I gave Twitter the big build-up during Journalism Technologies this week, echoing Emily Bell’s memorable statement that it’s the most significant invention for journalism since the telephone. I’ve been saying something similar since I first started teaching at universities five years ago.
Back then, I used to say then that while Twitter probably wasn’t going to remain the key journalistic tool it had become, it was something students had to learn to be successful in 2011. And I can still say the same now. Despite Twitter’s many boardroom battles and other business woes in the years since, it’s still an essential part of a media professional’s daily life.
That corporate strife was a theme of much of the lecture I gave on Monday. The origin stories of these major tech companies can be instructive about the sort of operations they have become: Apple at the intersection of technology and art like Steve Jobs, and Google where engineers like Larry and Sergey are king. For Twitter, it’s a confused mess, with a group of bickering rivals who stumbled on a remarkable communications tool with a user base which developed most of its key strengths (from the @ reply to retweets) while its creators fumbled through trying to turn it into a business.
The Public Sphere was the week’s key theory, important not just because it’s a concept which helps explain Twitter’s centrality to modern public life, but also as the students had already looked at Habermas in another module in week two, and this was a timely refresher for them. But alongside a discussion on that, the workshop featured some quick practical tasks as we ran through more advanced Twitter features including Advanced Search, Lists and Followerwonk, as well as embedding tweets and making your own personal profile look a bit more professional.
One of Monday afternoon’s classes with a group of Sports Journalism students coincided with the horrific pile-up involving four horses and jockeys at Kempton. Quickly, I was able to show the students how to use the location filter on Advanced Search to track down a journalist tweeting from the course. It’s yet another new important skill, in a career more full of them than ever before.
Meanwhile, it’s congratulations to Journalism first year Maria Ward-Brennan, who won a £10 app store voucher in a little competition I ran during Monday’s lecture. I challenged the students to find a creative way to use Twitter while I was talking, and to post their entries on #journotech. Maria won for this, which was annoyingly accurate.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged Advanced Search, Apple, Emily Bell, Ev Williams, Followerwonk, Google, Habermas, Jack Dorsey, Journalism Technologies, Kempton Park, Larry Page, Maria Ward-Brennan, Public Sphere, Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs, Twitter, University of Huddersfield
It’s just over seven years since Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet, and I’ve just finished reading the most notable book so far on the company’s rise: Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton of the New York Times.
Bilton’s book is a good read, and has a focus on the battles between Twitter’s various co-founders for control of it. Central is the strife between Dorsey and Ev Williams, and the boardroom coup and counter-coup which has ultimately left Dorsey as its Chairman and Williams on the outside.
It’s easy to forget just how unreliable Twitter was in 2008/09 when the world began to use it in larger numbers: Bilton blames the regular sightings of the Fail Whale on Dorsey’s inexperience as a CEO. At one board meeting, new investors are aghast to learn that Dorsey had neglected to create any kind of backup for Twitter at all.
All the internal struggles left me wondering whether Twitter would have turned out rather differently under a more experienced management team with their eyes more on the ball. After all, it was Twitter users who came up with key aspects of the service such as @-replies and hashtags. Perhaps it’s just as well things went the way they did.
I’ve also been enjoying selections from the excellent Longform App, which picks out the best online long reads and puts them on your tablet for £1.99. I’ve been getting the free weekly emails for quite a while, but there’s something about reading the articles on a tablet which is more enjoyable all round.
Among the recent highlights was this January 1970 piece from Rolling Stone, written by Lester Bangs among others, piecing together the disastrous Rolling Stones free concert at Altamont the previous month. I also enjoyed this vintage profile of Johnny Cash from Playboy magazine, also dating from 1970.
But perhaps best of all was this recent article from Texas Monthly by Michael Hall, on a mysterious triple murder from 1982 – a complicated story which remains unresolved 32 years later despite various convictions. Well worth putting aside an hour of your life to read.
Posted in What I'm Reading
Tagged Altamont, Ev Williams, Fail Whale, Jack Dorsey, Johnny Cash, Lake Waco Murders, Lester Bangs, Longform, Michael Hall, Playboy, Rolling Stone, Texas Monthly, The Rolling Stones, Twitter
The Washington Post building. (picture: vpickering on Flickr)
This is the first in what I imagine will be a semi-regular feature on this site, with links to things I’ve enjoyed reading.
The biggest media news of the week came from Washington DC, where the Graham family announced it was selling the Washington Post to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for $250m.
That sounds like a lot of money, but everything’s relative. As Alex Massie points out, that’s basically what Johnston Press paid for The Scotsman as recently as 2005.
Of the American reactions to the deal, here’s the analysis on the Post’s own Wonkblog. It’s worth reading the thoughts of former Post staffer and New Yorker editor David Remnick.
Also at the New Yorker, John Cassidy offers a sceptical view of what Bezos’ motives might be. Back at the Post’s website, read this enjoyable open letter to Bezos from Gene Weingarten.
I’ve been checking out Medium this week, the writing-focused newish social network from the Twitter guys, Ev Williams and Biz Stone. Williams explains it all here.
A couple of things that I particularly enjoyed: Callie Schweitzer on how interviewing director David O Russell for her high school newspaper changed her life, and Dave Harte discussing a presentation on the internet he gave to a class of ten-year-olds.
Some rotten boroughs news to finish. Weep at Leeds Citizen’s account of councillors’ refusal to allow the recording of a council meeting. And, from Private Eye via the Telegraph’s Louise Gray, an explanation of how fracking permission was originally granted in Balcombe (there’s an easier-to-read follow up from the Independent here).
Just goes to show why it’s important to scrutinise even parish councils.
Posted in What I'm Reading
Tagged Alex Massie, Amazon, Balcombe, Biz Stone, Callie Schweitzer, Dave Harte, David O Russell, David Remnick, Ev Williams, Fracking, Gene Weingarten, Jeff Bezos, John Cassidy, Johnston Press, Leeds Citizen, Louise Gray, Medium, Parish councils, Private Eye, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The New Yorker, The Scotsman, Washington Post, Wonkblog