We were talking Twitter for week six of Journalism Technologies at the University of Huddersfield. I first taught at a university in Leeds back in 2011, and I remember prefacing one of my early sessions by saying something to the effect of: ‘Twitter may not be the most important online tool for journalists forever, but it is right now, and that’s why I’m going to show you how to use it’. Then I sort of imagined it would have slipped from favour by now, but despite all kinds of headwinds, it remains as central to the day-to-day work of media professionals as it ever was.
The lecture took students through some of those headwinds, something which has been an almost constant feature of Twitter’s history, dating back to the in-fighting between the four co-founders and technical challenges which marked its early years. To be honest, Twitter became huge almost in spite of everything, and its utility as the best place on the internet for live, instant communication, remains its unique, and just about only, selling point.
One of Twitter’s thorniest issues is: what, if anything, it should do about Donald Trump. Having tweeted his way to the presidency, he spends his early mornings firing off all kinds of messages as these things take his fancy. Overnight, a Twitter employee, apparently on their last day, deactivated the account for 11 minutes, to widespread amusement. Not everyone within Twitter is happy to let the President keep on tweeting.
Meanwhile, I once again ran a contest to see who could come up with the best tweet on the #journotech hashtag during the lecture. As I was hobbling about with a dead leg after falling over on Saturday, the winner was undoubtedly this from Josh Lees.
Journalism Technologies moved on this week to direct messaging, encompassing everything from texting to an area of much less familiarity to men in their 30s like me: Snapchat. In the lecture, I noted some notable similarities and differences between the developments of these particular technologies, compared with those looked at in previous weeks. As is so often the case, universities were involved: whether M.I.T. as with the Compatible Time Sharing System back in the 1960s, or Stanford (alma mater of Google and, at a push, Apple) through Evan Spiegel’s Snapchat.
One interesting difference comes with texting. Never a big deal in America, this was initially conceived by a Finnish engineer, while the first SMS was sent between two British engineers in 1992. The Finns helped popularise it though, thanks to all those almost-indestructible Nokia handsets which were everywhere from 1999 onwards, when users began to be able to text friends on different networks. Even though Twitter was initially designed as a form of public text messaging, some in the office hadn’t even heard of texting when the idea was first mooted there in the mid-2000s.
Even now, the world’s biggest messaging platform, WhatsApp, is not an especially significant player in the US. Only 7% of American internet users have the app, while that figure is a third in Europe and significantly higher in Africa and the Middle East. That last point, its penetration in areas which in many cases missed out on the desktop computer revolution almost completely, helps explain why Facebook paid such big money for it back in 2014.
This week’s theory was UGT: Uses and Gratifications Theory. It’s a body of scholarship which examines why we use particular forms of media, and what we get out of it when we do. A classic example is a 1949 study of newspaper readers, deprived of their daily read by a strike, who told interviewers that it was the ritual of reading the paper they missed, rather than the actual content of the articles. An interesting 2016 study by Vaterlaus et al applied UGT to Snapchat, asking students at an American university why they liked it so much. Something well worth presenting to my own first year students, I thought, especially as many acknowledged in the workshops that it was at least rivalling, if not surpassing, Facebook and Twitter as their social platform of choice.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged Compatible Time-Sharing System, Evan Spiegel, JM Vaterlaus, Journalism Technologies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Matti Makkonen, Nokia, SMS, Snapchat, Stanford University, Twitter, Uses and Gratifications Theory, WhatsApp
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
I made this using CardKit in about two minutes.
As well as my new first year module called Journalism Technologies, I’m teaching a second new class at the University of Huddersfield this year. Journalism Innovation is an optional module for final years doing journalism and media courses, and includes themes of entrepreneurship and using social and online tools to do journalism in new ways. I’ve got 50 students doing it, which is great.
It’s being taught in two-hour workshops, and I used this week’s to cover a couple of skills which are increasingly vital for young media graduates to know about – adding subtitles to a Facebook video, and creating a social media-ready graphic to display a quote.
For the latter we used CardKit, which has been created by the excellent digital development team at The Times for their own use, and put on GitHub for the rest of us to play with. It works within any browser (although a couple of students had a problem downloading it from within Internet Explorer – as with most things, Chrome and Firefox are a better bet) and easily allows a few tweaks to make an appealing graphic for either Twitter or Facebook.
Even allowing for a bit of time dotting around the class helping individual students here and there, everyone had created a suitable image and posted it within about half an hour. But you could do it much faster once you’re familiar with the tool. Plenty of the students are doing placements which require them to make social content, so hopefully it’ll come in useful for some of them at work before too long.
The developer, Chris Hutchinson, has been working on a CardKit 2 and has posted about it on Medium.
The CardKit dashboard.
I’m at the bottom of the list of academics on the right, which seems reasonable enough.
I’m back on The Conversation, as one of six academics offering a short bit of insight on how Twitter has changed the world, on the occasion of the little blue bird’s 10th birthday.
As I’ve previously written, Twitter is in some trouble these days with flat user growth and an apparent lack of clarity over what to do with the product. On the other hand, Donald Trump’s unlikely bid for the US presidency, fuelled by much free media coverage generated by his remarkable tweets, suggests that Twitter’s power to shape the news agenda remains undimmed.
Look, I did a hot take.
I’ve had my first piece for The Conversation published today. It’s about whether the giants of Silicon Valley should share some of their wealth with struggling news companies to help support journalism (my conclusion: not really). The piece is part of a series at The Conversation on business models for the news media.
I’m sure it won’t be the last thing I write for them. The Conversation, which gets academics to write stuff about their areas of interest, is a start-up I’ve admired for a long time. There’s usually something good on there to read, and besides, getting lecturers to publish outside the opaque world of academic journals is the sort of thing I generally approve of.
Posted in Articles
Tagged Apple, Facebook, Facebook Instant Articles, Google, Instagram, Jack Dorsey, Jeff Bezos, Rockstar North, The Conversation, The Scotsman, Twitter, University of Huddersfield, Washington Post, WhatsApp
Having exposed a troll in ultimately tragic circumstances, Sky’s Martin Brunt is now himself being trolled.
I gave today’s lecture in the second year Digital Cultures module here at the University of Huddersfield. The presentation I gave can be found here.
I showed the students some of the most recent high-profile examples of trolling and related behaviour, from the ultimately tragic case of Brenda Leyland to the row involving Dapper Laughs and what happened after he was called out by UsVsTh3m. I then discussed some of the academic research into the motivations that lie behind trolling, before considering the various ways in which government, the police and others have responded to trolling.
I took as the starting point of the lecture a definition of trolling outlined in a paper published this year by Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell and Delroy Paulhus, called Trolls Just Want To Have Fun. It suggests: “Online trolling is the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.”
It’s not bad as definitions go. Some have suggested that Brenda Leyland wasn’t really a troll, because as the parents of Madeleine McCann aren’t on Twitter themselves, her tweets about them weren’t aimed at them personally. However, I’d say her tweets could probably be considered “deceptive, destructive, or disruptive” – and possibly all three – and certainly existed in a social setting online, so would fall under that definition.
However, the case of Dapper Laughs and the apparent trolling of UsVsTh3m journalist Abi Wilkinson and others by his fans which took place on Snapchat, pushes this definition to its limit. Snapchat is more of a private than a social setting, and you although you access it using the internet, any trolling on Snapchat is done in the form of direct messaging not open to the general public. I suppose the same would go for Twitter DMs or anything sent by Facebook Messenger. It’s not even a year old, but perhaps it’s already time to stretch that definition a bit.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged Abi Wilkinson, BBC Sport, Chris Grayling, Communications Act 2003, Dapper Laughs, Digital Cultures, Facebook, Jonathan Agnew, Kevin Pietersen, Martin Brunt, Sky News, Snapchat, Stan Collymore, Stella Creasy, talkSPORT, trolling, Twitter, University of Huddersfield, UsVsTh3m
The picture shows Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo in June 1914, minutes before they were assassinated in an incident which ultimately sparked off World War I. The 100th anniversary has been much in the news lately, and some of the best coverage I’ve seen has been provided by the BBC.
It used a very 21st century tool, the liveblog, to tell the story of that day in real time, including some new videos shot by BBC correspondents pretending they were reporting at the time. This sounds all a bit worthy-but-dull-schools-programme, but actually worked really well. NPR’s newish London correspondent Ari Shapiro is well worth a follow on Twitter for his perceptive insights on Britain, and he was in Sarajevo for the anniversary too.
Sky News has started its own ‘real time’ WWI Twitter account, although it’s been a little disappointing so far – just a daily tweet with no links to anything to put it in any context, let alone a mini-site to rival the BBC’s. Hopefully it will improve as time goes on. Reuters looked into its own archive for this fascinating piece on how close it came to confusing the assassination with the result of a French horse race.
An eye-catching story from the WTF department was this one about Phil Collins (yes, that one) and his obsession with The Alamo. The story behind the story is well told by Texas Monthly here.
On the subject of curious obsessions, this Newsweek article on the tunnel king of Brooklyn is great. Guardian-backed collaborative journalism project Contributoria is well up and running, and this Jon Hickman article on social capital is well worth a read this month. And, joy of joys, this classic 2011 Vanity Fair piece on how Chad Harbach’s modern classic baseball novel, The Art of Fielding, came to be published is now free to read online. It’s the best insight into the world of publishing I’ve ever read.
Posted in What I'm Reading
Tagged Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Ari Shapiro, BBC News, Contributoria, Jon Hickman, Liveblogging, Newsweek, NPR, Phil Collins, Reuters, Sarajevo, Sky News, Texas Monthly, The Alamo, The Guardian, Twitter, Vanity Fair, World War I
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