My notes from the BBC Social Media Summit
I spent much of today at the BBC Social Media Summit, and thought it worth putting together a few quick notes on the things that stood out for me.
Nic Newman and social media research
First off, I thought Nic Newman’s research on the use of news content within the social media sphere looked really interesting. I was particularly drawn to his statement that in the 2011 OxIS survey, for the first time ever we are beginning to see a slight decline in the usage of search. He had a graph that showed that whilst time spent on news sites was staying relatively static, time spent on social media destinations was rapidly increasing. Time spent using search was one of the areas feeling that squeeze.
Esra Dogramaci and the “Al Jazeera revolution”
I was very impressed with Esra Dogramaci from Al Jazeera, who handled with great composure and diplomacy some very hostile questioning over the station’s role in the “Arab spring” uprisings. One question suggested that Al Jazeera was being irresponsible in encouraging citizens to use social media tools in brutal regimes where it might get them “disappeared” if they were exposed. There seemed a widespread concern that Al Jazeera wasn’t simply reporting events, but was intertwined with them.
Esra was adamant that their role was to amplify the voice of the people, saying that if you went to the social media channels and their was no unrest there, there wouldn’t be a story to report. She also issued a strident challenge to other news organisations:
“If you are not out there telling the truth, and your reporters are not being arrested, then you are not doing your job.”
Liz Heron and social media at the New York Times
Similarly impressive was Liz Heron from the New York Times. Their team of journalist/developers and approach to social media have rightly been praised. She explained that as an experiment they were shortly going to transform their main @nytimes account into a fully human experience without the automated headlines being pumped through it. She also made the excellent point that journalists seem to have found a natural home on Twitter, which makes it easy sometimes for our social media strategies to ignore the much bigger potential reach and wider engagement on Facebook.
Liz showed the New York Times Oscars vote page, which used Facebook Connect to allow readers to compete with their friends over predictions. She used the phrase “gamification” and one tweeter, Alex Bath, asked “where is the journalism?”. I can see why it isn’t news, but I do wonder if you might as well ask “where is the journalism in having a crossword?”.
Christian Payne and “new tools, old skills”
There can’t be many people who can honestly follow up saying “Like many people I found myself shouting at the telly in anger about the Iraq War” with the sentence “So I got a flight to Turkey and then a taxi into Iraq”.
But Christian Payne can.
Subbed in at the last minute for Joanna Geary, he gave a passionate contribution to a panel session, not least because he argued that one problem with the relationship between “the mainstream media” and “social media” is that our approach on impartiality requires journalists to remove their own emotions from a story. It is, Chris argued, the emotion that builds the rapport with the people you are reporting on.
He felt that established journalists could be doing more to help bloggers like him who “sometimes stumble upon acts of journalism” work more within the established framework to get better stories. Earlier my Guardian colleague Meg Pickard had stressed that whilst technology was bringing about big changes and a huge challenge, it was basically “new tools for old skills”.
I think Chris reminded us that there a still a large number of amateur or semi-professional people who have access to the “new tools”, but don’t always have the training or the access to learning about the “old skills” which have served journalism for hundreds of years.
Twitter faux pas
If you were following the #bbcsms hashtag on Thursday you’ll know there was a bit of a Twitter kerfuffle over the use of the Chatham House Rule on day one. Today there was also an example of a retweeted quote getting distorted, as Raju Narisetti was widely quoted as saying the Washington Post would not hire people without Twitter or Facebook accounts, which wasn’t quite exactly what he said.
I didn’t tweet much today myself, but I did manage to cause my own little social media faux pas by mangling a quote from Andy Tedd and implying that he had said that all of the innovative new media people had left the BBC. He had actually said that those of his age/generation had been stifled out of the organisation, which is quite a different thing altogether. My apologies.
“Does that scare you?”
There was a great question from the floor in the first session, by someone whose Twitter name I didn’t catch. They made the brilliant point that whilst the BBC had all this great recording equipment in the room, and were hoping to turn the video around and publish it “within a couple of hours”, he had just filmed a part of the Q&A session on his phone and published straight to the web, much more quickly than any news organisation could do. “Does that scare you?” he asked.
There is definitely an issue of speed in our industry, particularly around the pace with which we can develop new technology products, but there are also some massive advantages that mainstream media organisations have which I think we underestimate at our peril. The thing is, even though I was in the room, I didn’t hear the guy’s twitter account name, so whilst I can find video of the day in abundance on the BBC College of Journalism website, I cannot find the clip he uploaded to link to it.
Mainstream media organisations currently retain mass audiences, brands that stand for particular values that have huge cultural resonances in the places they publish or broadcast, and have managed to accrue massive link equity and findability through search.
I still think that should scare everybody else.
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