news when they want where they want, through mobiles, computers and tablets.

Tablet use. Source: Poynter Institute.

For me I find that the Web 2.0. era is an information overload. We are producing so much information in the online world now that I highly doubt we would ever be able to consume it all in our life time. Sometimes I have nightmares about drowning in a sea of information, it’s so consuming and overwhelming and the scariest part is no one knows where it’s heading.

Daniel Flitton in the book News 2.0 uses the analogy that trying to obtain an accurate picture of whats happening at an event through Twitter is “akin to taking a drink from a fire hose – the rushing stream might wet your mouth, but it could just as likely choke you.”

Martin Hurst in his 2011 book News 2.0. says alternative forms of journalism such as user-generated content are not yet mature or robust enough to overturn the dominant paradigm and while the bottom up model has broken through, citizen journalism is not in a position to really challenge the news industry.

Hirst: “Many people want to see the journalism industry improve rather than disappear under a smorgasbord of badly written and badly argued blogs and shallow 140 – character tweets.”

For me I don’t want to see the traditional, credible, respected, hard-working, reliable sources from established news organisations disappear. One key element about journalism and news is trust. The audience and the world need to trust that the source of information will result in the delivery of accurate information because this very information is what helps to form societies views and decisions.

According to Martin Hirst in the future the collective control of the news process – by news producers and the people we used to call the audience – is the only real and sustainable way to defend and extend the public interest in news.

I have spoken with social media expert Dr Sean Rintel from the University of Queensland who says he thinks we’ve only just seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what we can expect from the internet and social media.

So we now live within a convergence culture and like we’ve said before we’ll just have to see what happens.

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Lessons learned while blogging

Whilst taking the subject Online Journalism at QUT I came across several problems attempting the assessment items but I’ll focus on the most recent, which was to create an online news story that would be published on this blog site.

Coincidentally three days before our story is due Elaine Ford, Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Queensland online news producer, speaks to us at our last lecture.

Elaine told us there is no longer just a radio or TV or online journalist. No such thing exists anymore. The ABC produces across all mediums continuously and interchangeably, meaning all divisions must liaise with each other and the journalists to work out who has what information and schedule what platform will receive the story in what order.

She also informed us that what goes online is out there forever and whilst images, videos, social media and links may assist in telling a story, it is the words that are forever. Content is king. Elaine made the point that words still rule the web despite how many times we are told to include multi-media.

Susan Hetherington tweeted this during the lecture:


The key point I find here is that just because we can, doesn’t always mean we should. We don’t get to decide the news, we tell the news and when an event or story comes along that isn’t exactly tailored for an online platform it doesn’t mean we don’t publish it simply because we don’t have a video or enough pictures. Or in the case of investigative stories not publishing a story because we don’t have enough related material already out there on the Internet.

Personally, I find a lot of links, pictures, polls, forms and interactive material within online stories quite distracting. As I’ve said before readers want the news, the raw facts. Whats the point of the story? What happened? I find it hard to find the answers to these questions when the story is buried beneath layers of multimedia.

When I read that we had to do an online news story and the examples given were from the Brisbane Times, Courier Mail and the Seattle Times I thought great…these stories have used pictures, videos, Google Maps and links to other articles as well as links for readers to send their story to the news organisation.

The examples from the aforementioned news sites are shown below. They use only one or two key online elements that really add to the story and one main picture.


The story below only uses three Google Maps pictures.


As many of our tutors and lectures work for the ABC, in addition to looking at the examples we were given, I looked at how the ABC format and present their online stories. I came up with my story idea and a layout that I thought would suit the story and feed the online readers wants and needs.

I did a hard news story about a pony club closure due to development and the Brisbane City Council’s lack of action to support the community group. I thought great I will include Google Maps of the land, my audio of my interview with the club members a ‘tell us your story’ section and links to the parties involved. And because it was quite a complex story and needed quite a lot of words to explain the situation in detail, I thought it would be most beneficial for the readers if I kept the ‘content as the king’ and just added a few simple photos etc to help tell the story.

However, after our tutorial I found out that because we were submitting our online news story via our blog site it needed to be more than just an online story, it had to utilise all the available links and tools imaginable that can be used on the blog site to help tell the story.

So as with my story I thought I could include the audio of my interview with the members of the pony club.

After watching two Youtube clips about how to embed audio files and after I had downloaded the software to turn my audio into an Mp3 file, the WordPress site told me this:


So no I did not want to pay to upgrade my blog site just so I could include audio clips.

So the end result of my online news story is this.

I did find a great blog on WordPress called Lorelle on WordPress. It tells you everything you need to know about WordPress. But make sure you have a good half an hour to sink your teeth into it.

But if you have any quick WordPress tips for me…please fill me in!

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Social media society: are we addicted?

In one of my other subects at QUT this week we had to respond to stimlus for an exam. The article I chose to respond to was one by The Age called Status Update: we don’t like Facebook. The creation of the Web 2.0 culture has meant that we’re programmed to live and breathe with technology, especially social media, but a focus group study on the article actually says respondents are sick of our naracism on social media.

You only have to type the word Facebook and the words addiction or disorder into a Google search to bring up an in-depth list of articles and information on our culture and our obsession with Facebook. One study in Germany even goes as far to say that we’re more allured to checking our social media updates than we are to sex. The Age also wrote another article focused on studies and statistics about social media usage.

Quick stats:

11.26 million Australians visited Facebook in August this year.

In April the average time an Australian spent on Facebook was eight hours, 29 minutes and 43 seconds.

About 2.3 million Australians used Twitter in August

About 1 million checked out Pinterest.

So in my exam I did some of my own research and conducted my own interviews to get a broader view on whether or not we’re obsessed with social media and if so, why? I also explored the idea that we’re very narcissistic online. Here’s what I had to say:

“What is it about social media that has made us so obsessed? University of Queensland lecturer in strategic communication Dr Sean Rintel believes it is because people can keep connected with friends no matter what, day or night, and technology is simply amplifying trends and communication that already existed before social media. “Some people just want to keep on getting that little high from every time they see a like or a comment,” he says.

We are now a society plagued with technological dependency that we can hardly exist without a phone, tablet or computer within 100 meters of us. To top it all off Facebook has just hit one billion active users.

Dr Rintel argues that society’s self-absorbance on Facebook is like a cycle and we are just hamsters on a wheel with a piece of cheese dangled in front of us. “If people are getting positive feedback from things like ‘I just ate a sandwich’ or whatever, it’s not surprising that they continue to do more things like that because they know they get positive reinforcements,” he says. “Who doesn’t love positive reinforcement and because Facebook only has a “like” button not a “dislike” button, so people can only receive positive encouragement.” Dr Rintel argues technology cannot make us do anything. It cannot make us become narcissistic because there is no casual relationship to support that but it has given us a tool to exaggerate such attributes.

Anna Davison a teacher at Gympie State High School looks out from her desk at the front of the classroom to a sea of about 20 students, many of them looking down at their crutch. “I know what they’re doing when they have their eyes down there,” she says. Like a fungus has slowly eaten away at their brains, students now sit zombified in classrooms across the world. When Ms Davison asks for a reason behind such a lack of class involvement, a common reply is “miss I am just really tired, I don’t really want to do what we are doing because I was on Facebook until 2 am this morning,” she explains.

But when it comes to narcissism in the young people she teaches Ms Davison admits she doesn’t think it has increased because of social media. “I remember 10 years ago when my daughter and her friends were growing up, they would get out our old digital camera and take pictures of themselves around the house or out and about,” she says.

“It’s not so much about being obsessed with what they look like, I find we’re more addicted about letting everyone know where we are and what we’re doing,” she says when reflecting on Facebook. “I find it interesting when people post pictures of something fun and different but I really don’t want to know what my friends and daughter are eating for breakfast, I think that is so boring and mind numbing.”

Although we are somewhat addicted to Facebook and social networking, a report by Ipsos Mackay obtained by The Age newspaper illustrates a trend in people turning away from the site. The article stated that the newest trend was people being critical about the narcissistic culture and self-absorption on Facebook.

Once upon a time in a pre-Web 2.0 world if someone was talking to us about themselves or self-indulgent topics we could just walk away. We could take immediate action and no-longer be subjected to such behaviour. But now even if we wanted to walk away we can’t, we have become a technologically programmed society and our interactivity and sense of connectedness no longer just stems through the people we see face-to-face but the virtual relationships we share.

In a New York Times article Larry D. Rosen, a California psychologist who studies the impact of technology use on society says our relationship with Facebook is not so much about addiction but rather connected to anxiety. “Addictions are about finding pleasure,” he says. “Compulsions are born from anxiety, and Facebook is psychologically important. It allows us to project on the world, in a way that we’ve never been able to before, who we are and what we want to say about ourselves.”

He adds, “We are always checking to see if anyone posted on our wall, if they liked a photo, responded to an update. For those who use it, they are feeling more of a need to look at it and check in and reduce the anxiety of feeling like they are missing out on something.”

As Martin Hurst highlights in his 2011 book New 2.0, “social networking is the face – or perhaps the screen – on which convergence culture plays to a global audience that is both consumer and ‘producer’. Hurst also agrees with Dr Sean Rintel in saying that a YouTube study conducted by Hewlett-Packard social media laboratories found that the more attention a person’s content receives, the more likely they are to upload more content.

Traditionally when you mention that you’re studying journalism or are a journalist people would never automatically connect the profession with the internet or social media. For me, especially thanks to the subject Online Journalism, I now associate journalism the internet, social media, Twitter and smart phones. So for me studying journalism, I guess I am destined to become a social media addict – that’s if I want to succeed in my job now and into the future. But maybe hold off on the narcassim.

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News: how to use social media updates

Today whilst looking through my Facebook page I noticed two news organisations had posted a status update about finding the crashed plane that went missing on the Sunshine Coast on Monday.The posts both said the plane had been found but their information was different. View map of the area where the plan crashed. (Brisbane Times reported it was 4km northwest of Borumba Dam). 


(Click picture to see bigger size)

These comments were posted at the same time. Just like Susan Herthington’s example on the QUT Online Journalism blackboard site, people just want the raw facts. Susan says

“When composing tweets remember the aim is to entice your audience and inform them not annoy them. Tell them what’s happened, not just that something had happened. Not that the government has released a report. What did the report say? Not that a basketball match has been played. Who won?”

The radio station HOT 91 told us the people who were onboard the plane had died. Channel 9 News failed to tell us whether they were alive or not, which is the main question people want answered. Instead Channel 9 added a link to another story wanting to coerce viewers to open up their other stories.

If news organisations are going to utilise social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter they need to give the audience the details they want or they’ll go elsewhere to source the information. It is ineffective to say they found the plane’s crash site without adding more information.

Journalists need to realise this when they’re covering live events. People don’t want to know that the Premier is speaking outside Parliament today, they want to know what he is saying. People want dot point facts that tell us not just what but how, why, when and where.

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