Twitter mishaps and netiquette for journalists

Evidence suggests navigating the social web can be a bit of challenge for journalists, but does that mean we need a new set of ethical guidelines to safeguard their conduct?

Last week, while organising a debate on whether we need rules for journalists’ use of social media, I asked friends, colleagues and Twitter-followers for examples of journalists’ missteps and transgressions on the popular micro blogging site. My question threw up some interesting examples, and I’ll highlight some of those here.

Digital Doorstepping
But first I feel I should point out that, even though Twittiquette is the hot topic these days, it would be wrong to single out Twitter: these examples are very similar to journalists’ "missteps and transgressions" on other social media sites such as blogs and social networks.

For instance, only two years ago we had a similar discussion after bloggers and others reacted sharply to how some journalists solicited comments from bloggers who themselves experienced, or had friends who were caught up in, the Virginia Tech Massacre – leaving blog comments like "I would love to chat with you about this horrific event."

"Journalism has a long and dishonourable tradition of doorstepping the victims of tragedies. But in the digital age, the communities around the victims have voices to express their outrage at the media's behaviour - and that's what we're seeing here," said Adam Tinworth in a blog post.

Bullying your sources
Now, I’m not so sure it would not be entirely far-fetched to say that journalist have a long dishonourable tradition for bullying their sources either. However, it does look rather embarrassing when the bullying is conducted in a public place like Twitter, such as in this exchange between former National Post technology reporter David George-Cosh and marketing consultant April Dunsford earlier this year.

After Dunsford tweeted an observation from being interviewed by George-Cosh, leaving his name out of it, he identified himself when he answered back with some very aggressive tweets. You can read the whole exchange here. Ouch. There are of course situations where journalists feel bullying, e.g. politicians, is entirely legitimate, even create TV-shows devoted to it, but here?

Twitter reveals journalists have opinions
An entirely different kind of example is that of Odd Myklebust, society editor for Norwegian regional newspaper Drammens Tidenede, who, two weeks before this year’s Norwegian parliamentary election, tweeted that this year’s regional political candidates were the worst ever. This created an outcry and spurred a debate on journalists and social media, and Myklebust later apologised saying the statement was too tabloid.

This incident reminds me of the Washington Post’s new, much ridiculed social media policy which came about after one of its managing editors, Raju Narisetti posted a few tweets that revealed he had opinions on issues such as health care, deficits and term limits. Impartiality is crucial to the WaPo policy, and Techchrunch has a ball with it in Twitter Unearths A Secret: Journalists Have Opinions:

"When word leaked out that he had his own opinions and was sharing them on Twitter, apparently the WaPo top brass scrambled quickly to get this under control. That included Narisetti deleting his Twitter account. Pathetic."

On the Norwegian incident, Per Valebrokk, editor-in-chief of business news site E24, wrote: "If Myklebust really means what he said on Twitter, why doesn’t he write it in his newspaper? What is really the biggest problem? That those working in the media have opinions, or that they’re not clear enough in their newspapers?"

Now, I can’t get myself worked up over these incidents revealing journalists to have opinions, but I should also, for the record, mention, that I know Myklebust from my time as a columnist at Drammens Tidende (where I effectively started my media career).

Making offensive remarks, then deleting them
I think a worse case is that of The Daily Telegraph’s former technology blogger Milo Yiannopoulos. I remember reacting to the tone of several of his tweets when I followed him on Twitter, but one incident in particular was later brought to my attention by someone who followed the situation more closely.

"Back when he was @yiannopoulos rather than @nero, Milo Yiannopoulos tweeted that he hoped the police 'beat the shit out of those wankers', referring to the G20 protestors. Then he deleted the tweets when one was killed," this person said, and described how @yiannopoulos also made aggressive remarks to some tweeters and deleted the tweets once they had been seen - adding that unpleasantness seemed not to upset people so much as deleting your remarks once they had caused a stir.

What a lot of this comes down to, especially Yiannopoulos’ and George-Cosh’s cases, is bad editorial judgements. If editors see one of their reporters or commentators make such ill-informed judgements repeatedly online, I imagine they would question how well this person is suited to represent the media company and at the very least have serious talk with the person in question. Also, we can all make gaffes, say things that are not well thought through, but most people recognise this - and apologising for it makes all the difference.

Personally, I don’t think a whole new set of rules is called for, but I organised a debate on this issue last week for The Norwegian Online News Association (NONA) as it had been brought to my attention that rules are under way in Norway’s biggest media organisations. It proved a very constructive and useful debate, and I’ll get back to some of the key points raised in a separate post.

Essential Advice
Still, this debate reminds me of something I copied from my friend Adriana’s blog several years ago, in 2006 I believe, and have often used when explaining netiquette to various audiences:

"On the internet you are not an institution. If you want to be and behave like one, you get isolated and bypassed... It's back to communication between human beings, communities and sometimes mobs. The rules of social interactions apply - if people challenge you on something you have done or said and you don't respond, expect a commensurate impact on your reputation or credibility.

"If people make fun of you or try to embarrass you, the choice is to remain silent in hope of appearing dignified or to shoot back, with indignation or with humour. It depends. Different responses will be appropriate at different times and different circumstances. That is why etiquette is so complicated. Media and communications strategies don't even come close. The main difference is that you don't need to be 'trained' for online communication; it's the one that you already know. And whether you are good at it or not has nothing to do with communication skills but with respect for others and some good manners."

This post has been edited following Milo Yiannopoulos' objections in the comments.

Shield law lunacy

In a world where journalism is in the danger of turning into a hobby, isn't it ironic that the US looks set to get a shield law that excludes non-salaried journalists from protection?

I've been following the slow progress of this potential new law for some time now, and I'm struck by how at odds its definition of who should be allowed to protect their sources is with the changing media landscape. I've previously bemoaned that it will offer no protection for the Dr Stockmanns of this world, but with the very nature of journalism and who committs valuable acts of journalism so much in flux, limiting the scope of this law to only protect salaried journalists seems very strange.

For one, bloggers, and outfits like Huffington Post, are increasingly providing valuable journalism, analysis and even investigations. Come to think of it, that has already been the case for years now, and I recently concluded in an article on blogging the crash (for a new book on the financial crash and the crisis in journalism) that some bloggers even covered the events leading up to the credit crisis better than traditional media.

This blog post over at Mediashift provides a good argument for why bloggers and citizen journalists deserve a shield law. But with the gloomy state of media finances these days, some are even predicting a future where (freelance) journalists will be forced to work for free. I'm not quite that pessimistic, but there is an uncomfortable grain of thruth or two in Charlie Beckett's post on Celibates, Priests or Toffs? The Future of Freelance.

Today's quote: blogging as a means to take control of your destiny

"...starting my own blog has meant I am more in control of my destiny. It's not a replacement for freelance work, yet, but it's an excellent insurance policy to keep you fed, watered and sane."

The quote is taken from this interview with "This New Zeland Life"-founder William Knight, found as I was catching up with RSS-fees I've neglected due to all my computer trouble this month (but I now have two laptops, and though my brand new Lenovo Thinkpad is still in PC-hospital, I am loving my new Asus Eee - pictured below. Only yesterday I found myself wondering why I ever thought I needed a bigger laptop, but then I started working on a PowerPoint presentation and realised do miss having a laptop I can run a full-fledged photo editing programme like Photoshop on...)

MatOgBenk 012

Iran: A Nation of Bloggers

I was reminded that Iran has had a substantial and active blogosphere for years by a 2005 article Bente Kalsnes posted the other day. It's in Norwegian, but she also linked up this video which neatly visualizes part of what it highlighting. 

The video also reminded me of a seminar I attended on how free the internet really is last year, featuring, to name a few, Jimmy Wales, Jonathan Zittrain and a speech from Parvin Ardalan, who unfortunately couldn't attend in person as her passport had been confiscated by the Iranian government. Luckily, Espen Andersen liveblogged the event, and his thorough notes in English can be found here.

Among other things, Zittrain was asked: "Why do they have Internet in Iran at all?"

"Very few states explicitly rejects modernity - Cuba and North Korea are some of the very few. Most states want the economic effects of the Internet. It is rather haphazardly enforced, though. Iran filters more stuff than China, but China tries harder to filter the relatively few things they filter. The US government has actually contracted with Anonymizer, to provide circumvention software for Iranians, and for Iranians only," he answered.

The highlights from Ardalan's speech also make for interesting reading in view of what's happening in Iran now. For a contrarian view, some would say a healthy dose of realisme, on the role social media is playing in the Iran uprising see this Business Week-article.

Update 19.06.2009, 10:47 CET: also check out this blog post by Rory Cellan-Jones on the what seems to have been the Iranian regime's internet strategy since last week's presidential election


Six quick social media lessons from the Obama campaign

Jodi Williams from the Obama Campaign Team was in Oslo last week to talk about lessons learnt from the 2008 presidential campaign. Here's a few quick highlights I took away from her talk (I'd have posted this sooner if it wasn't for ongoing computer trouble):

Picture of Williams by Tord Nedrelid published under a CC-license
  • Social media turns out to be very crucial these days for reaching out, not only to younger demographics, but quite widely - especially for reaching the demographic that’s really busy and not home to sit down and watch ABC News at six
  • The Twitter effect will play a much bigger part in future elections along with texting. We could have used texting and twitter much more effectively
  • Really excited by how mobile networks will change campaigning and reporting
  • No longer one way comunication but a two way coversation that can turn into a movement
  • It’s about giving people the opportunity to organise themselves. Social media offers good tools to organise people and to help them find each other
  • The Clinton-campaign was stuck in the past. We had younger people who were not stuck in ideas on how to do and organise things and were free to look ahead
These notes are taken from a talk Williams gave at a seminar on politics and social media organised by The Institute of Journalism 05.06.2009. My write-up of key headlines from the Norwegian talks are here (in Norwegian)

Storyville: on blogging, serendipity and good conversations

I just realised I've only posted a paltry four posts here this month, mainly because I've been busy elsewhere: writing for print magazines, a bit for the NONA blog and with real life meetings.

I'll blog a bit more about those meetings eventually, but in the meantime I thought I'd share a story that's been sitting on my desktop for, oh, more than a year now (I have plenty of these more or less finished blog posts I keep meaning to finish but somehow never get around to):

Just the other week (well, February 2008 actually) I was sitting on a God-forsakenly early flight to London, thinking hard about work, as I often do, and the passenger sitting next to me kept trying to get a conversation going.

In certain moods, had I been too stressed,  I might have felt he was interfering with my train of thought, but for some reason, I think it was him mentioning that he was going to Northampton where my ex-partner worked for a long while, I started listening and talking back. He was soon telling me that he'd given up on stress after a heart-attack when he was 29 (at which point he decided it was simply not worth the price:-) ), and that one of his sons has died of hospital maltreatment (I know too much about how arbitrary public health care can be) - but also that in the end he'd forced the mayor of the town where it all happened to at least hoist the flags all over town on the day of his son's funeral (good one: made me feel happy for him and grateful for how there are people who stand up and fight, even win small victories, in the face of such devastating tragedies).

Now this might have been a typical Scandinavian conversation, not all national cultures have it in them to bond over such depressing issues, but there you are. And no, this was not a nutter in any way as a Brit might think, quite the contrary, it was simply a brilliant conversation bestowed on me for God knows which reason.

But I felt grateful for the trust, it reminded me of a few things I needed to be reminded of: I took a deep breath when I got off that plane; made sure to afford myself the luxury of sitting down for that pint of coffee and breakfast; savour the moment rather than having it on the go - and pick up the newspapers before I got on the train into town. It also remind myself to get in back in touch with a woman it turned out we both knew (yeah, Norway IS a small country).

My point? Sometimes you miss out on vital things and opportunities by being too obsessed about where you're going.

It might even be that our detours become more valuable than our planned visits or career moves. I met one of my greatest mentors while working in a pub, and one of my most precious memories is sitting with another mentor I'd met by chance in Athens the year before on the top of a hillside at midnight in the Santa Cruz mountains (and yes, there were mountain lions and snakes around, crazy, she thought us protected by a goddess)....This, incidentally, is why blogging this story got held up for so long, I kept thinking of all the wonderful examples and how to fit them all in, but they're hardly why I started writing this in the first place - so let's just get on with it... 

Now, I'm not driving at divine providence or something like that, just that it pays to be open for the opportunity that good things are where you least expected to find them ... and certainly blogging has been one grand serendipitous venture from the very beginning... Which reminds me of this blogging story by Zena el-Kahlilh, pictured below (by me):


What motivates the social media crowd

Could you sum up your motivation for life, work, blogging in 140 characters?

On a whim, Richard Sambrook asked his Twitter followers what motivates them and pulled together a selection of the answers. It makes for fascinating reading, also in terms of whether this is a good snaphot of a rather narrow selection of the journalist-media blogger crowd or applies more widely. He sees a group of altruistic, public spirit motivated folks, for me it's really the creative, curious, wanting to effect change sentiments that stand out - but guess I'm wearing my "me-glasses"...

How about you?

What moves the world, what makes people tick? I've always had an urge to find out (it is perhaps my most fundamental motivation). Here's what I believe would have been a top contender to the title Norway's richest man, Kaare Ness, had he not stuck to his American citizenship after emigrating to the US in the 1950s (photographed by me in Kvinesdal last year). For Ness, one of the founders of Trident Seafoods, it was a near death experience that spurred him on and compelled him to put in the ungodly hours that made his success. While working as a firsherman he fell  over board and, seeing his ship disappear out of sight, he feared he would be left to die a lonely death in the icy waters, but was saved in the very the last minute. Of course, there are those who would have stayed way clear of ships after such an experience. What makes or breaks us, makes some and breaks others, now that's another fascinating topic...


Top social media strategists put their time up for auction on eBay

Here's a golden chance to get two hours of consulting services from social media veterans Adriana Lukas and Chris Heuer for a bargain.

Adriana emails to say they are currently auctioning two hours of their time on eBay. I'm a bit late to this story as I've been on the road for a few days: the slot is for tomorrow, in London, but at the time of writing the only bid submitted is on $50 - so still possible to get an amazing deal.

"This is a low cost way for a smart company to take our minds for a test drive, to see if what we know, and to improve what you are doing with social media, marketing and web strategies to make your organization more succesfull in these effort," writes Adriana. Read more on why the two have decided to put their time up for auction, in what is a one time opportunity so far, on eBay here.

Now, at this point I should tell you that Adriana is the woman who kicked me into the blogosphere in the first place. After listening to her musings on social media, and reading the books she recommended, with fascination for years, but always blaming my deadlines for why it was never the right time to have a go at blogging myself, in the end she just set up this blog for me in 2005 and told me to get going.

It was a big white canvas for me, and I was quite surprised by how, after a few months, I revealed myself to be a media junkie... ;-) Of course, blogging changed my world, my focus and opened up new previously unthought of opportunities for me. Still, even after immersing myself in social media for years, had I been in London tomorrow and had I the time, this would have been an opportunity too good to miss....  

Update 14:25 CET: Message from Chris Heuer on Twitter just now, saying "unfortunately I glitched & UK folks werent able to bid, so am taking it down :( #lessonlearned". Still, seems some lucky person might have secured those two hours with Adriana and Chris after notifying Chris about the glitch - see more in his comment on my post here.

Using social media to change the world

Here's something which, despite all the current doom and gloom, makes me both hopeful for the future of the world at large and despondent about my own industry (and if you'd rather focus on the former, feel free to jump past my chronology of frustration:-) )

A chronology of frustration:
Mainstream media discovers Twitter and moves en masse there. Incidentally, politicians discover Twitter about the same time and follow suite. "All of a sudden" everyone that is someone is talking about Twitter, hence media commentators are ordered to write about it and conclude - surprise, surprise - it's the social network of the elites.

Now, this secenario is taken from Norway, where journalists and politicians have really only discovered Twitter's potential over the last few months. Since I do my share of talking about why journalists should be on Twitter, and how they can use it in their work, I'm hardly going to complain that a much larger contingent of Norway's hacks have finally started using the microblogging site, but the scenario in the above paragraph is a potent reminder that our understanding of social media is defined by how we use it.

It's not the technology... As a result, our arguments about what social media is often become circular, and categorisations such as "it's the network of the elites" or "it's just people sharing trivia" will often reveal more about how people making those statements use or don't use Twitter than about the site itself. I am, of course, fully aware that sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have different demographics, but, at the end of the day, it's neither the technology, nor the individual social media brand as such I find interesting: it's what it enables us to do.

And since commentators, in Norway and elsewhere, have been so busy analysing what they and/or their colleagues talk about on Twitter lately, let's instead look at a compelling way to use the site to raise awareness of a social issue. I've been followingMark Horvath for a few weeks now, after a shout out from Tim O'Reilly alerted me to his Twitter profile:

Giving a voice to the voiceless
"Mark Horvath was a top TV executive in Hollywood and then lost it all. Out of work and with a home going into foreclosure, Horvath quickly became homeless. With no income or a roof over his head, Horvath still had to do something. So he started, a personal first account video blog designed to give homelessness a face and voice," Mashable wrote in March.

Or to use his own words from 1 April this year: "Fifteen years ago I was a TV executive. Fourteen years ago I ended up homeless on Hollywood Blvd. I now am 14 years sober and am rebuilding my life but homelessness is once again a very real possibility. I lost my job in St Louis over a year ago. I took a job here in Los Angeles, moved here, and was laid off. I lost my house to foreclosure last week. With $45, a small camera and a laptop I started, a homeless awareness vlog. I had to do something.

"Every week I take a few minutes to get to know a different person without a home. I learn how they survive, how they came to find themselves homeless, and who they call friends. I ask them about their biggest wishes, their greatest hardships and their plans for the future.

"Then, I introduce them to the world via social media. My video blog is a testament of the character and strength of people living on America’s streets. It gives them a voice and a chance to tell their story and become more than a coat sleeping on a park bench. To get the word out about my vblog, I began using twitter ..." (full post here, follow Horvath at @hardlynormal ).

Now, you may fault me, of course, for citing a former TV exec as an example, but his forceful example of being 'the change he wants to see in the world' somehow gives me more faith that we will find our way through the current crisis - and doing what he does while facing homelessness and personal ruin is truly something...

Here's video clip from The Berkman Centre, about The New Change Makers which is also well-worth checking out (via Paul Bradshaw on Twitter)

Warner Music exec creates firestorm by suggesting tweep steal music and download it to his "brat blog"

Beat this: blogger complains he can't buy his favourite music, music company employee tells him to steal it and calls the blogger a brat while he's at it.

Blogger does what bloggers do: he blogs about it, tweets about the blog post, Norway's Twittersphere retweets, another blogger does a post in English and Diggs it, post hits Digg's frontpage, offended blogger brought in to give a talk about his experience at The Norwegian Editor's Association (NORED's) Spring Conference (video clip is here, in Norwegian) mainstream media writes about it ... and this is just what happened in less than 24 hours.

Three hours after the tweet, Warner Music Norway employee appologises profusely, by which time it is too late, the snowball rolls on, or shall we say the fire blazes on? More on snowballs and fires here.

Here's a more thorough description of the story from the blog post that was Digged:

Norwegian student Even (18) shared his frustration with his Twitter followers about iTunes not letting him download the newest album from Dave Matthews Band saying something like: “I’m pissed! iTunes is only allowing downloads of the new Dave Matthews Band album if you live in the US! And they complain about pirating”.

Not many minutes after Even’s tweet, Terje Pedersen from Warner Music Norway replied with something like: “Then I suggest you steal it and write about the process in your stupid brat blog. We don’t want you to get upset.” Full post here.

For the record, I've worked for NORED Live blog from this year's spring conference here (in Norwegian)

Fantastic qustion via the live blog to the editors: At least the Warner Music guy bothered to answer the blogger on his blog, how often do media folks bother to do the same?

Hurray, seems I get to continue reading those Press Gazette blogs after all

At least I hope today's news about Press Gazette being saved after a buyout by New Statesman owner Progressive Media (via, implies that  I will be able to continue following those blogs. I'm also, of course, happy for the staff who get to stay on. I will however not take out a subscription for the print magazine because I'm a rather poor journalist myself; it's ancient news before it reaches these foreign shores and Roy Greenslade's explanation of the abrrevation Pdf as equalling Pretty Damn Futile brilliantly sums up my view on Pdf. Actually, I don't think I can remember when I last read a print magazine - books and newspapers, yes, mostly over the weekend - but magazines? It must have been some issue of Economist, perhaps the New Year one, I picked up for a flight...

Update 11:45 CET: and, of course, I was just reminded that Jon Slattery predicted PG might be rescued from its deathbed.

Brown aide Damian McBride's resignation: one more down for the bloggers

One down, two to go, says Iain Dale after Gordon Brown's chief political adviser Damian McBride resigned over what The Guardian dubbed "Labour sex smear scandal" .

I must admit I've stopped counting as I only keep half an eye on political blogs these days, but on this side of the pond there was of course the former Swedish Trade Minister 'blogged' down by Magnus Ljungkvist and now Mcbride is the latest of several UK government officials (John Prescott and Peter Hain springs to mind, more? ) who've had bruising encounters with Gudio Fawkes. I'm discounting that now rather ancient story about Trent Lott from the other side of the pond, I think the US is a different story alltogether as political bloggers there were so much ahead of the curve compared to Europe.

The role Guido's blog has come to play in the UK political landscape has been compared both by those who know him and those who don't to that played by Private Eye. 

There's also an interesting dynamic at work here between bloggers and journalists, or to quote from a post of mine from a few years back:

"My understanding is that the 'conspiracy' of which Guido is a part includes mainstream journalists. As Antoine explained in our last mp3, they tell Guido some juicy titbit. Guido reports it. Iain Dale reports that Guido reported it. The journalists can then report that 'internet sites' reported it - the plural being quite important because it makes omitting the actual names of the 'internet sites' a lot less ridiculous."

Last time I checked, Guido had some 250,000 readers, but I have to admit that was two years ago. It's interesting to note that McBride's resignation may be followed by that of Derek Draper, who has been set up as, or certainly come across as, the guy Labour put forward to try to emulate the success of the likes of Dale and Guido.

My only 'real-virtual-life' encounter with Draper has been his weird follow-unfollowing-follow behaviour on Twitter, but the other key bloggers in "Smeargate", Guido, Dale and Tom Watson, belong to those UK political bloggers I follow on something bordering on a regular basis (the latter is he of "Government Minister Resigns to Spend More Time With His Blog"-fame, one of my favorite headlines ever, and a man I find it very interesting to follow on Twitter, partly because he also tweets quite a bit about Web 2.0-stuff). Now I must admit at this point I'm rambling a bit beacuse I have my head down in another story I have to get back to, but follow the links for full story and context. I also meant to blog about the spat between Guido Fawkes and Derek Draper on The Daily Politics Show, one of those things I never got around to, but you can check it out here:


I you're unfamiliar with Guido's blog, check this post. Iain Dale and Jackie Danicki have more links to "Smeargate" coverage. Here's a Guardian piece with more background. Update 20:15 CET: I loved Mick Fealty quoting blog sceptic Geert Lovint, a man I don't think I'd normally agree with, on how 'blogging is a bleed-to-death strategy', only to say: "Mr Draper is a PR professional floundering in a world he barely understands, allowed himself to be entranced by the (what Lovint terms) 'banal nihilism' of one particular type of blogging, and now finds himself being bled to death through his own actions," in 'Yes, Derek Draper did get it wrong'

What I've been reading and pondering of late

Obviously, this is not a complete list. Usually I just save my favourite links to delicious, but, since this blog revolves around the many facets of how the communcations industry is changing, here's a few really interesting links to chew on:

Eirikso: "Free, but not that free…" Eirik Solheim's contribution to the blograce leading up to Wednesday's Media Evolution 2009 where they're dicussing Chris Anderson's thought on the economics of free.

Mediainfluencer: "Brand as identity and branding as behaviour",
excellent as always from Adriana on branding and its role in business strategy. "..the bad news for the branding folks is that messages and projections are not what they used to be. The good news is that a company can define its identity and behave according to who they want to be. That sounds like a good trade-off to me."

Richard Burton: Is Fleet Street a Dead End or the New Super Highway? The former editor of the Daily Telegraph online, now managing editor of The JC, on the challenges of getting the Telegraph to embrace the online mindset and opportunities, and on the media future. Richard warned me this was a transcript and as such not entirely accurate, but that the general gist was correct. It does make for fascinating reading (I may still find time to post some of my thoughts on it later).

Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents
Not so much a link to ponder perhaps, but still an interesting development: Reporters Without Borders has published a Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents (pdf, 81 p.), intended for citizen reporters in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. According to Gisle Hannemyr, it provides some rudimentary technical advice on how to to remain anonymous and how to get around certain types of censorship.

How the web is changing newsreading habits

I should perhaps have entitled this post "How the web is changing newsreading habits, chapter xxx", but I've quite forgotten which chapter we're on. In any case, here's an interesting snapshot from Fred Wilson:

The Gotham Gal has been religious about reading the NY Times in paper and doing the crossword as 'dessert' as long as I've known her (28 yrs now)... So this past year, during the presidential election, when she went online 5x per day to see what was going on, you'd think shed have gone to the

But she didn't. She went to Huffpo. And that habit has not changed since early November. She reads the paper in the morning as always and then checks in with her trusted blogs and web news services throughout the day and evening, like the trader who reads the WSJ in paper form on the train in and then hangs out on his/her Bloomberg all day long. I've asked her to post on all the online news sources she checks every day and she just did that. Here it is. .... teaches me some important things. First, the mainstream newspaper reader is just making this transition to intraday news consumption now. Second, they will not blindly follow their offline brand loyalty when they go online. And most importantly, publishing news online is fundamentally different from publishing news offlin
e. Do check out the full post here.

Media and disruptive technology (or why change is so hard for entrenched companies)

What if we were to look at mainstream media's response to social media, such as blogging, thorugh the prism of disruptive technology?

This is an issue I've been mulling over since I heard Espen Andersen's talk on disruptive technologies, open source and mobile at Open Nordic conference in May: how does this apply to media?

Diverse 041

It occurs to me that looking at media and social media through this prism must have been done before - but I haven't come across any such analysis, and, regardless of whether or not such analysis already exist, I think looking a the changing media landcape this way is a very useful thought experiment for trying to understand how big media companies tend to approach disruptive innovations, such as social media. Now, feel free to join me in this thought experiment, I'm just playing around with ideas here, but I think it's a very useful exercise.

What is a disruptive technology?
Espen quoted Clayton M.Christensen's book The Innovator's dillemma (which I haven't read) when describing disruptive technology:

1) your best customers don't want it,
2) it gives poorer performance,
3) if you did it you would loose money.

Core attribute: the incumbent market leader is the least suited to adopt it.

Two examples on disruptive technology listed in Wikipedia:
- Early desktop-publishing systems could not match high-end professional systems in either features or quality. Nevertheless, they lowered the cost of entry to the publishing business, and economies of scale eventually enabled them to match, and then surpass, the functionality of the older dedicated publishing systems.

- The music and movie industries see file-sharing as a very real threat to their livelihood. With technologies like Bittorrent becoming part of pop culture the current business model for these industries, selling physical units, has been completely shattered.

Seeing MSM/social media through this prism
I think sharing news via social media such as blogs, social networks, and microblogging sites also fit the bill here, because

1) your premium subscribers are unlikely to be the first to jump the ship

2) social media, like say blogging platforms and twitter, are often, especially in the first stage(s), less reliable than the big expensive content management systems mainstream news sites tend to run on/ it's cruder and gives less functionality

3) big MSM players are often hampered by their own size, prestige and institutional slowness (for lack of a better word) and utilising these tools effectively from an early stage is easier for a small nimble start-up with nothing to loose.

Also, according to Wikipedia:
"Disruptive technologies are not always disruptive to customers, and often take a long time before they are significantly disruptive to established companies. They are often difficult to recognize. Indeed, as Christensen points out and studies have shown, it is often entirely rational for incumbent companies to ignore disruptive innovations, since they compare so badly with existing technologies or products, and the deceptively small market available for a disruptive innovation is often very small compared to the market for the established technology. Even if a disruptive innovation is recognized, existing businesses are often reluctant to take advantage of it, since it would involve competing with their existing (and more profitable) technological approach."

The Entrenched Player's Dilemma
The latter point leads to The Entrenched Player's Dilemma, which is featured in Wikinomics, as the authors attempted to find out why corporations resisted crowd sourcing and mass collaboration.

"The problem with mature companies is that the very commercial success of their products increases their dependency on them. Making radical changes in the product's capabilities, underlying architecture or associated business models could cannibalize sales or lead to costly realignments of strategy and business infrastructure. It's as though popular and widely adopted products become ossified, hardened by the inherent incentives to build on their own success. The result is that entrenched industry players are generally not motivated to develop or deploy disruptive technologies."

I think we can even take this phenomenon down to the indivual level, rather than look at abstract entities such as companies: "People who have built up power and status in a particular specialty are scared of change that calls the knowledge and experience that got them there irrelevant," says Carrie Lisa Brown in this brilliant post (I'm not so interested in the Jarvis/Rosenbaum dustup described in the intro, but the last five paragraphs give a great description of some of the reasons change in the newsroom is difficult and often met with resistance)

There: I think this is a pretty useful prism for decribing why change is so difficult for many media companies. It's also interesting because describing the obstacles is often the first step towards finding solutions. Most notably, I can think of one media company that has been successful perhaps exactly because, at least to some extent, it has managed to break away from The Entrenched Player's Dillemma - I'll return to that in a separate post later.

Today's food for thought

I stumbled across two great SlideShare presentations that really gave me something to think about today - in the best possible way as they are both quite uplifting takes on the times we are living in (the first via Fred Wilson, the second from Neil Perkin).

Despite the disparate titles, they're also vaguely related:

The Journalist Bailout Programme

If my last post was a bit gloomy, as Ashok was quick to point out, then this solution to current and future media job culls is anything but:

Sixapart, the company behind blog platforms Movable Type and Typepad (which this blog is hosted on), has created its own Typepad Journalist Bailout Programme (via

"If you apply, you'll get a free TypePad account, membership of the Six Apart ads programme which shares revenue on ads on your blog, promotion on and a bunch of vague benefits about being able to manage comments from your phone and such like. I'm sure that will be very helpful in trying to feed your family," says the estimable Jemima Kiss over at The Guardian.

I have to disagree with that wonderfully sarcastic last line of hers. Though blogging can hardly be said to be a quick fix, building a good reputation and a healthy a blog audience takes time, it can be a great indirect source of income.

I'd like to say that I had a well-thought out marketing plan when I set up this blog in 2005: I didn't. In fact, I didn't even set it up myself. A friend of mine got tired of me always blaming my deadlines and lack of time for not blogging and set it up for me with strict orders to get going. In the beginning, it was like a great white canvas I didn't quite know what to fill with, but within a few months I found myself blogging more and more about media and revealed myself to be a media junkie - a revelation that took me with as much surprise as everyone else.

Today, I can't think of any of my jobs and assignments, save a few translation gigs, that have not ultimately come through my blog. Even in my darkest hours as self-employed, when I've lacked the initiative to go out and get new sources of income, work has had a way of finding me - via my blog.

From my early blogging days it has been a great venture of serendipity, and a constant reminder that sometimes we try so hard to get to a certain place that we are blind to all the opportunities around us. In the beginning, I even tried to keep my blogging a secret as it was so far from perfect, and a rather scary venture to undertake because it went so much against my training as a journalist.

It didn't work of course, I think I was "found out" by Financial Times or Greenslade, perhaps via Andrew Grant-Adamson - but it has only created opportunities for me, sometimes despite of myself ( I'd do anything to promote an idea or a story I believe in, but am often rather uncomfortable with promoting myself. However, my blog does that for me - on my own terms).

At this point, I should perhaps admit, that in all my enthusiasm for social media, I made a prediction that didn't come through. In an op-ed for Dagens Naeringsliv, Norway's biggest financial daily, in February last year I said 2007 could become the year when Norwegian media really found its "blogging tone" (perhaps I should be grateful that this is such a prestigious place to write that all premium content, such as op-eds, only is available in Pdf behind a pay wall, hence the lack of a link).

Now, towards the end of 2008, it still hasn't happened, though, much to my delight, I see more and more Norwegian journalists and editors starting personal blogs. Will the looming recession be the famous watershed? I don't know, somehow I can't imagine the union implementing this particular bailout programme in its support schemes for journalists unexpectedly made redundant. But for Typepad it has been such a success that the free offer may end very soon...

Blogger detained as threat to security freed

I was pleased to read this weekend that a Malaysian court had not only ordered blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, whose arrest I blogged about here, freed, but also ruled that the country's government had acted beyond its authority in invoking a threat to national security.

The New York Times rightly pointed out that "Lawyers have long complained that Malaysia’s mildly authoritarian government uses a draconian law, the Internal Security Act, as a tool against political opponents. The act allows for indefinite detention without trial." (via Lars K. Jensen).

But blogger arrests around the world remain a big problem, and despite widespread international appeals, Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer has now been imprisoned for more than two years. It is great however, to see Reporters Without Borders campaign both on Raja Petra Kamarudin and Kareem Amer's behalf. To quote an earlier post: time to make the press freedom day a freedom of speech day?  

Using the social web: an introduction to distributed conversations and the benefits of beat blogging

If you've followed this blog for a while you will have heard me muse on many of these issues before, but these are my notes, in a more coherent form than I had them jotted down, for the talk I gave on Saturday, which was just to set the stage for our seminar on using the social web.

I opened the talk by showing Day of the Long Tail, as it's still one of the best flicks I know for depicting the new media landscape, which I believe presents us both with opportunities and challenges.


Now, I certainly don't believe that getting on the blogging bandwagon is the (only) answer to mainstream media's many challenges, or that all journalists necessarily should blog, but I do think that journalists ignore the social web, and the many tools it offers to do better journalism more effectively, at their peril, simply because other people easily will out compete us at our own game by using these tools - and inability, or lack of will, to use these tools will effectivley will render us impotent and irrelevant in this brave new media world of ours.

Tuning into the virtual pub

It used to be that what was said in the pub stayed in the pub unless some intermediary, such as a journalist, reported it, or someone tipped off a news desk. Today we don't need any such intermediaries, anyone who's there can blog or tweet about it, upload video and photos to say You Tube and Flickr etc. The upside of that development is that I, due to permalinks being searchable, can sit in my office chair and tap into thousands of virtual conversations, even monitor every time people write soup online, or perhaps more conducive for my trade, News Corp. Better still, I can set up agents that do this for me - rather than employ stringers to go to all of these real-life pubs. This development also enables me to effectively "shout" across great distances, such as the Atlantic, for help, and get an answer within minutes or hours if I'm lucky.


This way, as a beat blogger and journalist, I can tap into peoples conversations about a company I follow in all the various countries it operates, and sample the private notes of an influential academic and the latest Whitehall gossip and banter at the same time; track multiple conversations and keep in touch with friends and contacts all over the world, again: without leaving my office chair. None of this constitutes journalism per see, but it's a marvellous starting point for broader, more informed reporting.

Listen to the blog buzz

One example of a story monitoring keywords and companies threw up is this on Mecom trying to buy a group of regionalpapers in Southern France. It started as blog buzz, then El Pais ran a story on it, but I believe I was the first to cover this story outside of France. I worked for Propaganda at the time, so ran a story there first, then blogged it linking up some of the buzz around the story, as Propaganda doesn't encourage its journalists to link.

Using RSS to monitor what is being said online about companies and keywords in this way is great for throwing up story leads and increasing your source pool. As journalists we often end up talking to the same heads all the time, this is one way to cast your net wider.

By linking up blog buzz, as in this example, I also invite or alert people to the conversation, as most bloggers monitor the conversations around their blogs by way of Technorati, Alexa or similar. Twingly, which more and more Scandinavian news sites use, a paid-for-service which links up all the blog posts linking to each of the site's articles, is another way of doing this.

Follow your beat online

So if you're a beat reporter covering say music: track keywords such as the big music companies, band names etc - if you don't know which music bloggers to follow, tracking keywords might also throw up the most interesting blogs on your beat - follow music bloggers - and over time you'll also learn who to trust, what's their biases etc. I've written a guide to evaluating your online sources here, which I believe isn't that different from evaluating real life sources (in Norwegian)

This will also enable your publication to work closer with the various communities it serves and become more relevant and important to those communities as a result of this. If your work is online, it will also enable your site to become part of a broader distributed conversation; which again will create opportunities to increase traffic and revenues through better distribution, increased credibility and more targeted, or rather relevant, marketing

On distributed conversations

If I attempt to explain, to myself as much as anybody else, how blogging and reading blogs is useful, if not invaluable, to me as a journalist, or as a human being for that matter, it comes down to distributed conversations. Or, to use Doc Searls' more powerful metaphors: snowballs and fires.

In the framework of my blog it works like this: I write about a company like Mecom in Norway and another blogger adds a German or Polish perspective, another tips me off about a story I might find interesting in my comment field. Or I write about a law I find worrying - in this instance a new French law banning non-journalists from filming acts of violence - another blogger picks up on the thread, in this case Dave Winer (other side of the Atlantic) and asks a hard question or two, a third does a video interview to clarify the situation and adds some very valuable thoughts on what impact the law might have on regimes in Africa, and another cool person analyses the law in a comment (follow-up here).

ZuckermanAndLoicInterview copy

'This is where snowballs and fires come in. The story of the French law I blogged about an example of snowballing. Famous blog fires: Kathy Sierra, Dell Hell etc.

Now, I'm not going to go into how to deal with blog fires or potential blog fires here, but in essence it's worth keeping in mind that the Web is a conversation. Join in: adopt a relaxed, conversational tone. Admit your mistakes. The beauty of engaging in online conversations successfully is that you don't have to be trained to do it; it's a type of communication you already know. And whether or not you're good at it has nothing to do with communication skills, but with respect for others and with some good manners (I'm paraphrasing Adriana Lukas here).

My favourite example of how to defuse critic effectively in the online environment: the brilliant parody on virtual world Second Life, Get a First Life, and how the company behind Second Life, Linden Labs, dealt with an invitation to submit a cease and desist letter.

GetAFirstLife copy

Now, that's a quick introduction to how tapping into the social web can be useful for journalists, but we've been so lucky as to get Colin Meek, who's much more technically advanced than me, to give us a crash course in using Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 tools for in-depth and investigative research (check Colin's slides here). Then Heidi will show us how mainstream media's efforts to enlist readers to take part in creating journalism went - what worked and what didn't. We conclude with a debate: should media care about conversations on platforms other than their own?

On the topic of using the social web, Carsten Pihl also alerted me to this post (in Norwegian) on what journalists miss just by keeping an eye on media folks' conversations on Twitter.

Using the social web, Oslo 25/10 - live notes

I'm so happy to see so many find their way to #socialweb so early a Saturday morning (see previous post for twitter feed).

Using Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 tools for investigative and in-depth research

Colin Meek: Web 2.0 tools fantastic tools for journalists to monitor their beat, especially Not like Facebook where you can only network with people who'll accept you as friends, with Delicious you can follow all people whose bookmarks you like. You effectively create a network of experts who monitor your beat for you (see Colin's slides on this here)

Furl: archives copies of entire page, delicious saves links, furl saves entire pages. 

Track breaking news with Twitter. People often twitter about events as they happen or straight after, remarkable tool. California wildfires a breakthrough for twitter coverage of events. Covered this here

# developed as way of tracking an issue on Twitter. Twine and Twemes add additional functionality.

As a reporter you should really use all of these tools to help monitor your beat

Colin: "I'm getting fed up with all this fuss about information overload. What's the fuss? Yes, there's information overload, deal with it. If you feel overwhelmed you're not using RSS - and if you are using RSS you haven't set your filters properly."

Search social networks

Use advanced Google operaters to refine your Google searches. Use Google to search socialnetworks such as Beebo: site:Bebo inurl:memberid inurl:Bebo (see Colin's slides on this here)

When using advanced operators you have to think differently, have to think like the documents you are trying to find, do what some call forensic surfing. Big privacy issues connected to all the info you can find using these search techniques, but we can do it because we are professional journalists, can use this information responsibly - but big concerns related to this.

The Semantic Web

"Social media sites are like data silos" said John Breslin  when Colin interviewed him for .

The semantic web is about linking up different clouds of information, has profound implications for journalists. Practical consequences of semantic web: can search Twitter, Facebook, Technorati, Bebo etc simultaneously. Will be like a snowball, once people get used to this, will come to expect it and think what's the use of say Twitter if it doesn't allow you to do this.

Twine makes searching much easier, just released from beta.

Semantic Radar is a free Firefox plugin to alert you when you come across a website where the metadata underpinning the semantic web exists. Headup another application that layers useful information on top of the page you're using.

Indice and SWSE search engines worth knowing about, but need to be semantic web expert to use them really efficiently.

Don't know of anyone using this for search yet, but think it will come.

Open Calais another interesting application, a smart way to tag (or keyword) your archive in a way that makes sense to the web (developed by Reuters). Search Monkey is Yahoo's foray into the semantic web. These kind of sites and the technology underpinning it are something we'll see more and more of, but the privacy issues connected with this are huge.

Do people know that some of their information may end up on the semantic web, say if they choose the wrong privacy function on Facebook? Journalists need to keep talking about the implications of this (See Colin's slides on the semantic web and journalists here)

Anders Brenna to Colin: Isn't one of the biggest problems that media is so far behind on everything that's happening, so behind the curve? Colin agrees completely, says: What sets journalists apart from citizen journalists and bloggers is a certain skill set: like investigative skills, training in ethics etc, that's what sets journalists apart. I believe this is what can save the newspaper industry and something the industry should invest more in.

See also Ingeborg's comprehensive bilingual notes from the first half of the seminar here.

Update 29 October 2008: I've blogged my notes from my talk this day on "Using the social web: an introduction to distributed conversations and the benefits of beat blogging" here.