It’s always a tough call to decide which break out session to go to at conferences and yesterday’s News:Rewired was no exception. The event, organised by the website Journalism.co.uk, offered a glimpse of how the media is changing and which news models could prosper in the future.
The morning session included break-outs on Multimedia, Social Media and Search Engine Optimisation. I opted for the first one. The speakers included Steve Phillips, a traffic and travel correspondent at BBC London, who outlined how social media applications have aided his in this work.
BBC London Travel uses Twitter for both information gathering and sharing. They invite people to tweet them from their phones with stories of travel chaos whilst they are out and about. They use that infomation on radio, television and online. And of course, they also have their own Twitter feed to update the Twitterati.
Another social media app they use is Audioboo, which is a feed of micropodcasts (five minutes or under) – almost like an audio version of Twitter. At the moment they are primarily using it to share information on travel problems – Steve played an Audioboo clip of an interview with a BBC weatherman recorded and uploaded from an iPhone (suprisingly good quality). I asked Steve if he is thinking about taking audio uploads directly from listeners’ iphones and he said that would be something he would encourage.
Now, I never thought I would be at a conference about cutting edge journalism and listening to a presentation about traffic and travel information, but there’s always a first time. Seriously though, I think one of the problems with multimedia (or social media), is people are so obsessed with trying something new they forget to assess whether or not it serves their purpose. As I said during the question and answer session, Twitter and Audioboo are almost tailor-made for what Steve is using them for at BBC London.
But as Iain Hepburn notes in his excellent post on the event, not everyone was impressed with Steve Phillips’ presentation on BBC London’s use of social media:
He was challenged by one member of the audience over the scale of using AudioBoo and Twitter to get information out to a small audience – a couple of thousand Twitter followers, just a couple of hundred on AudioBoo – and questioning the value for licence fee payers. It’s a debate to be had – should a public service body be making content available to just a small audience like that?
Now at the time, I was really taken aback with the guy’s question. Maybe it’s because I tweet myself, but I thought how can a free service that can be used seamlessly for gathering and disseminating information be wasting licence payers’ money?
It seems that Steve is a bit of a social media evangelist at BBC London. While at national level the BBC has been keen to promote Twitter – just look at the impact it’s had on Question Time – the regions have been slower on the uptake. There are some exceptions: When I worked at the BBC Newcastle last year, there were a number of Twitter feeds for news and weather, plus journalists from the Politics Show tweeted. There were also one or two journalists with a strong local presence on Twitter who used it for sourcing case studies and programme ideas.
But not all BBC regions have caught on to Twitter. And use of Audioboo remains more patchy. Perhaps it’s partly explained by the fact that these social media tools have not captured the imagination of the general public the way that Facebook has, which brings you back to the questioner’s point. The thing is, if you decide to use Facebook to communicate with your viewers/listeners/readership, then why not Twitter and Audioboo?
There are many apps that can update Twitter and Facebook automatically from an RSS feed so Tweeting doesn’t have to be any more time consuming than updating a website. Also,the fact that you can recieve your Twitter feed as text messages and text to Twitter makes it a great way of getting updates on things that might affect your travel plans. Louise Bolotin, a journalist working at BBC Manchester and another Twitter evangelist, last week wrote about how Twitter helped her get into work when her travel plans were hit by the recent snow.
I realise that Twitter might not be for everyone but I would urge sceptics to try it out – even if it’s just to create a news feed of local information going direct to your mobile. It could be useful – you never know until you try! I’d also be interested in people’s thoughts on the merits of the BBC using Twitter – have I missed something when I say I can’t see the point that the questioner was trying to make?
Of course, many other things went on at News:Rewired, including a speech by the BBC College of Journalism’s head Kevin Marsh. See the blog posts of Adam Tinworth and Martin Cloake for their accounts of the event. Another example of interesting Multimedia journalism is how the guys from Drawnalism visualised the event. I will try and add more links when I find them.