Today in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, ScribbleLive’s CEO, Michael De Monte, debates whether Twitter qualifies as a journalistic vehicle (Spoiler: he says it doesn’t).
The emerging use of Twitter as a news medium ran smack into the limitations of live tweeting recently during the trial of Russell Williams, a former Canadian Air Force colonel. How did a respected base commander manage to live a double life as a sexual predator?
This question can’t be answered in 140-character chunks. That’s why true media and publications such as the National Post (disclosure: Post Media Network is a client of Scribble Technologies) covering the Williams trial are leveraging new technologies that marry social media with the traditional news gathering process. The difference between these forms of coverage is not speed—both are instant—but content and context.
Twitter works nicely for providing links to existing stories, but with all due respect to those who consider it the future of news, it is not a workable or desirable medium for journalism. Twitter’s limitations make it a poor medium for news coverage.
How much of a story can you tell in 140 characters? Just look at the following sample tweets from the Williams trial:
#Williams—Williams talking with lawyer while judge is speaking. 2 minutes ago via Twitter for iPhone
#Williams—Crown: Williams took bra and panties from the young girl’s bedroom. 7 minutes ago via Twitter for iPhone
#Williams—Crown: Williams spent hours at his Ottawa home—planning and taking pictures of himself in stolen lingerie and panties.
It’s a play-by-play with no context and no comment. It catalogs Williams’ depravity but offers no reflection on it.
I am not criticizing the journalist in this case. It is the tool that limits the expression. There is no way to extend the post other than to link to a previously existing story that would no longer be “live.”
By contrast, the coverage by the NationalPost pulled content from multiple sources to offer a chilling account of the Williams trial. It reads like a news story, albeit a new form of story, complete with photographs, courtroom sketches, and well-thought-out paragraphs from a team of journalists who know how to tell the story and have the space and tools to communicate their ideas.
It combines the immediacy of Twitter with authority, depth of content, and storytelling.
For one final point, consider how news organizations ranging from Reuters to Al Jazeera covered the unrest in Egypt in real time. Reuters provided continuous live updating of the crisis, complete with thoughtful reporting, images, and video. Al Jazeera instantly published audio reports via phone calls to break Egypt’s attempts to muzzle their reporters. These stories are still available to be read today, unlike Tweets. Instant, authoritative, and persistent: That’s the future of journalism.
The Razorfish blog, scatter/gather, covered our use by Al Jazeera to cover the Egyptian crisis.
The Arabic-language news network Al Jazeera also found some creative ways to give Egyptians their voice back. Using services like ScribbleLive, Al Jazeera has been able to expedite stories from their reporters online via technology as clunky as a landline, if cellular networks aren’t available. Analog again meets digital for the benefit of the people. ScribbleLive’s service allows calls to be saved as mp3s and published with minimal hassle. It’s a service that first emerged when it enabled another news service to extend a megaphone to the voice of the people: Canada’s Global News used it to cover the protests at the 2010 G20.
Very nice mention of us in The Spectator yesterday. Al Jazeera has been using our voicemail feature to continue reporting from Cairo during the Egyptian crisis.
Its website posted Live Messages — audio messages recorded from phone calls placed by correspondents — on the ground, and used a facility called Scribble Live to get these updates online fast. The company’s English-language website has seen a 2,000 percent increase in visits, with more than 60 percent of that traffic coming from the United States. Every White House office is said to be live-streaming its reports, while its Cairo-based correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin has become a household name. Two nights ago in Tahrir Square, people were even chanting: “Long live al-Jazeera.”
More coverage from Journalism.co.uk on how our voicemail feature is being using by Al Jazeera.
“We have been working round the clock to make sure we are broadcasting on alternative frequencies,” an Al Jazeera spokesman said.
The Qatar-based broadcaster reported at the weekend that its Cairo bureau had been closed down and its licence to broadcast in Egypt revoked following its coverage of anti-government protests in the country.
Internet connections within Egypt appear to have been restored this morning, according to reports, after many in the country experienced days of being cut off.
To overcome the internet blackout and restrictions on its journalists, Al Jazeera was publishing audio messages from its correspondents in Egypt, powered by live-blogging platform ScribbleLive.
On Saturday, ScribbleLive set up a phone number which would enable reporters and web producers from Al Jazeera to call in and leave recorded messages, to be later posted on the audio message platform.
ScribbleLive’s Mark Walker told Journalism.co.uk that the idea had resulted in “really compelling content”.
“This was the first time somebody has used it in such a critical way, in a way that was a significant breakthrough against censorship and oppression.
“We’ve never had a news organisation using it in the way that they [Al Jazeera] are.”