What does the Twitter explosion mean for journalists?

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Back in 2009 when the US Airways flight crashed in New York’s Hudson river, it took a mere four minutes before a member of the public broke the story to the world via Twitter. Jim Hanrahan, wrote: “I just watched a plane crash into the hudson rive [sic] in manhattan”.

Twitter

It wasn’t long before the story was spreading like wildfire in Twitterverse. Interestingly, it took news outlets longer and it was approximately 15 minutes later that they began reporting the incident.

Love it, or hate it, with the rise of social media channels like Twitter and Flickr, news stories can reach all corners of the world with an immediacy we’ve never seen before. We only need to look at more recent examples of the microblogging’s speedy ability to spread the word, including the death of Steve Jobs and Muammar Gaddafi. So what does this mean for qualified, modern-day journalists and how are they embracing Twitter?

We’re constantly reminded that we’re in the midst of a social media revolution. Twitter is a social networking phenomenon and Australians aren’t holding back! In fact, Australia accounts for 1.8% of Twitter’s traffic and the social networking site attracts 1.1 million unique Australian visitors per month.

So, what is Twitter? Twitter, in essence is a very simple tool. ‘Tweeters’ are limited to posting short, 140 character messages (the same length as a traditional SMS message) to their followers. So a Tweet can’t provide a lot of detailed information, but it can make a concise point, link to an image or webpage and most importantly publish content immediately.

Since it’s creation in 2006 however, Twitter has evolved. ‘Tweeters’ are now able to search the entire network in real-time for specific topics or breaking news, organise their streams with ‘hash tags’ – the # symbol, used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet, and even add photos or videos to their posts.

These developments of the social media channel have translated to journalist engagement. Twitter has become a way for the media to keep up to date and engage with their audiences, locate sources and to report on news in real-time. The sheer speed of Twitter’s ability to spread breaking news has completely changed the way that journalists report and audiences receive news.

Many key Australian health journalists are opting to not only ‘follow’ the news on Twitter but also publish and promote their own stories. Take ABC medical health reporter Sophie Scott. Sophie’s an active Tweeter and uses the channel to broadcast her stories to the world.

Sophie Scott

Twitter itself, is also catching on to the growing trend of journalists engaging the networking site. This is reinforced by Twitter publishing a set of guidelines called Twitter for Newsrooms, which is designed to help journalists use the platform effectively. A Twitter spokesperson explains:

“We want to make our tools easier to use so you can focus on your job: finding sources, verifying facts, publishing stories, promoting your work and yourself and doing all of it faster and faster all the time.”

Twitter for Newsrooms was launched earlier this year and demonstrates to journalists how to “report”, “engage” and “publish” to their followers.

There are a plethora of other helpful tools that are assisting journalists with their mission to conquer the news digitally – be it, Tweetgrid, Twitscoop.com, Twhirl, Tweetdeck or Twellow, and the list goes on.

During a talk in Melbourne on the ‘Twitterisation of Journalism,’ University of Canberra Journalism lecturer and social media researcher/consultant Julie Posetti stated, “It’s fascinating as a citizen, as an academic and as a journalist to watch Twitter progress. Despite all the risks and pitfalls that have well and truly been identified along the way, I think Twitter is an important breakthrough in terms of making journalism more social and accessible to a broader public.”

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Regional media: a forgotten frontier?

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A rivalry exists in Australia that spans from the East to West coast, encompassing health, education, the cost of living and even football. City versus country, regional versus metro; there is a clash occurring reminiscent of David vs. Goliath. Regardless of where your loyalties lie, with more than one third of Aussies calling regional Australia home, we have to ask – is it foolhardy to relegate our country cousins to second place?

Don't forget regional mediaRural and regional media outlets often play second fiddle to the likes of big guns such as The Sydney Morning Herald and Herald Sun. While the ability of national and major metropolitan media outlets to create mass awareness cannot be underestimated, the ‘local angle’ can be just as powerful – perhaps even more so when it comes to motivating people to behave in a different way or take action.

Adding credibility to this claim, a survey conducted by Roy Morgan Research reveals no medium is more effective at reaching country Australians than their local newspaper. Regional press is read by 7.3 million Australians – a figure not even the likes of Masterchef can compete with.  Bucking city trends, the steep downturn in readership figures experienced by our national and metro papers has not been felt by regional counterparts who have actually managed to increase their readership. 

With a greater Government focus on health in regional Australia, a unique opportunity beckons to put health back on the ‘bush telegraph’ agenda.

Just this week, the Government announced its first National Male Health Policy will soon be released, a policy shaped by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report: A Snapshot of Men’s Health in Regional and Remote Australia. This focus on regional and rural Australia illustrates the ever-increasing discrepancy between the health of ‘city slickers’ and that of our regional countrymen, and women. And although funding of targeted rural health programs increased by 45 per cent to $700 million in 2009-10, there still remains an opportunity to reach regional Aussies with targeted health information via the media outlets they consume most – knowledge is power after all.

When it comes to health information and proactive self-care, providing details on the latest in diabetes management or cancer treatment should not reflect the banana bread craze and reach our country counterparts months later. 

Regional Australia is too often relegated to the Australian media’s version of Shannon Noll - always the runner-up – but what about them? Be it the Goondiwindi Argus, NBN Coffs Harbour or Outback Radio 2WEB, perhaps regional media is the hidden jewel in our media crown.  National and major metropolitan news and information is important, however it is local content with localised messages which truly has the power to galvanise community empowerment and action.

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