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I had a stimulating series of email exchanges with an Ottawa Citizen journalist intern today on the topic of using Twitter as a source to obtain public reaction and sentiment. I’m seeing reliance on tweets creeping in to copy on an increasingly regular basis as news operations like the Citizen try to do more with less.
I’d like to hear your views on this.
First, have a look at the story, printed on page 2, lower left, in prime real estate, headlined: Team Sinclair or Team Rosie: Ottawa reacts to flag-bearer choice

Ottawa Citizen: By Karen Chen, OTTAWA — When the Canadian Olympic Committee announced women’s soccer team captain Christine Sinclair as the closing ceremony flag-bearer early Sunday morning, social media exploded wi (See the full text at http://www.ottawacitizen.com/sports/2012-summer-games/Team+Sinclair+Team+Rosie/7079873/story.html)

After reading the story, I emailed Karen and asked her these questions:

1) I can understand quoting tweets from the athletes, but why is what anyone else tweets (or blogs) now considered a legitimate source? Or news?
(2) What criteria do you use to choose which tweets are used in your story?
(3) Do you verify the identity of the twitterers before including
them in your story?
I realize social media has changed the way news is reported, but I would appreciate your views on these questions.”

Karen got back to me within minutes by phone and explained she’d been assigned to do a reaction piece, as she was told the topic was heating up on Twitter. As reporters always are these days, she was under deadline pressure and opted to use Twitter and a
blogger as her exclusive source, rather than the old tried and true method of heading to a sports bar and interviewing patrons.
She ran it by one of her journalism professors who said this:

“Twitter is, it seems to me, just an easier way to collect sentiment
than ‘man on the street.’ And it’s not scientific: God knows the people who post may not represent real life, which was the point of that LA Times reference; but it’s no less scientific than ‘man on the street’ or any other form of collecting info. Newspapers/media doesn’t have time to scientifically poll; when we want to capture what people
are thinking, Twitter is a fine shortcut. And as long as we make it clear that’s where it comes from (and therefore may not be scientific), why not?”

The LA Times article can be read here:
://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/showtracker/la-et-st-critics-notebook-olympics-20120813,0,7386914.story

My response:

“Thanks Karen. I don’t necessarily disagree with your professor’s views. It certainly is a new way to gather a kind of sentiment and do it quickly. And while some folks in the industry judge it as lazy reporting, still others would deem it necessarily efficient in the era of lean newsrooms.
But I think we need to do a better job of helping readers trust that we’re reflecting TRUE sentiment. Your LA Times piece alludes to that:

‘”By the end of Day 1, if the social media was to be believed, the coverage was an unmitigated disaster, with American viewers howling their disappointment as they learned results from events that had not yet been televised. Except that it wasn’t and they weren’t. Or at least not really.”‘

I would argue that going to a pub (or any other public place for that matter) adds another and more trustworthy layer of credibility to the streeter. You’re face to face with a person and it’s a mini-interview, so there’s something at stake to be lost or gained by the interviewee. The sentiment gathered is bound to be more nuanced and thoughtful. When a person tweets or blogs, they are making a declaration of opinion at that second without the benefit or hindrance of reflection.
Have you ever tweeted something quickly then had a second thought immediately after sending it that you should’ve added or removed something? I certainly have. And you’re a journalist-in-training. Imagine the millions out there who don’t really put their brain in gear before turning their thumbs loose!
Bots can gather and quantify social media sentiment for us, if that’s what editors want. And they can do it faster and even identify tweets that are followed the most. Only humans can ask and see the full spectrum of reaction and sentiment when it’s required to be reflected. And then counter-react if necessary if the sentiment demands follow up.
All of this said, I love Twitter as a new tool for reporters, but like any tool, we need to use it responsibly. We also need to understand when what’s being tweeted and by whom is actually newsworthy. What Stephen Harper tweets about Canada’s flag bearer is news that clearly should be reported. But Sharon McCarney? Or anyone else without the benefit of perspective and knowledge? It’s certainly public opinion but without proper newsroom guidelines (which the Citizen does not have), you’re left to figure it out on your own.
That’s a hefty weight to put on the shoulders of any intern, no matter how talented she is! And you are to be commended for doing the best job you could do under the conditions.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

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As another incentive to subscribe to this embryonic blog site, I will be posting journalism job opportunities I think are of particular interest to Algonquin College journalism students and graduates. Check in regularly or subscribe to feeds to stay on top of the latest career opportunity!

Here’s a couple to start things off:

PAID REPORTING INTERNSHIP, OTTAWA CITIZEN

The Ottawa Citizen requires a one-year reporting intern, to be paid at the Guild contract rate.

The Citizen’s year-long internships are intended for journalists or recent graduates who are just beginning their careers. Understanding and embracing emerging technologies, including social media, reporting skills and fluency in other languages, especially French, are definite assets. A driver’s license is mandatory. Shift work and weekend work are involved.

The Citizen gives its interns an opportunity to learn from experienced reporters and editors in an environment that is encouraging but challenging. Some previous interns have won national and international awards for their work.

IN ORDER TO BE CONSIDERED FOR THE POSITION, RESUMES — WITH UP TO 5 SAMPLES OF PUBLISHED WRITING — MUST BE RECEIVED BY THE HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENT, QUOTING JOB #11-034, BY 4 P.M ON FRIDAY, NOV. 11 at The Ottawa Citizen, Human Resources Department, 1101 Baxter Road, Ottawa, Ontario. K2C-3M4. email: hr@ottawacitizen.com

Applications received without the job number quoted will not be considered, and it is the applicant’s responsbility to ensure that all relevant experience and/or skills are identified on their application. Only information provided on the application/resume re knowledge, skills and ability will be considered. Only those applicants considered for the position will be contacted.

ONLINE EDITOR:
BUSINESS IN VANCOUVER

Business in
Vancouver
, Vancouver’s leading weekly business journal, seeks an Online Editor with a new media mindset and a high energy level. This position requires someone who is
detail-oriented and resourceful, and who can find creative solutions to
challenging problems on tight deadlines.

The Online Editor will play a critical role in the growth and evolution of our web presence by leading the execution of key editorial initiatives that will engage the audience and enhance the user experience, helping to further Business in Vancouver as the leading provider of business news and information in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

The role will report to the Publisher of Business in Vancouver.

Responsibilities:

The Online Editor will be an integral part of our news operation and will collaborate with reporters and editors on production of the website and related products.

Daily responsibilities will include:

  • Publishing and managing all editorial content on biv.com throughout
    the day
  • Creation of web-friendly content
  • Writing engaging, search-friendly headlines, stories and news
    summaries
  • Tagging and organizing content
  • Monitoring and moderating user comments
  • Helping develop online audience, user engagement and user loyalty
  • Act as the chief “evangelist” for biv.com in the local business
    community

Qualifications of the Ideal Candidate:

  • 5+ years journalism experience in both print and digital news media
  • Strong interest in business news, trends and issues
  • Strong writing and editing skills
  • Experience working to deadline
  • Experience with website content management systems