Recent uprisings in Africa and the Middle East have been interesting examples of how online social media (OSM) can be used to collect and disseminate breaking news. Twitter in particular, has become indispensable in sourcing timely news. Aljazeera, for example, is one major news publisher benefiting from these user generated news updates. They have imbedded a dashboard displaying real-time tweets associated with the uprisings in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen. This dashboard captures the numerous tweets (over one tweet per second) associated with these uprisings and can be viewed by country. Customized graphs can also be viewed, displaying rates of tweets across different areas.
AlJazeera is no stranger to OSM, in fact they are currently rated the most popular news source on YouTube, with over 2.5 Million views per month. Aljazeera has been an innovator in OSM use by journalists for a number of years. They incorporate many social media and networking tools into their website including: live video feeds, real-time blogging, and have over 450,000 ‘Likes’ on their English Facebook page.
This is all part of the brave new world of digital news, where every citizen with a smartphone or internet-connected computer is now a citizen-journalist. For example, just ten days ago, without knowing it at the time, an IT consultant living in Abbottabad, Pakistan ended up live-tweeting the Osama bin Laden raid. It is no wonder that in just a little over six years, OSM has fundamentally changed the way traditional news rooms function. It is now rare for a news operation to not have a dedicated reporter(s) responsible for keeping up on what’s happening in social media. The unregulated nature of many OSM sites are also proving to be of benefit for other news stations such as the BBC’s World Service Channel. To circumvent government censorship in countries such as Iran and China, the editors of this channel have decided to post content on ‘twitter-equivalent’ sites, which are not monitored as strictly by governments. The content posted is again, mainly user generated video, audio, and image files, sent by citizens of the countries in conflict.
Many news publishers have been using OSM tools for a number of years to share breaking news, and advertise their company. The New York Times is one big name in the innovative use of these tools. Along with NPR and CNN, the New York Times twitter feed is one of only three from news providers that consistently top twitter’s top 25 list. Real-time blogs, the incorporation of multimedia into websites, and the creation of a dedicated social networking space are all examples of how news corporations have been using OSM to disseminate breaking stories, and interact with their readers.
This follows a common trend of news corporations engaging their audience in the production, dissemination, and consumption of news stories. As traditional news delivery methods, such as newspaper and tv news stations, continue to decline in ratings and profits, smart news corporations are recognizing the benefits OSM can add; not only to supplement news delivery, but to create it. Readership can be retained, even increased, and news quality and speed can be improved, through engaging the public with OSM.
*Philip Mai contributed to the writing and commentaries for this post.