Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

These tweets early in the San Bernardino shooting Wednesday attracted a lot of media attention, including a blog post from me last night and the initial version of this post (most of which will be retained here, with updates noted):

shooting tweet 2

shooting tweet 1

As I noted in both posts, this was either an eyewitness who could provide helpful accounts for reporters working on a breaking news story or a prankster playing the media. She answered tonight:

it was a prank

I exposed the media

“Marie’s” success included a telephone interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and a bogus “Gamergate” reference in an AP story that was published online by the New York Times.

My own original version of this post raised doubts about her. But I concluded she was probably legit (but I said wouldn’t use her tweets in a breaking news story without a phone interview). We never had a phone interview (though I gave her my number), but I thought my analysis of her media interactions fit well in the context of a blog that addresses media issues. Despite some passages that are now embarrassing, I think most of it holds up as valid analysis. I hope it improved after the liar started boasting about the hoax.

Let’s be clear about several things here:

  1. You can call it a prank, “Marie,” but it’s also a lie. That may make you smarter than some journalists, but you’re still a liar.
  2. Exploiting a tragedy for fun and laughs is lower on the scale of humanity than whatever you think media do in seeking to interview witnesses to tragedies. Enjoy your end zone dance, but I think you should attend the funerals of each of the San Bernardino victims whose deaths gave you such glee.
  3. “Marie” didn’t expose “the media.” She exposed a few media outlets (albeit some big ones; more on them later). As far as I can tell, most journalists who contacted “Marie” didn’t use her story. Some told me privately that they were skeptical. I will be asking them if I can use their time-stamped expressions of skepticism, all before her victory tweet.

Another important point here is that this may not be a one-woman (if “Marie” is, in fact, a woman) hoax. Shortly before she started her end-zone dance on Twitter, I had a direct-message exchange with a possible co-conspirator (unless this is another lie) who had posed as a CNN reporter early in her exchanges with the media. Some other fakes (detailed below in the original post along with the fake-CNN reporter) might also be co-conspirators.

Here are my DMs to and from “Paul Town,” the fake CNN reporter:

Town

Paul Town 2

Paul Town 3

For what it’s worth, I don’t think you fight for ethics in journalism, by lying, so that’s just another lie. I did note Marie’s tie to Gamergate, a running controversy over sexual harassment and conflict in video game development, in the original post.

Some journalists were skeptical from the first

Andrew Seaman of Reuters first called Marie to my attention by direct message Wednesday night, noting this tweet from Brian Ries of Mashable:

Ries

He elaborated in direct messages Wednesday night after my initial post, which focused more on the San Bernardino Sun’s breaking-news coverage, but reported his doubts:
Ries 1

Ries 2

Later in the original post, you’ll see several journalists who tweeted at Marie, asking for interviews. In most cases, I can’t see any indication that the journalists used anything from Marie, so I think skepticism was widespread, though obviously not universal.

Reported.ly, which specializes in real-time reporting from social media, and produced a social-media timeline of the San Bernardino shooting considered and rejected Marie’s tweet. Reported.ly chief Andy Carvin explained the decision to me in a Facebook message (I add the last names and Twitter profile links of the journalists he referred to by first name):

I just took a look at our chat log; we discussed the tweet in Slack. Kim Bui found it, then noted she hadn’t used it. I suggested we take a close look at the timestamp to see what if anything we could glean from it. Malachy Browne urged caution and noted it was the first time the user had ever mentioned San Bernardino. So we moved on and left her on the cutting room floor.

Monday update: Browne elaborated on Twitter:

Malachy Browne tweets

Gadi Schwartz of NBC LA reached out to Marie (you’ll see his tweet below), but told me later by DM that the timeline “seemed fishy so i quickly moved on.”

Scott Schwebke of the Orange County Register asked Marie to contact him, but eventually decided not to use anything from her:

Schwebke tweet

Shortly before Marie began gloating about her lie, Seaman, chair of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee, expressed strong skepticism in a Twitter DM:

Seaman DM

Who fell for the story?

While lots of journalists backed away, Marie did successfully troll some of the biggest names in the media, using the names “Marie Christmas,” “Marie Port” and “Marie A. Parker” in various media reports:

CNN

On CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, the host interviewed “Marie Port” by telephone Wednesday night. I have asked CNN spokeswoman Erica Puntel for an explanation of how Cooper and/or his producers vetted Marie before putting her on the air, and will update if I hear from her.

I can’t find a clip of just that segment from Wednesday night on Cooper’s show site and don’t plan to watch the whole episode to catch that interview on an official CNN video. (I suspect CNN will ask YouTube to take the clip below down, so I’ll embed the video, followed by a screengrab):

AC360 screengrab

Marie and her friends commented on Twitter about the interview. I used those tweets in the original post and left them in place if you care to read that far.

Associated Press

When a liar suckers the AP, that means potentially 1,400 newspaper members and thousands of broadcast members might have used the story.

Here’s an archived version of the AP story of “Stories of those who survived mass shooting in California,” which included this sneaky reference to Gamergate:

The woman said he had a strange emblem on his shirt with the letters GG on it.

Friday morning update: AP Vice President and Director of Media Relations emailed me this bulletin, saying it was sent to members about 8 p.m. Thursday:

AP kill bulletin

The current AP story has a correction at the end:

This story has been corrected to eliminate the testimony from Marie A. Parker. That person has publicly retracted the statements.

I would prefer a stronger description than “retracted.” That person (whose name most certainly isn’t Marie A. Parker) is gloating about pulling a hoax on the AP. The correction should note that AP fell for a lie and quoted someone fictitious.

gloating over AP

And in that spirit, I should note that Marie gloated about me, too:

Marie trolls buttry

New York Times

While most AP members probably didn’t use the story (that’s true of most AP stories; every member selects a minority from a huge budget of news coverage), the New York Times did, and that prompted gloating from Marie and her friends/followers:

NYT gloat

I understand the Times story occurs as an automatic feed from AP with no Times handling. The Times story did not carry the correction when I updated this story late Thursday, but it carries the AP correction Friday morning.

Times Standards Editor Phil Corbett emailed me:

As far as I can tell, that story was part of the automated feed of AP (and Reuters) stories that readers can access through nytimes.com. Those stories are not selected or edited by Times editors. Corrections to them, when needed, are handled by the AP.

The Times did write its own story on a hoax involving a possible suspect’s name, but I’m not going into that here.

International Business Times

The International Business Times, quoted “Marie Christmas,” saying she lived in “La Puerta, Calif.” The story didn’t say whether they communicated by phone or Twitter DM. I can’t find any tweets between them. Google Maps shows a couple California businesses in the San Diego area named La Puerta, but not a community by that name. La Puente, Calif., is about 50 miles west of San Bernardino. I’ve asked IB Times contacts for explanation and will update if they respond. At 11:30 p.m. Central time Thursday, the story was not corrected.

Jay Dow

New York TV reporter Jay Dow of WPIX-TV made the best media mea culpa:

Jay Dow guilty pleaWhat’s left of my original post

Pieces of the original post have been moved up and updated. I don’t unpublish without a good reason, and embarrassment isn’t a good enough one. So here’s what’s left of what I posted Thursday evening shortly before Marie started boasting about the hoax. I will note some updates and add comments on where I am pleased or disappointed with what I originally wrote. But it’s all here, unless I moved it up and updated:

Eyewitnesses who tweet about horrible news events can be important, willing and helpful sources for journalists covering breaking news.

All journalism ethics codes stress accuracy and verification. Coverage of breaking news has always tested journalists’ ability to verify information in a hurry. The 2006 Sago mine disaster in West Virginia, well into the digital age, but at the birth of the social media age we’re experiencing now, resulted in inaccurate front-page banner headlines and late-night broadcasts trumpeting the “miracle rescue” of 12 trapped coal miners. It later turned out that only one miner had survived. The mistaken source in that story was then-West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin.

Unfolding breaking stories today often call on journalists to vet lesser-known sources, such as “Marie Christmas,” whose tweets above offered journalists a chance to connect with an actual eyewitness, while awaiting those official reports (which, as the Manchin case reminds us, can be mistaken).

Breaking news stories have always required journalists to try to connect with eyewitnesses, some of whom want to talk to us and some of whom don’t. Asking them for interviews can be difficult, and sometimes a single witness will attract a media horde. Crude bunch that we can be, journalists (and our sources, too, I suppose) sometimes call this horde a clusterfuck. Which might be a good time to warn you that I’m not cleaning up language for this post. The rest of the F-bombs won’t be coming from me, but mostly references to journalists in the media horde.

When journalists try to verify that people actually witnessed events they have tweeted about, we can be annoying, even insulting. Verification — and media inquiries in general — can be an uncomfortable. Even when we’re doing good journalism we can be intrusive and we have to be skeptical.

Before I was able to ask “Marie Christmas” about what she saw and experienced Wednesday, I mentioned her (though not by @JewyMarie username or the obviously fictitious name on her Twitter account) in a post yesterday about breaking news coverage. (If you don’t want to read or reread the full post, just search “eyewitness” at the link above and you’ll find the section where I mentioned her tweets and why Brian Ries of Mashable raised questions about whether she was an actual witness.) I believe Ries’ concerns were valid and thoughtful, but I won’t elaborate on them again here.

Update: Yeah, this paragraph is embarrassing: After closer examination, I believe “Marie” (she used the last name Port in a CNN interview) actually was an eyewitness, even though I’m not sure we know her true name. I saw the red flags that prompted Ries’ concerns. But I saw many reasons to believe she was a true eyewitness. She had interactions before, during and after the incident that convince me strongly of her legitimacy. This will be a long post, with about 50 screenshots of tweets among Marie and friends, strangers and journalists. Some of the tweets will repeat ground I covered yesterday, but with screenshots this time, rather than just quotes.

I didn’t use screenshots last night because Marie had taken her Twitter account private. I asked to follow her (you can’t read tweets from a private account unless the user accepts you as a follower). She accepted my request and after our discussion by direct message, I have decided to use screenshots of tweets from, to and about her. She has decided to speak publicly about her experience yesterday, and I think her direct messages and Twitter exchanges illustrate some points about breaking news coverage and verification, as well as about the toll journalism can take on sources and how some of the public views our work.

Interspersed with the screenshots will be my comments. I won’t use screenshots that address some personal matters Marie tweeted about before her moment of fame, but those tweets contributed to my belief that she’s legitimate. We’ll start with my direct-message exchange with her:

DMs 1

I normally wouldn’t ask someone that bluntly about verification and whether she was actually there. A phone call would have allowed more gradual and polite vetting, some basic questions about who she was, etc. But since we were communicating by Twitter, I got to the point more directly. I also had already given her a link in which I discussed reasons for skepticism about her specifically. So I got to the point. I think you can detect irritation in the messages below, and I understand and respect that response. If we have more exchanges, I will add them to this post.

Second DM string

She has not DM’d me since, which I understand, but since she had answered questions and had done an earlier interview, I decided to grab screenshots and use her Twitter exchanges.

Clearly, she was right about her birthday. Before her birthday lunch, she got lots of greetings from Twitter friends:

happy birthday

birthday 1

birthday 2

Long birthday

birthday plans

chef boyardee

The birthday greetings don’t verify that Marie witnessed the shooting. But they do identify that the person who tweeted about the shooting is a real person with real friends who knew it was her birthday and acted friendly toward her. All of that could describe a prankster. But I’d be more suspicious of someone with a fairly inactive previous Twitter history. Marie is active and lively on Twitter. This looks like someone who would tweet if she saw something terrifying unfold on her birthday.

Plus, the tweets identify lots of friends you could contact for verification. Some might connect you with Marie directly. Some might have been at the birthday gathering and shot their own photos of it. I didn’t try to contact the friends, but would have if I were covering a breaking story. I did check their timelines and didn’t find anyone who had been at the birthday gathering, but also didn’t see anything suspicious. They appeared to share interests and personality traits. One tweeted about hearing Marie on CNN that evening. Update: Trying to contact the friends directly would have certainly raised suspicions. 

CNN tweet

Of course, that could be amazement about a friend being on CNN to discuss what she witnessed. Or it could be amazement that a friend pulled off a con. More on the CNN interview later.

As I noted yesterday, Ries saw concerns in Marie’s timeline: (Update: I used this screengrab up higher, but decided to leave it in its original place, too.)

Ries

Sarcasm is a frequent tone in Marie’s timeline, and nothing I could see before Wednesday indicated any connection to San Bernardino (as Ries noted in a direct message). And I saw tweets about pranks, though they seemed to be appreciation for pranks by others, not a pattern of playing pranks herself. I saw valid reasons to wonder about the authenticity of Wednesday’s claim. But I have no doubt this is an authentic person’s oft-used Twitter account, even if the name is fictional. Frequent interests of Marie are Anime, video games and the Gamergate sexual-cyberharasssment controversy (in which Roguestar is a figure):

anime

videogame

samurai jack

Roguestar

Marie Christmas, media star

I have taught thousands of journalists in recent years to use Twitter to connect with eyewitnesses to breaking news events. My first blog post on the topic was six years ago this month, noting how slow media organizations were in catching up with a survivor who tweeted immediately and extensively about a Denver plane crash. I have used that example in dozens of workshops, seminars and classes.

Back then, watching carefully on Twitter was a certain path to a scoop. Update: In teaching verification techniques, I noted that the survivor’s username, @2drinksbehind, should be a red flag, as Marie’s obviously bogus name was. But his timeline provided more help in verifying his authenticity.

Well, today someone who tweets from the scene of a breaking story gets plenty of media attention, more than I noted in yesterday’s post. Marie received multiple inquiries from some news organizations (it’s not uncommon to have lots of journalists working a story this big and duplication is difficult, if not impossible, to prevent).

I am messaging the journalists cited here in a variety of ways, before and after I post, and will update if they respond.

New York’s Gray Lady and tabloid Daily News both wanted to talk to Marie:

NYT

NYT 2

NY Daily News Fairfield response

More shortly on John Fairfield and others who objected to journalists seeking interviews with Marie.

reuters

This next inquiry came from the Chicago Tribune. Of course journalists should emphasize safety over media contact, as Scott Kleinberg did here:

Kleinberg location

Update (after initial publication but before the hoax-boasting started): Kleinberg, social media editor for the Chicago Tribune, send this detailed explanation of his Twitter approach to possible eyewitnesses (before the hoax was revealed):

First and foremost, I’m a stickler for accuracy. My tweets about this situation were careful … using official accounts, etc.

Maybe you noticed that I sent an angry tweet with all caps to the general world telling them not to tweet verbatim from the scanner. Ever since Boston it’s been a thing and it drives me mad.

With , I had a few thoughts at the time. Remember … I’ve been live tweeting in one form or another since 2008-2009 so I’ve learned a thing or 100 along the way. First thing: Never tweet and provide email addresses or phone numbers. That makes you look desperate and I bet it’s what attracted those naysayers.

They say be careful and launch into the contact thing so it seems disingenuous. I was careful to put safety first and let her know that we’d love to talk to her but I didn’t want to put any specifics out there yet.

Right or wrong or helpful, those other journalists don’t realize how much perception matters. So for me I immediately thought of telling her to stay safe … I do that when I ask people to tweet weather photos so I’m all about safety.

I figured that if she responded, then I’d go into the deep verifying and ask her a whole bunch of questions. In the meantime I was looking at her feed and trying to get a sense for who she was. I instantly thought she was young and in high school based on the subject matter, the lack of capital letters and next to zero punctuation. I’d guess a senior in high school as some of the friends wishing her happy birthday had 15 in their Twitter handles, which I believe is their graduating year.

At that moment I just wanted to make the connection. And I wasn’t looking per se to talk to an eyewitness, but I just happened to catch hers and the tone resonated where I wanted to reach out. The people who put in phone numbers and act desperate often send the same tweet to multiple people and that adds to the desperation even more.

Kleinberg did not get a response from Marie, but I like his thoughtful approach. I’m not opposed to tweeting a phone number, but I think he makes a valid point. I know many journalists who’ve gotten great interviews (and been able to vet sources effectively) that way. But perhaps that was more effective before today’s Twitter media horde.

Update: After being informed of the hoax, Kleinberg added:

Kleinberg DM

MSNBC invited a phone call. You can vet a source better and more politely over the phones. Phone numbers may be a your-mileage-might-vary situation:

msnbc

NBCLA Gadi Schwartz

This next inquiry is from the Daily Beast. (I recommend that journalists reaching out to news eyewitnesses identify themselves in the tweets, rather than counting on the person to check your profile to learn who you are.)

Daily Beast

Even a Russian media outlet wanted to talk to Marie:

RT producer

Multiple responses here. I’m not sure why I haven’t been able to see ABC producer Ali Ehrlich‘s tweet to Marie. More shortly on some of the others, but this string shows the horde Marie was attracting.

Media responses

As this next tweet indicates, Marie was not going to be easy to interview (clearly a red flag in retrospect, though some journalists, as noted above, backed away in part because of the lack of a phone). The “Buzzfeed Afghanistan” inquiry is clearly a fake, but the media inquiry at the end of this string was legitimate.

No phone

Backlash to media inquiries

John Fairfield, mentioned above, was the most consistent scold of journalists seeking interviews with Marie. But he had plenty of company:

CBS News Campa Fairfield response

Fairfield ABC responseKaty Conrad CBS response

KCBS response

KNBC thread

roaches

Update: Jenna Susko of NBC LA says:

I messaged with her but did not use it.

Fake fake fake

Merry Fyrsmas, included above in a string of legitimate media inquiries, does not appear to be an actual journalist, nor is Fyrasec News, which she cited, an actual news organization (or one you can find on Google, at least). I suspect this is a friend, mocking journalists’ inquiries of Marie.

Fryasec Fairfield response 2

Update: @Fyrasec confirmed my conclusion:

Merry Fyrsmas

The inquiry below appears to be a fake, too. Merry Coyote’s link in the Twitter bio is not to a political blog and I could not find such a blog. Might be a friend of Marie’s mocking all the media attention. Or just a stranger joining the clamor.

Crazy Coyote

The question below appears like something an actual journalist might ask, but the inquirer doesn’t identify himself and discloses in his Twitter bio that the “Counterspin Central” blog he once authored is no longer active. Hesiod Thogony, whether a fake or real name for this Twitter user, has its roots in antiquity that I don’t care to read about.

Hesiod theogony

A fake CNN reporter

CNN Paul Townjpg

Though Marie did eventually appear on CNN, this inquiry is a fake. CNN reporters and producers are pretty easy to Google and I can’t find any indication of a CNN employee by that name. Here’s the top of his Twitter page:

Paul Town profile

And the tweet pinned at the top of his timeline:

Indonesian boy

And the home page for paultown.com, the link from his Twitter bio:

Paul Town.com

Nothing there looks like a journalist. Erica Puntel from CNN PR confirmed by email my conclusion that he’s a fake. Will update if I hear from him. (If he follows me back, I’ll DM him questions. If not, I’ll tweet at him when I post this, inviting comment. The blog has no contact information that I can find.)

Update: “Town” followed me back and I’ve added our DM exchange up high. He’s the guy (if he’s male) claiming a “secret cabal” of media trolls.

Actual interviews

Marie later exchanged tweets from an actual CNN reporter:

CNN Hanks Farifield response

Update: Hanks would not discuss his interactions with Marie. In fairness it should be noted that he is a CNN digital writer/producer, and I could not find any references to “Marie” on CNN.com. Hanks does not produce for Anderson Cooper 360, the CNN show where Cooper interviewed “Marie Port” by telephone Wednesday night, as I noted earlier in the updated post.

The reaction to the Cooper interview seems to indicate friends regarded it as legit. In retrospect, some, if not all, were clearly in on the hoax:

cnn interview 1

Anderson Cooper

Marie and her friends wound down the evening with light banter.

verified accounts

She summed the day up:

fuck

I think if she would have gotten in touch with me on deadline, I could have verified pretty quickly that Marie was a valid eyewitness and tried to use and verify her real given name. I wouldn’t have used her tweets in a breaking story without talking to her, though. Update: I’m glad I originally said that I wouldn’t use the tweets without talking to her. And, given the fact that she was lying, I’m certain I would have been able to determine that if we had ever talked on the phone.

I feel comfortable using them here because of our Twitter exchange and the context I am providing. The work I spent on this blog post was way more than you can spend on one source in most breaking news stories.

Here were my last DMs to her (I have not heard back, but will try again and update if I do).

final DMs with Marie

I’ll update with responses, if any, from Marie and journalists I have messaged (and will continue messaging; sometimes sending the link to a published post brings a response).

Post script

Verification HandbookAs I’ve noted in earlier posts about identifying mass killers, I don’t like indulging attention-seekers, and these trolls clearly relish attention, even if for their fake names. So it sickens me to feed that disgusting behavior with this much attention. But journalists covering breaking news should learn from our mistakes. I made mistakes in my initial analysis of this episode, and other journalists made bigger mistakes. So I wrote this long, long updated analysis in hopes of making it harder for trolls to exploit tragedy, and journalists’ challenges in covering unfolding breaking news.

I suggest reading my social media verification tips (I may need to reread them myself, and update). I also suggest reading the Verification Handbook. In my chapter of that book, I used (and explained the history of) one of journalism’s favorite clichés: If your mother tells you she loves you check it out. And if someone with a phony-sounding name tells you anything, double-check and triple-check it out. Or move on to a more credible source.

One final point: This hoax was clearly rooted in Twitter, and social media have given liars and pranksters new tools. But media hoaxes way predate social media. Journalists have been interviewing teen-age boys named “Heywood Jablome” (say it out loud; the kids always spell it for the gullible reporters) for decades.

Friday evening postscript

If you’ve made it this far, you might find the comments from trolls below interesting. Fascinating patterns: Moral indignation about failings (some of them valid, obviously) by the media but completely clueless about how cowardly they appear hiding behind bogus names and how completely lacking they are in integrity, as they trumpet lying as a perverted tool of digital vigilantism. I responded to a few, because I respond to almost all commenters here, but I’m going to stop. I generally delete comments from trolls, because they are so clearly seeking attention and I don’t like to indulge attention-seekers. But they seem appropriate here, showing the psychology of the lying troll better than I could describe it.

Update: Of course, I spoke too soon. Right after I posted the paragraph above, a troll lied in a comment, so I deleted it. You can defend lying here, but I won’t tolerate new lies. Find somewhere else to troll. And another update: No sooner did I post that last update than the same troll posted another long diatribe with more lies. I’ve deleted his/her entire thread, including my responses. This was the most active troll in the comments, but I think enough others remain to illustrate the points I’ve made above.

Read Full Post »

Southern California media has done an excellent job, from what I’ve seen, of reporting the mass shooting in San Bernardino using liveblogs and social media.

This post is my early and admittedly incomplete assessment of coverage that is still unfolding, and I fell behind in following the story as I worked on the post, so it might reflect early developments better than later ones. I admit a bias on this topic: I visited the San Bernardino Sun and taught liveblogging, use of social media and other digital skills to my former colleagues at Digital First Media there and throughout the Los Angeles News Group, where journalists pitched in on today’s coverage. I’m proud of what I’ve seen of their performance. I watched their work more closely than anyone else’s and will unapologetically focus on it more.

What I’m going to do here is identify and show examples of best practices (and some not as good practices) in covering a breaking news story on Twitter and a liveblog. In a separate post tomorrow, I’ll curate a debate I joined with some other journalists about covering these unfolding stories. Update: Twitter embed codes don’t seem to be working in this post right now, but if you click on the date in the block quotes for tweets, that should take you to the tweet.

This blog post will continue to unfold, as the coverage does, after I initially post. I won’t mark any updates unless the correct the original post.

Report what you know

sb sun facebookYou can and should report important facts, with attribution, as you confirm them. Early in a story, the facts may be vague and impartial, the attribution no more than “reports.” But be as specific as possible within each tweet and in the flow of your coverage. (more…)

Read Full Post »

I taught a class Monday in data visualization for Josh Grimm’s In-Depth Reporting class at LSU.

I’m no expert in data visualization, but I studied the use of interactive databases for the American Press Institute in 2008 and my students experimented with a variety of data viz tools last spring in my course on learning interactive storytelling tools. (I’ll add some links to the students’ posts on data-viz tools later, but I want to get this published now and I won’t have time to add links until later.)

My point in this class is that you can tell stories lots of different ways using data, and that you can teach yourself pretty easily how to use some effective data viz tools. I admire the skills of some data specialists I know, and hope some of our students will follow them into that specialty. But I hope every student (and professional) journalist develops data skills to find and tell stories routinely.

Examples I used in the class (and a few I didn’t have time to use):

Thanks to Kyle Whitfield, Mark Lorando, Tom Meagher, Maryjo Webster, Daniel Tedford, Kevin Dupuy and Michelle Rogers for providing these examples.

I collected information from the students using a Google Form and used it to create some data visualizations about the class using Infogr.am and Google Maps. I was running out of time and rushed through these pretty quickly, but you can make pretty simple graphics quickly using these tools. I elaborate a bit more here on some of them.

I wasn’t able to embed the resulting Infogr.am graphics in my free WordPress blog (they should embed on most websites). Here are some screen grabs of the graphics (with links below to the interactive versions):

Infogram devices

You can see the interactive version of the graphic on devices here.

This pie chart, I noted, would be more effective with graduated shades (perhaps yellow to red) than the random colors assigned to each number:

number of devices

In a graphic about the students’ use of social media, I tried different data viz tools offered by Infogr.am. This line chart didn’t work for me (though it might work for other detail). An effective graphic makes a point quickly and this one requires some study:

infogram line graph

This horizontal bar graph also took a bit of work to understand, but quickly shows that the most popular social tools with the students are Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and that the students aren’t using Foursquare at all. The graphic on devices was filled out later, when I had 26 responses instead of 24.

I deliberately didn’t update this because it actually illustrates some points you need to check in doing data visualization: The data need to be accurate. My first take of this didn’t have fully accurate data: You can see that I only have 23 responses, instead of 24, on Snapchat and Instagram. Actually, I had 24 responses at the time, but failed to double-check my data before uploading it for the graphic. These are the kinds of errors you need to avoid and double-checking you need to do both before uploading data and after finishing a visualization project.

infogram bar chart

The most effective graphic on social networks, I thought, was this layered pie chart, where you can (in the interactive version, not the screengrab below) see how differently students use the social tools. It would have been more effective, though, with a gradual color scale, perhaps with yellow for 1, orange for 3 and red for 5, with shades in between at 2 and 4. But I was trying to show how quickly you can make a simple graphic. That’s the first step in data visualization. I’d expect such improvements in subsequent projects.

infogram pie chart

Moving to Google Maps, I quickly imported information from the spreadsheet of student responses to create a map showing where the students were from (that embed works here):

During the class, Deanna Narveson did a quick data viz project on social media engagement by Louisiana gubernatorial candidates:
https://public.tableau.com/javascripts/api/viz_v1.js

Dashboard 1

Here are my slides from the class:

Read Full Post »

Six times last week, I taught a class that I first presented last spring when I was interviewing for my current job at LSU: writing for social media.

In the context of a beginning “Media Writing” class that we require of all Manship School of Mass Communication students, I teach the techniques of good writing in the context of social media. While my background is strongest in journalism, I apply the points of the class to other specialties within the Manship School: political communication, public relations and digital advertising.

This is going to be a long post, probably helpful only to mass-comm teachers (or last week’s students who would like a review). But that’s who I’m writing it for, and it’s long because I want to invite you to use some of my slides and points in your classes and/or to invite me to cover these or similar points in your own classes or in a workshop at your university or a conference. Of course, I could adapt the presentation to a professional audience, too.

I will tell about the class mostly through the students’ tweets. At the opening of the class, I assigned students to tweet about my points, ask questions on Twitter, make observations, etc. during the class, so they would be applying the lessons as they were learning them.

Many of my slides from the class will show in the students’ tweets. I will supplement with some of the actual slides that didn’t make it into their tweets. If you want the full slideshow (which I’ve already updated since the last of this week’s classes), I’ve posted it at the end of the post. I welcome and encourage teachers to use the materials here however they are helpful, or to contact me to discuss how to teach this topic in your class.

I’ll add context here and there, but mostly the students will tell the story:

Platform shapes the writing

I start with a discussion of how the nature of a social platform and your audience there shape the writing on the platform: the privacy of Snapchat, the professional nature of LinkedIn, the heavily female user base of Pinterest, the 140-character limit of Twitter, etc.

Social media writing basics

Part of my introduction covered some principles of social-media writing that apply in all situations.

I admit it: I did shout “Squirrel!” in one of the classes to illustrate the many distractions people face as they multi-task social media use into their days.

How to handle opinions

We also discussed how importance context (and your bosses’ expectations are) in learning whether opinions are encouraged, allowed or forbidden in your job.

Writing for memes

Before discussing specific social platforms, I discussed writing for memes, which appear on a variety of social media (and teach writing lessons for a variety of professions).

I always plan to update slides before a class where appropriate, and last week’s World Series win by the Kansas City Royals gave me some great memes to share along with the class (I wore my 2014 World Series t-shirt to Monday’s classes).

A note on updating old examples or visuals for a class or workshop: When I did this class last spring, I used some Rand Paul memes. Ben Carson and Donald Trump hadn’t yet risen to prominence in the Republican presidential race. I updated my slides for last week with memes about both. I’ll use the Carson memes in a later post about how he’s playing on social media and in professional media.

Error pages

I used error pages as another example of social-media-style writing in other contexts than social networks. For instance, the error pages of Clinton‘s and Marco Rubio‘s campaigns use humor in attempts to turn the error-page experience into an opportunity to volunteer or hear the candidate’s message:

Slide23

Slide24

Writing for Snapchat

Now we’re into the actual social tools, starting with Snapchat (which the students know much better than I do).

Gathering material to write about

Though the course is about writing, I point out how closely writing and reporting are entwined. Making some points about using social media to gather material for writing, I use some examples from earlier blog posts about how the Denver Post used social media to get a great story and photos about a mountain lion staring a cat down through a glass sliding door in Boulder and a hard-news story about rape and victim-blaming in Torrington, Conn.

I shared Andy Carvin‘s search tip for breaking news stories:

Visuals are important in social-media writing

In social media, I noted, words and your creative use of them can have a visual effect with or without photos:

The tweets above refer to some creative use of returns and a screengrab from a court docket by the Boston Globe’s Hilary Sargent in her coverage of the Dzhokar Tsarnaev trial last spring. Here are two of my slides from Sargent’s tweets:

Slide49

Slide54

I show some examples of strong breaking news coverage in tweets:

I talk about how Twitter can help tell an unfolding story:

I tell how Brian Stelter used text messages to tweet the story of the Joplin tornado when he didn’t have enough cell signal to make a phone call or access the Internet.

Twitter helps your writing

I tell how Twitter’s 140-character limit can help your writing:

Even in long writing, a succinct point is important

Toward the end of the class, I make the point that even in longer writing, such as books or political speeches, they should use social-media writing skills to make a memorable, brief point. I use those slides separately in an accompanying post.

‘Be your best self’

In the questions at the end of one class, I passed on this advice from a friend (though I couldn’t remember who). If this is your line, please identify yourself and I will credit accordingly:

Other students’ tweets

We wrap up the course reviewing the students’ tweets and praising them for some that illustrated the very points I had been teaching. You’ve already seen some of the best, but here are some others that I liked:

I don’t actually plan to boast/complain of being blocked, then later whitelisted, by Twitter for tweeting too much. But someone asked whether there was a limit on how much you could tweets, so I confessed to hitting the limit back in 2012:

Unrelated advice on posting photos in social media

If  you look at most of the photos posted above, they could use some tighter cropping. I’ll confess that I don’t edit all photos that I post to social media. The swift posting of live-tweeting in particular doesn’t allow much time for editing photos and keeping up with the story. But editing doesn’t take long. I’d say a quick crop and adjusting the brightness of a dark photo are usually worth the time.

Slides from the workshop:

Read Full Post »

In a series of posts nearly five years ago, I made the point that some of the great wisdom of the ages fit easily into tweets. I made the same point in some classes last week, noting that even in long writing forms, such as books or speeches, you should make key points briefly in memorable lines.

In my slides for the class, I imagined how some historic speeches or books might have been summarized in tweets:

FDR tweet

 

Anne Frank tweet

JFK tweet

Rachel Carson tweet

Martin Luther King tweet

Ronald Reagan tweet

What else?

Suggest some other imagined tweets from historical writing such as books and speeches, and I’d be happy to add them here (and possibly use them, with credit, in future classes and workshops).

The rest of the class

As noted above, these tweets come toward the end of a class about writing for social media. I review the full class in an accompanying post. Here are the slides for the full class:

Read Full Post »

Pew mobile graphic

Graphic from State of the Media 2015, Pew Research Center

I try not to say “I told you so” here (in fact, I just checked and the phrase never appeared on this blog until now).

But, as I read the State of the Media 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, I am struck by the growth in mobile advertising, from $416 million (with an m) in 2009 to $19 billion (with a b) in 2014. In five years, that’s an increase of 4,500 percent, and mobile advertising has surpassed print newspaper advertising, which is just under $17 billion.

I told you so. Back in 2009, when smartphones were still new, tablets were not even new yet and no one dominated mobile advertising, I called for news organizations to pursue a mobile-first strategy. We had a chance then. Digital giants like Google and Facebook were fumbling around in mobile. We could have and should have been the mobile leaders in our communities and in digital media.

I advocated making mobile the top priority at the company where I worked in 2009 and subsequent companies, and publicly on the blog and at media conferences. Maybe I provided a nudge here or there to increase mobile awareness, but I can’t think of a single legacy media company that became anything close to mobile-first.

Pew’s 2010 State of the Media report (covering 2009 developments), not only didn’t have any sections dealing with mobile, the word didn’t appear in the overview, major trends or online summary essay. The only reference to “mobile” in the key findings section was to distinguish Internet radio from using radio in your car.

In this year’s report, the lead is: “Call it a mobile majority.” The report focuses heavily on mobile media and notes that 39 of the 50 leading digital news sites get most of their traffic from mobile devices. And the report tells who’s dominating mobile advertising: Facebook, Google, Twitter, Pandora and Apple combine for 64 percent of mobile display advertising. Not a news organization in the group.

By the way, Google’s CEO at the time, Eric Schmidt, proclaimed a “mobile-first” strategy in February 2010, less than three months after I urged news organizations to take that direction. Guess who moved faster and smarter down the mobile path.

My point here is not to boast, though I will do that later. I think the opportunity was obvious back then and I wasn’t particularly insightful to notice it. My point is to help colleagues in the news business learn from a huge mistake and pursue similar opportunities if they exist now.

Opportunities in 2015

So what are similar opportunities now? I don’t see anything with growth potential as huge and obvious as mobile and social media were six years ago. Someone smarter than me might see opportunities I don’t list here, but these are areas with potential to grow in use, with possibilities for news and revenue:

Wearables. The Apple Watch has made a splash but doesn’t seem to be the must-have multi-use product that the iPhone became when it debuted. Google Glass didn’t take off, but I suspect some glasses-like product will return. Fitness devices are popular, but it would take a big change in their use to provide a significant opportunity for news and advertising revenue. I think these products and other wearables that may follow together present an opportunity for news organizations. But you need to move quickly and creatively or the tech companies will dominate here, too.

Location. I still think location-based news, advertising and commerce remain an area with great potential that no one has mastered yet. (I had hopes for Foursquare, but it never took off the way I thought it could.)

Transactions. This was a huge failure of the thinking of news organizations, which thought narrowly about advertising and subscriptions as the ways you made money. News media companies would be healthy now if we had developed effective local digital marketplaces that sold products and gift certificates, made reservations and otherwise make local cash registers ring (beep, actually, but some clichés don’t update). I think local transaction-focused advertising and local search (which should go together) still hold potential, though giants such as Google and Amazon have snapped up some of the opportunities I used to see there.

Social media. News organizations have mostly done a miserable job using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram to engage their communities, expand their audience and generate revenue. They can certainly benefit from improving their performance with those established social tools. But if social media presents a huge opportunity today, it’s probably in some newer tool such as Snapchat, Yik Yak, Periscope, Meerkat or something yet to come out (with a limit of one post per day, I don’t see a great opportunity for news organizations in This.).

Video and podcasts. We still have not developed all the video possibilities for content and revenue. And, as the Pew report noted, podcasts are making a comeback.

Live coverage. Few news organizations have embraced live coverage routinely, as I have advocated, and fewer still have made serious, creative efforts to develop the commercial possibilities of live coverage (including entirely commercial live content).

Memberships. I have always thought membership was a better way to get community revenue than paywalls. We’re seeing some small membership efforts, but I think we can do more.

Events. News organizations are working on developing events as a supporting revenue stream. I doubt they can become the primary source for many news operations, and the bigger they get, the more they present potential conflicts between promotion and news coverage. But they need mention here as a revenue source that can and should grow.

Native advertising or content marketing. I put this last not because it has the least potential, but because news organizations are working harder on this than some of the others. I don’t think we’ve developed all the possibilities here, though, and I suspect that potential advertisers don’t really need news media to get these messages out. Public-relations and advertising companies and corporate communication departments are working on reaching potential customers directly with their messages, and I suspect they will succeed more and faster here than news organizations will.

What other areas have potential that news organizations should explore? I’m sure I am missing some.

Just as mobile received scant attention in the 2010 Pew report, don’t look for a lot on these topics in the 2015 report. Only podcasting gets its own section. Pew reports annually on how the media are (newspapers continuing to decline, mixed results for TV, yada, yada), and the media aren’t pursuing any of these opportunities aggressively enough.

My mobile vision in 2009-10

Six years ago this week, when I published my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection, a vision for a different kind of media company, I cited the important of the mobile opportunity in my introduction:

We need to look at mobile opportunities and email opportunities as well as print and web. And we should watch for new opportunities as new technology presents new ways to connect. We should explore every possibility for providing people the news and information they want when they want it, whether that means email, text message, RSS feed, Twitter feed, social media, iPod, game device, GPS device or some other way of interaction.

In retrospect, my original C3 plan should have had a stronger mobile emphasis, though mobile opportunities were clear in parts of it, such as my suggestion about driving. The urgency and potential of the mobile opportunity became more clear to me later in 2009.

On Aug. 31, 2009, I called on newspapers to help local businesses pursue mobile opportunities. I said we should take the lead in developing mobile coupons and other forms of mobile commerce:

We need to devise ways to help local businesses sell their products and services to people on the move. We need to teach local businesses how to connect with people who are always connected. We need to develop mobile formats for news content, community information, databases, calendars, advertising and other services for users and for businesses. …

We spend too much time reliving the mistakes we’ve made in the past. Let’s not make mobile one of them.

By Nov. 20, 2009, my “mobile-first strategy” had taken clear shape:

News organizations are belatedly, reluctantly and often awkwardly pursuing “web-first” strategies. As we fight these web battles, I am increasingly coming to believe that “web first” is what the military would call fighting the last war. News organizations need a mobile-first strategy. …

We can’t waste that much time in mastering the mobile market. We need to start thinking mobile first. Now. The world is moving swiftly to smart phones and we can’t afford to be as far behind this time (in truth, it’s too late to be ahead, but not too late to pursue opportunities that can lead us to a prosperous future). We need to make mobile innovation the top priority and the first thing we think of when we plan change in our organizations.

(I should note that web-first meant content would be published online before in the print edition, and that the organization should start thinking first about the web, though most didn’t, regardless of what they were saying. When I say we must shift to a mobile-first strategy, I’m not talking about where content appears when, but about the priorities of the organization: what you place first in your thinking and acting.) …

If we wait until nearly everyone has some sort of smart phone, someone else will be filling the roles that we can and should fill. …

Whatever your role in your media organization, consider how you would change your work, your priorities and your thinking to support a mobile-first strategy. This will either be our future or our next squandered opportunity.

My next mobile-first post elaborated on how news organizations should change their work and structure. Here’s part of what I said about technology, sales and marketing:

Technology

… Don’t think of apps just as devices for delivery of your content. Apps should become a revenue source, too. Just as newspaper and television companies help business customers produce advertisements for their products, a mobile-first organization is going to help business customers develop mobile apps to promote their businesses and sell their products and services. Many of the aspects of the mobile-first approach will require shifting resources from current print, broadcast or web operations to mobile operations. But development and deployment of commercial applications will produce revenue to support eventual expansion of mobile operations.

Development of commercial applications will need to stress applications whose content can be updated easily by merchants. For instance, if a local pizza parlor has an application for ordering pizzas for pickup or delivery, the operator should be able to update prices or add new ingredients or menu items easily from an office computer, so that applications will update automatically when a user next opens the pizza application.

Sales

Sales staffs need to listen to consumers and businesses and learn how to help businesses serve the mobile audience. In the early stages of a mobile-first organization, sales efforts will be focused heavily on educating and training business customers on mobile opportunities and our organization’s role in connecting businesses in our community with mobile customers.

Traditional advertising was intrusive and often unwelcome. You open your newspaper to continue reading a page-one story and photos of women in bras attempted to catch your eye about the lingerie sale at the local department store. Or you tune in the evening newscast and ads for local car dealers shout at you between the news reports. We still need to sell those ads because they deliver value for businesses in traditional ways and because they are the revenue streams that keep us operating today. But mobile revenue will keep us operating tomorrow and, as I have blogged before, we need to learn how to help businesses pursue mobile opportunities.

Mobile commercial content will be convenient and responsive, rather than intrusive. Search advertising provides the answer that the potential customer was seeking. Location-based advertising should not be intrusive or people will devise ways to turn it off. Our community apps and sites need to provide location-based tabs such as “shop nearby,” “dine nearby” or “nearby entertainment.” The user can ignore those tabs if she knows where she wants to go and just wants information on parking, for instance. But a user who clicks on such a tab welcomes our help (and the help of businesses paying us for access to these customers).

As described in the C3 revenue approach, we need to be sure we don’t fall into the trap of focusing just on advertising. Some of the best mobile opportunities will go much deeper than simply delivering business messages to an audience. We may make the sale, using a customer’s credit card (or possibly an account with us that taps into a credit card, checking account or prepaid balance). We may make a reservation or enroll a user in a class or a business’s preferred customers club. We may send the business an inquiry from the customer.

We also need to be careful not to use just a single mobile tool, such as a mobile web site or iPhone application. Some businesses may want to sponsor breaking news alerts, reaching the text-message audience with a link to the company’s web site or to its enhanced listing in our business directory. Some may want to sponsor a podcast or an email newsletter, reaching people wherever they access email.

Sales staff will need training in how mobile opportunities can work and how to teach a local business to pursue those opportunities. While we need to be willing to invest heavy sales staff time in landing accounts and in training businesses to use their apps, we also need to design self-serve mobile accounts that the business customer can change and update after we get them launched, as described in the pizza example in the technology section.

We need to develop pricing that helps businesses use our mobile services. We can’t discount services that we know will be valuable. We need an affordable base rate, with most of our pay based on performance as we deliver for our business customers. For instance, in the pizza example, we need to charge a reasonable fee for development of the app. But most of our revenue will come from pizza orders (of course the app needs to record orders accurately for both us and the business customer). We may collect the revenue ourselves from customers’ debit and credit cards, taking our cut before we pass most of it along to the pizza parlor. Or the merchant may collect the money (in this example, we might want to leave an option of paying cash) and we invoice for our fee. Or we may use a third party such as PayPal to handle the transaction.

More and more, we need to sell customers into a full range of services. We sell them an enhanced listing in the business directory, so we can connect them with customers searching for the services they offer. We help them determine the best way to use our services to move the customer toward the transaction or to actually make the sale. We sell them location-based premium listings. We develop an app for them and help them deliver the app to the phones (or other devices) of the right customers. Yes, web, print and broadcast advertising will be part of the package for some customers, too, but we can’t just call on our usual suspects. Location-based advertising will appeal to some merchants who haven’t been interested in reaching the full community through a newspaper or TV ad, but absolutely want to reach the person who’s nearby at lunch time.

Marketing

News companies know how to market newspapers and newscasts. We shouldn’t stop marketing those products and our web sites, but the mobile-first organization will have a mobile-first marketing department. The community knows about the legacy products and will continue to find them with a reduced marketing effort.

We will need an aggressive (and vastly different) marketing effort to tell the community about all the ways we serve your mobile audience. The effective marketing strategy needs at least a two-pronged approach: sophisticated and witty to alert the savvy mobile customer to our services and simple and educational to teach the new or confused mobile customer how many jobs we can help her with. …

We need to work aggressively in sales channels to get our apps onto people’s phones. Obviously we need to use iPhone’s App Store. We also need to connect with local retailers selling phones and other mobile devices, perhaps offering free apps that introduce and promote our apps or offering to load our package of apps on each phone sold (perhaps as part of a deal that includes advertising for the retailer). We can offer classes in the community on how to use our location-based services and our applications. …

I continued on the theme in 2010:

  • I suggested an idea for a mobile project news organizations could undertake to engage their communities effectively on mobile devices with news and revenue opportunities. I had proposed the project for Gazette Communications and the 2010 Orange Bowl, where Hawkeye fans would be in Miami in large numbers, out of reach of our newspaper and TV station, but carrying their phones. The company didn’t give it a try. I outlined the idea publicly and on the blog for the 2010 American Society of News Editors conference, but I’m not aware of anyone who tried it. I followed up the post outlining the project idea with a Q&A from questions the editors asked.
  • I used Gordon Borrell’s projections for growth of mobile revenue (they were actually conservative) to show how huge the opportunity was.

More recently, I stressed the importance of mobile in my advice for new Digital First Media editors and in Project Unbolt and in the INMA’s Culture Change blog. But culture changes slowly, and I can’t point to a legacy media organization that has excelled in mobile the way that it should.

I wish I saw an opportunity today as huge as mobile was in 2009 and 2010. Without a doubt, Google, Facebook, Apple and the other digital giants were going to seize huge chunks of that $19 billion. But news organizations had a chance to beat them into the mobile space and grab a big part of a revenue stream that has surpassed newspaper advertising.

We acted too timidly in our pursuit of mobile, and we spent energy on defensive measures such as paywalls. I’m not saying the opportunity has passed. But catching up usually isn’t as lucrative as leading the way.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 15,740 other followers