If KitGuru told you that we’d been interviewed by a model, then we know the way your collective minds work. If we then said that the model in question had competed in the last series of UK’s Top Model, you’d start to think that we’re taking advantage of all life has to offer. But Anna Kathryn Stayduhar is not only very serious about becoming a professional journalist, she’s also Student Ambassador for Kingston University and can trace her roots back to Pennsylvania in the 1700s and a good mixture of French, German, Croatian, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian and Native American. When Anna asked to interview KitGuru about the use of Social Media in modern tech journalism, who were we to refuse the lady? Until you see ‘KitGuru says:’, all that follows is Anna’s interview.
The importance of social media for mainstream journalists is crucial when gathering today’s news. This industry thrives on having access to important information as quickly as possible. Whether it is in the form of Twitter tweets or Facebook accounts, user generated content makes it possible for many industry professionals to search for and track down people, events, information and images within the click of a button.
This exposed online access has enabled many mainstream journalists’ to become closer to the people at the scene of breaking news across the globe. The dilemma is whether someone’s privacy has been invaded or abused and whether it is worth the risk, circulating user generated content from the public?
I asked KitGuru for its thoughts on this newsworthy topic.
Anna: Do you believe that Twitter is a viable news outlet for journalists to use? Why or why not?
KitGuru: Twitter can help journalists in a number of ways, so its viability to ‘seed stories’ is beyond doubt. You only have to look at the recent mess with super-injunctions to see the power of Twitter to help the press in operation. But, if you ask us, we believe that the TRUE journalist is the one who seeds the initial Tweet.
As with anything in life, you should always try and get confirmation, but as the Deputy Editor of the Evening Standard once told us, “Better to go off half cocked, than not cocked at all”. We asked him, “But what if you get it wrong?”. His reply was that if you’re intelligent enough to avoid a legal action against you, then you can’t lose.
If the story is true – then you broke it. If it isn’t true, then you have a cycle of ‘Man accused’, ‘Man denies accusation’, ‘New evidence emerges’ and finally ‘Man cleared’ stories – which can then lead you into a whole round of inquiries into what went right or wrong – and there’s your news cycle.
Twitter simply allows the faster dissemination of the initial nodule of information. The journalist still needs to be the ‘expert sifter’, the one who brings their specific knowledge and experience to the subject – to ensure story accuracy.
Anna: Can you think of any examples of events during which Twitter has served as a useful tool or even as a hindrance? And if so what benefits or problems did Twitter present during the example?
KitGuru: Twitter was a huge benefit during the ‘famous five’ super-injunctions brought about by people like Andrew Marr, Jeremy Clarkson and – most famously – Ryan Giggs. Injunctions are useful legal tools, but to have a super-injunction which prevents even the acknowledgement of the original story, is a bizarre aberration from a bygone era.
There’s an old saying that only mushrooms and excrement thrive in the dark. Almost everything else benefits from the cold light of truth – and Twitter has helped to shine that light recently. But a Twitter storm or swarm can be kicked off by a relatively insignificant posting (in the case of ‘Morgan Freeman is dead’ and ‘Eddie Murphy died after skiing into a tree’ earlier this year), but really exploded with the initial allegations of sexual misconducted wrongly aimed at senior Tory party member Lord McAlpine, in the wake of the initial Jimmy Saville scandal.
Because experienced and respected sources kicked the Tweet storm off, it sped far faster than the follow-up apology. For the rest of history, when people see ‘McAlpine’, they might think ‘Ah yes, something to do with pedophilia, wasn’t he?’.
Anna: Have you found any pressure to use Twitter or other social media sites to follow up on any news stories? Why or Why not?
KitGuru: We don’t use Twitter to source anything directly. We know the most senior people working in the technology industry and, when we generate original news content on KitGuru, it is normally ‘straight from the source’.
We have an RSS system that generates most of the Facebook posts and Tweets for the main stories etc, but we’re not really involved in their creation – but we do make every effort to follow up with our readers online afterwards. Our Facebook editor Carl will add additional content manually every day and interact with the readers over there.
At the time of writing, we have Tweeted almost 7,000 stories. On the other hand, we have just over 40,000 followers on Facebook and, last year it played an integral part in reaching a larger audience.
This shows how social media can help push a story out to a wider audience. It’s a ripple effect and very positive. We do have plans to overhaul how we work with Twitter in 2013. It’s probably a LOT more important for journalists that are covering either celebrities in general – or the specific subset of celebrities called politicians in particular.
Each and every Tweet, if it contains a revelation or mistake, can kick off a new story – which will bring readers – and with them, advertising revenue for The Sun, Daily Mail etc.
Anna: Do you have any concerns regarding the future use of social media by mainstream journalists?
KitGuru: It’s a balancing act, but we would say that – globally – we have a good balance right now. Regimes cannot hide information, because it flows too easily across borders – and people across the world no longer have to imagine what life would be like in another town, city or country.
They can see, hear and read about it – live and in real time. Orwell painted a bleak vision of the future in books like 1984. It was a nightmare world of personal and media manipulation – alongside constant monitoring and control. It’s worth asking which aspects of those books would a modern government be prepared to rule out completely as part of any future manifesto?
We’re getting used to ‘thinking out loud’ to a global audience. As computer systems become far more powerful over the next 20 years, the ability of governments to profile each and every one of us from what we say, do, post and Tweet is going to become an extraordinarily powerful tool. Possibly for good, but not with humanity’s track record. Encouraging Twitter, means encouraging people to share what they think.
Without doubt, that is a double edged sword. Maybe there’s a direct link between increased freedom of speech and increased intrusion, but the spread of information across Social Media, in real time, can make media-conscious governments think twice about how their actions will play on the global stage.
Anna: What do you feel is crossing the ethical line regarding User Generated Content?
KitGuru: Crossing the line with user generated content is the same as with any media: Can you prove what you say is true – and are you prepared to defend your position in a court of law? Unfortunately for the victims of erroneous Tweet storms, the damage is irreparable and, often, the perpetrator doesn’t have anywhere near enough assets to make them worth suing.
In the light of the Leveson report, governments seem unwilling to codify ‘the right thing’ into specific controls. In that case, we have to rely on the education of youngsters, at home and in schools. about what is and isn’t reasonable with regard to user generated content in the 21st century.
User generated content has made a major impact on the way journalists report and source the news. It is apparent after speaking with KitGuru that they also feel it is necessary for journalists to continue sourcing beyond social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook.
Although Twitter and Facebook can produce alerts of events happening around the world, it takes a journalist with a sense of morality and ethical understanding to seek further knowledge elsewhere. KitGuru tends to view user generated content as a ‘tool’ rather than a viable source of news. As the world continues to see new technologies grow and viewers demand an ever more entertaining and sensational delivery of the news, we have to ask where does this stop?
Aging members of society seem to prefer pre-digital delivery, as that style tended to be more factual than entertaining. Is news good or bad to be a form of entertainment? We feel that our desensitisation of human pain and suffering has caused standards to fall on what is and is not appropriate to showcase globally. News is not just news any more.
Let’s face it, the rush to deliver it is fueled by the need for financial sponsorship and the lure to attract viewers from one media to another. The struggle between journalists of the pre-digital age and the new digital age is still apparent.
KitGuru says: It’s unusual for the media to be quizzed about how how they view the environment in which they work and the tools used to create and deliver stories. We appreciate Anna Kathryn Stayduhar taking the time to find out how we view the various social media that have exploded on our global society in less than a decade.
These days, it’s hard to picture a world without Facebook and Twitter – where a single story becomes a global sensation in a matter of minutes – with almost no recourse for the subjects of the story if there is a problem. KitGuru takes news very seriously and while ‘entertainment value’ is always in mind when we work, we always look to work in a logical, ethical fashion – so our ever increasing audience can rely on what we say – especially when it comes to buying decisions. Our single biggest investment, as an organisation, is in generating the content itself – whether that’s general technology news or specific testing in the KitGuru Labs.
Our balance is very firmly set toward ‘kicking off social media stories’, rather than simply ‘reporting on stories that are already out there’. It’s a balance that we’re proud of.