“Weird and aimless”: that was David Mitchell’s summation of Twitter in his extremely witty must-read column in last Sunday’s Observer.
His brief description went as follows:
‘It’s a website where you express what you’re currently doing in 140 characters or fewer and that gets sent to all your “followers”; similarly, the “tweets” of those you “follow” are relayed to you – and you can do it on your phone, laptop, BlackBerry, iThermos or rape alarm.’
Pretty much sums it up. But the great thing about it, is it keeps coming up with new uses. For example, I discovered this week it provides an excellent living, breathing research tool for journalists.
How? Well, later this week I am flying out to Iraq to spend some time reporting on the work of British troops in the closing days of Operation Telic; the advent of control being handed to Iraqi troops. Now I’ve only been given short notice of the visit – well 5 days to be precise – and that’s hardly enough time to dig through A. Leo Oppenheim’s Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilisation.
I need the facts and I need them fast. But as well as reading up on the basics of the Iraq occupation, I need to be following the latest news and developments before I head out. That’s where Twitter comes in. With Tweetdeck installed, I have had constant updates on all the chatter involving “iraq” and “basra” for the last 3 days. I know who’s talking about it, and when big news stories happen they appear as news feeds.
Best of all it’s live, it’s fresh.
For those that would come back saying Twitter is not a reliable source – well, actually if the sites it links to like the BBC and CNN are reliable then what’s the problem?
And on that whole “reliability” issue, well let’s go back to David Mitchell – he sums it up perfectly:
‘…readers should always question the veracity of what they read and the motives of whoever wrote it, and in the internet age more than ever. People who allow themselves to be made credulous by stylish typesetting and a serif font are screwed. And if Wikipedia, while being very informative in most cases, teaches a few lessons about questioning sources, then that’s all to the good.’
Let’s not forget Twitter as a good tool for collecting information, as well as publishing it.
I’m leaving very shortly; in the likely absence of any internet connection in Iraq this will be the last blog for a week or so…
Newspapers, television and radio – the rule is simple: embrace the internet or die.
Newspapers were the first to feel the cold breeze of death standing nearby. Now papers from the Guardian right down to local titles run regularly updated websites, often complemented with video coverage.
But commercial radio – not for the first time – is standing on edge of the swimming pool, tentatively dipping its toes in, while the others are doing underwater cartwheels. Visit any local commercial radio website and it is distinctively web 1.0. The focus is “what comes out of the speakers.”
But new communities are forming. People don’t just make connections with the box in the corner of the kitchen anymore.
As a whole, and as individual groups and stations, radio needs to act. Now.
What can it do? Well the wonderful world of web 2.0 offers a whole host of options and ideas for the digital prospector; here are a few. For as many as possible I have tried to include real examples.
This is the first and the most obvious web option. But news editors across the land please don’t just copy and paste 3 line cues onto the web. It doesn’t make the viewers journey there worthwhile, and you don’t write online text like you write radio cues. If this isn’t an option, at least take the time to remove radio-isms like spelled out numbers, typos, pronunciation guides and the word “sez”. Here’s an example of how Real Radio do it in Wales.
A well maintained and updated blog can create a new channel for presenters to connect with their listeners. It can reveal the ‘off air’ side to their life, and make listeners feel a closer connection. Features and competitions can be plugged too.
The same thing goes for a newsroom blog. A chance to show what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ of the daily newsroom operation. Appeals for stories and interviewees could turn it into a goldmine. Similarly it must be regularly updated, and must use platforms like WordPress to ensure a Google ranking, tags, meta data and comments. Mercia FM in Coventry were an early adopter. Sadly the blog looks abandoned since October, and it didn’t contain any RSS feed.
Tweeting during shows gives followers the inside scoop on what’s going on in the studio. Most of all it gives listeners a free way to respond to on air elements. Text revenue might take a hit, but interaction will boost. It works particularly well on ‘getting-the-listener-to-suggest-ideas’ features. According to the Media UK twitter table, Radio 2 DJ Jonthan Ross has 106,000 followers and Chris Moyles has 66,000. There are more than 164 radio presenters registered.
An automated system can tell music fans what your station is playing now and next. Imagine if you just saw your favourite song was about to be played on XYZ FM. Wouldn’t you click on a link to listen online? Q-Radio based in London have their own playlist twitter-feed.
The only reason these haven’t become a stable of commercial radio, like they have with BBC radio, is resources. In honesty though, making podcasts is so much fun, it’s hard to see why programmers aren’t gagging to put in an extra hours work once a week.
Big events and news stories should be given their own specific pages, with background information, extra facts, audio downloads and advice on where to go next. Key 103 in Manchester has developed an excellent page on cervical cancer in response to Jade Goody’s terminal diagnosis.
I believe this is a massive growth area for radio news. Practically it’s not possible to send a reporter out with both a microphone and a video camera and hold them both. But a small digital camera plus some cheap Slide Show technology can give your station the edge when a big story rolls round, and create something memorable.
For the reasons mentioned above this will likely remain a rareity. But it shouldn’t be disregarded altogether. Radio Aire in Leeds produced a report on the Karen Matthews case as the verdict was announced.
Connect your traffic and travel data with google maps and show your listeners where the snarl ups are. The CN Group started this in 2008 and it looks great.
A big issue affecting your listeners? Get an expert in to answer questions, during a live webchat. As well as giving presenters something to talk about it gives your station an authority over a particular issue. At Viking FM we got a local financial expert to answer questions from listeners on the credit crunch. Lots of on air plugs and we got a good response.
Thankfully this obvious way of generating original news content is being used all over the shop. In my previous life, working at Touch Radio, I used to run a daily news poll on the big issue of the day and run the results as an add-on to the story in the 5pm news.
A design overhaul
Turn listener communities into virtual communities
Imagine if listeners could register on your station website and set up their own profile? They could build their own community of fans of a particular show, swap pictures, get heads up on competitions and all that.
The next best thing for this is to create an effective, regular and well run Facebook community. Thinking outside the box reaps rewards too. After launching a Facebook campaign to save a presenter from suspension, Viking FM then gave everyone who’d joined the group free entry to a local nightclub. Even before the nightclub announcement more than 3,000 people had joined.
Just a taste of the sheer numbers of people out there – if stations would just reach out and touch.
It seems there’s no abating it’s popularity at the moment. Twitter is having it’s ‘moment’ in the UK, forcing its way into the public consciousness.
This week we’ve become more aware of radio realising the potential of the micro-blogging service. In the last 2 weeks there’ve we’ve seen stations and presenters dip their toes into the Twitter-pool:
- At radio 1, Scott Mills, Greg James, Fearne Cotton and Chris Moyles have all started using it.
- Even their newsreaders, like Dominic Byrne and Hannah Morrison have got in on the act.
- Birmingham station BRMB now tweet updates from the newsroom
- And Jack FM in Oxfordshire have been doing it for ages
- Presenters on the Touch Radio network in the midlands have been ahead of the trend too.
- BBC Radio Five Live’s Up All Night began tweeting last night
- At my own workplace Viking FM, we’re setting up the service to use from next week.
So what potential does Twitter hold for radio in the UK? Well, I think programmers have two choices. Do they have a ‘station’ twitter which updates listeners on station news, competitions and is used by everyone from presenters to journalists?
Or should each presenter create their own twitter profile and develop their own community around themselves?
Either way, Twitter offers some awesome opportunities to connect with listeners, and crucially interact with them. Presenters can reveal a little of their personality off-air (but they must be sure to respond to as many messages as possible), to build up the relationship.
During weather-events, as they like to be called, they offer a quicker way to update listeners on school closures than the website. They could even be used for traffic and travel updates and news headlines.
Unsurprisingly commercial radio is a step behind it’s BBC rivals, who seem to have realised the potential a little quicker. But the twitt-ability of the audience shouldn’t be underestimated.
The argument’s already been made “but how many of our listeners use twitter?” Well maybe not many right now. But the numbers are growing.
And you never lose points for getting in ahead of the curve.
Non-retail/business sites on the internet find it difficult to make any money.
And news never makes any money. So combined, websites offering news content are usually loss makers.
Except for one:
Well…OK it’s not a news website. Instead it asks its users to gamble play money on how actual news events will pan out.
“Hubdub has raised £810,000 in funding from a mix of angel investors, software venture firm Pentech and the Scottish Co-Investment Fund.
“This new round of funding will support more partnerships; at the moment those sites have a page on Hubdub, but the startup wants to extend that to other news sites to make a lightweight ‘powered by Hubdub’ feature available on external sites.”
Great news for startups. But what can journalists learn from this? Well if anything it’s that with sites like this community is king. It’s the ability to interact with other users which sees a quarter of a million people log on a month, not news.
And also the importance of having a good fundraiser on your team. I bet £800k from a mix of investors took a lot of slog on the ground.
Oh, and out of curiosity, I’m giving it a go – bet against me, I’m called NewsJedi.
Just a quick one to say I’m leaving the UK for the next couple of weeks for a rather less festive Christmas!
I’ll be in India, and rather than blog, I’ll keep you updated (where possible) via Twitter
Happy New Year!
Apparently there’s a moment when you ‘get’ Twitter.
I haven’t reached it yet, but go on – add me!
The BBC have carried out some research into how the modern homo-sapien consumes its news. They asked a load of people to keep a diary noting everytime they checked up on the news, and how they did it.
Steve Hermann writes about the results here.
Interestingly, their researchers described each person as having their own “news eco-system”: ‘where an individual might read several papers, hear news on the radio, look at various websites and/or TV channels for news’.
Well I hope that pattern isn’t news to the BBC.
But that’s an interesting term, and got me wondering what my news-ecosystem might look like….
0630: BBC 5 LIVE - DAB radio, in bed – to find out the headlines and who’s saying what
0800: Viking FM – DAB radio, in bed – to see what stories I’ll be sent out to cover that day
0830: Radio 1 – radio, in car – to get an idea of how Newsbeat are tailoring the news for their audience.
0900: Scan through the local papers, plus Mail, Mirror and Sun - to get an idea of what our listeners are reading.
Mid morning – a catch up with the big stories online. I also check Media Guardian, BBC News Online, NY Times. I also get email alerts from various sources.
All day – brief glances at Sky News in the office. I’m also drip fed news via IRN’s wire service.
1330 – BBC Look North – to see what the opposition are up to; inevitable plug of Peter Levy’s show.
Evening – check up on social news: Facebook, Google Reader/blogs and Twitter all tell me what people I’m interested in are up to.
1900 – Channel 4 News – but these days for just a few minutes. On Friday’s I love Unreported World.
Evening – alternative news sources if I have time: Current TV
There you go – I count 17 different sources (20 if you breakdown all the local papers, 50 if you add each blog). Each one consumed for no more than 5-10 minutes, and each one I select, chew and spit out as I please.
So what could be a useful conclusion for the future of news? It can be alternative. And it needs to be short.
What’s your eco system? Post below, and maybe we can give David Attenborough a ring!