Kelly Fincham

Kelly teaches journalism at Hofstra University at undergrad and graduate level. She has worked in journalism in the U.S, Ireland and Australia for 30 years and has spoken about journalism at conferences in Canada, the U.S., Scotland and Ireland. Her research agenda explores the intersection of social media in journalism practice and curriculum. She is the founder of Hofstra’s Long Island Report and the founding editor of You can visit her website at and follow her on Twitter @KellyFincham.

Bird words

How to do Twitter research on a shoestring

Twitter’s increasingly influential role in journalism has prompted an accompanying upsurge in academic research, particularly around the ways in which journalists and media organizations have integrated Twitter into their norms and practices.

With 500 million tweets a day, Twitter offers researchers a potentially deep and rich stream of social media data. However, unlike historical newspaper content, which is readily available via library microfiches or databases like Lexis Nexis, much of the historical data on Twitter (what’s called the Twitter firehose) is walled off in costly private archives.

Information may want to be free, but accessing and analyzing that information can be costly.

The Library of Congress signed a deal with Twitter in 2010 to build an on-site research archive but that system has still not been finalized. A progress update is expected this summer, but the archive, which now houses more than 170 billion tweets, poses major logistical challenges for the Library and the firehose reseller Gnip, which is delivering the data for Twitter. For example, a single search of the 21 billion tweets in the fixed 2006-10 archive was taking 24 hours just last year. Twitter acquired Gnip in April, prompting hopes that the archive may be operational in 2014-15, but even so, the archive will only be accessible on-site at the Library in Washington, D.C.

That source of reliable, inexpensive online access to the Twitter firehose has become almost a Holy Grail for journalism professors in the U.S. and Canada who I surveyed this June using a Google form.

Kathleen Culver, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says she would like to see “portals for academics into Twitter, supported by Twitter,” and an easy user interface for research. Alf Hermida, associate professor at the University of British Columbia, agrees. Hermida, who has just published a new book on social media, says such a portal could contain “shared archives of Twitter data, best practices and approaches.”

Mike Reilley, online journalism instructor at DePaul University in Chicago says he wants something that will let him go deep. “I’m looking for that ‘super tool’ and am hoping someone at JS Knight Stanford comes up with one. An all-in-one tool – scrapes, archive, great search, everything. I’m tired of ‘tool-hopping’ to get work done,” he said.

Flawed early Twitter research tools

Early efforts such as the freemium TwapperKeeper service offered that “all-in-one” functionality, albeit with some restrictions. TwapperKeeper, which allowed users to create and download .csv files of Twitter archives, limited historical searches to 7 days earlier or 3,500 tweets (whichever came sooner). However, TwapperKeeper, which was launched in 2009, was taken over by HootSuite in 2011 and became a premium subscription product.

Some researchers then shifted to Topsy Pro, which offered trial accounts for researchers or a single annual license for $12,000, but the datasets were often incomplete.

Hermida says Topsy used its own criteria to delete tweets from the archive. “Topsy removed tweets that had been deleted from the Twitter firehose, and tweets without at least six retweets or a retweet by an influential user were removed from the search index after 30 days,” he said.

Robert Hernandez, associate professor of professional practice at USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, says he has long suspected such archives could be flawed. “I always have an uneasy feeling that the archive – whether I get it formally or not – doesn’t feel as accurate or complete as one thinks,” he said.

‘Divide between data-rich and data-poor researchers’

A more robust historical search, such as analyzing the #Newtown tweets to examine journalists’ behavior in the hours immediately following the school massacre, would require subscription to a certified Twitter firehose service such as Gnip or DataSift.

These services can retrieve an unlimited amount of tweets from practically any time in Twitter’s history. But the resellers’ main focus is businesses seeking more data on how consumers view them. Thus, their pricing is aimed at institutions or corporations. The pricing plans for both companies are difficult to decipher (both sites ask users to submit a Web form for a quote) but a 2014 article put DataSift at about $3,000 a month with Gnip starting at $500 for each one-off search. Licensing fees cost an additional $0.10 per 1,000 tweets and are paid to Twitter. These licensing fees accounted for $32 million of Twitter’s earnings in the first half of 2013.

However, a $3,000-a-month subscription level or even a $500 search would be too expensive for most academics unless they were able to make arrangements with their institutions.

Hermida’s university uses Crimson Hexagon, which charges $5,000 a year for 50 search terms or “monitors” as part of its Social Research Grant Program. Elizabeth Breese, senior content and digital marketing strategist, said the program seeks researchers who are “a good fit… that the research is non-commercial in nature, and that the results will be made public in some way,” she said by email. The grant program provides 50 “simultaneous monitors” which can be deleted to provide for a new query, giving researchers more flexibility.

Meanwhile, a freemium Twitter scraping tool from the British company ScraperWiki could be the solution for cash-poor researchers. Users set a hashtag, keyword or user name as a search term and then let ScraperWiki monitor Twitter for all new occurrences. Like TwapperKeeper before it, ScraperWiki can only create new archives rather than search for historical data, but the drawbacks of the service are mitigated by the price.

Pricing starts at $9 a month for “Explorer” access to three datasets and tops out at $29 a month for “Data Scientist” access to 100 datasets. The main drawback, as discussed, is the lack of historical data. But the tool is incredibly robust and a well-planned project could return tens of thousands of rows of data for analysis and visualization as there is no maximum limit on tweets.

For example, using the Data Scientist package, a researcher could easily track the ongoing output from up to 100 users for a project such as a comparative analysis on a constructed week. In my own research, I used ScraperWiki to retrieve approximately 22,000 tweets tracing the social media development of the Tuam babies story in Ireland in May/June 2014.

ScraperWiki CEO Francis Irving says the scraper is easy to use. “Once you know the search term or user you want to archive you can create the dataset and let the tool run. Once you have enough tweets, you can download the data for analysis,” he said via Skype. The software can also visualize and summarize the data, saving much work for the researcher.

A similar freemium tool is Simply Measured’s RowFeeder, but the datasets are more expensive and the results are more limited than ScraperWiki’s. For example, RowFeeder’s cheapest product, which costs $35 a month, includes just three datasets for a maximum of 5,000 tweets per month.

In the absence of an archive from the Library of Congress, ScraperWiki seems a reasonable solution to the ongoing problem of how to collect and analyze meaningful Twitter data. Its relatively inexpensive pricing partially addresses the growing two tiers in academic research caused by the high cost of data analysis. As Hermida said in the survey, “Paying for access means that there could be a divide between data-rich and data-poor researchers.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Mike Reilley’s name.

Kelly Fincham, an assistant professor at Hofstra University, has been using Twitter for research since 2010. Read more


How to keep a student news site updated with RebelMouse

Preparing students for journalism careers in the 21st century requires that they learn to use systems that are new to many journalism faculty — a conclusion underscored by a 2012 report from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, which concluded that the typical newsroom process is “almost entirely anachronistic” and “must be rethought.”

However, many small programs are held back by a lack of funds or knowledge about digital systems and how to create them. And even if a platform is built, faculty advisers still struggle with the lulls of student publishing. If you’re a faculty adviser to a student news site, you’re probably now preparing for three months of hibernation when students leave for the summer, content dries up and sites go dormant.

This annual lull has become a big problem: With the news cycle having shrunk to the speed of a tweet, nothing looks more dated than a site that hasn’t been updated in days, let alone months.

We’ve faced that issue for the past six semesters at Long Island Report, our “scrappy student start-up” published at Hofstra University on Long Island. Our publication has been around since the fall of 2010, but the site more or less closes down as students depart for graduation, internships, or even just summer vacation.

We’ve fought the lull by trying to stagger content or recycle it, but our success has been limited — in past years, Long Island Report’s front page has stayed pretty much the same from May until September. But this year is different: With student volunteers on social media, we’re using RebelMouse to power our front page, using social-media content to avoid the hiatus effect.

Most of us know RebelMouse, which was recently named as one of Time’s top 100 websites, as a platform for curating and aggregating social-media content. It pulls from the user’s Twitter and Facebook feeds (among others) and creates a page that showcases social content or organizes content around a single topic or user. The pages can be hosted at RebelMouse (this is mine) or integrated in a site built with WordPress (like this one).

RebelMouse also offers a paid service for $9.99 a month called Powered Sites — but if you already have a WordPress account you can simply integrate RebelMouse into your existing site.

We’ve added it to the back-end of our WordPress site, which gives us huge flexibility when updating Long Island Report’s front page. With RebelMouse installed, we can choose between our regular front page and our RebelMouse front page, as shown below:

Our site’s home page.


Our site’s RebelMouse page.

As you can see, the RebelMouse version retains much of the look and feel of the original website while allowing Long Island Report to use social-media content in place of regular content when students are away.

We have a menu button for RebelMouse under “Social Stream” to maintain our social-media presence and we can toggle between using WordPress or RebelMouse content for the front page by changing settings on the back end, as I’ll explain in more detail below.

How do we get content? We have set up filters in our RebelMouse account to publish tweets with the hashtag #lireport and @lireport. We update our Twitter and Facebook accounts daily with comments and links to stories making the news on Long Island, including those hashtags so they can be posted into the “social stream” front page.

We have also changed the front page to accommodate big stories. For instance, we used RebelMouse to help update our front pages during the presidential debate at Hofstra and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy; we linked to our own content as well as external material to ensure the front page was as up-to-date as we could manage. We also used RebelMouse extensively after Sandy because widespread power outages left many students only able to send content via Twitter or Facebook.

We used the #sandy hashtag to gather news.

Social-media publishing still has its challenges. Students need to remember to think before they tweet, and we’re constantly exasperated by the lack of a post-publication “edit” button in Facebook (though you can edit comments). We work around that by making every post a “picture” post, as images on Facebook pages can be edited after publication.

However, there’s an upside to this: Using social media in this way forces students to use social media the way professional journalists do, or at least the way they should — such as by seeking out sources, promoting content and engaging with readers.

We use the cloud-based versions of Hootsuite and TweetDeck to manage the social-media flow from Long Island Report’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. Tweets and Facebook posts can then be saved as drafts in the dashboard so the faculty advisor can log in to check the posts before they go live.

There are no major differences between the two services, but there is one useful distinction for educators: Hootsuite offers educators free, semester-long professional access for faculty and students, as well as the chance for students to become “certified” on Hootsuite, which is a good addition to a resume.

As journalism educators, we’re all familiar with how long it takes students to finalize content for publication during the semester. RebelMouse offers faculty advisers a new way to think about college news sites, as well as a creative way to extend the shelf life of the front page when school isn’t in session.

Here are step-by-step instructions if you’d like to follow our lead. Before you get started, make sure you have the following:

  • Admin user name and password for your WordPress news site
  • Username and password for your news site’s Twitter account
  • A good sense of humor, in case something goes wrong

Step 1

Make sure you use the Twitter account that you will associate with the page. For my Kelly Fincham account I use my personal Twitter; for Long Island Report I use the site’s Twitter account.

Step 2

Once you’ve signed up with a social-media account, RebelMouse will prompt you to give your new site a name. Ours is so our site name is LongIslandReport. This is the area where you claim your RebelMouse site name!

Step 3

Once logged in, you will see a screen similar to this. The navigation tabs at the top are self-explanatory but we are only looking at “Embed here” to connect RebelMouse and WordPress.

Step 4

The Embed tab is where you get the code to integrate with your WordPress site. As you can see, it offers the option to either generate the HTML or use the WordPress plugin. For this example we are using the plugin and will click the hyperlink. Which will bring us…

Step 5

…to this page. Click Download and it will install a ZIP file to your preferred download destination.

Step 6

Once the ZIP file is downloaded, log in to your WordPress site and go to the plugins section. Select “Add New,” upload and then navigate to the place where you downloaded your ZIP file.

Step 7

Once the ZIP file has been uploaded, you will see a new item for RebelMouse in your Settings panel.

There are two options here to be concerned about: home setting and page setting. Home setting will integrate RebelMouse into your home page, while page setting creates a permanent page on your website which is available when you aren’t using RebelMouse as the front page. We call our RebelMouse page “social stream,” as you can see highlighted in the menu above.

To set up the home setting you must use the same site name that you used to create your site at the very start. So, in this instance, that’s longislandreport.

Step 8

When you’ve added the home setting, move over to page setting to create a permanent page for your website separate from the home page. That’s why this page needs a name — it will live in the pages section of WordPress. Give your page a name and save the changes.

Step 9

The default WordPress settings allow you to choose if you want to put your blog posts on a static page on the home page or landing page. In this example, I will change the setting to static page and then I can choose either the home page “longislandreport” or “Social stream.”

Step 10

Save the changes and you can see your new front page.



Once the RebelMouse plugin is installed you can toggle back and forth between social-media content and student content, which keeps the site looking fresh and updated when school isn’t in session.

We’d like to hear how you’re using RebelMouse in your newsroom. Tell us in the comments section.

Related: 5 ways to use the social media curator RebelMouse | How news organizations used RebelMouse to cover blizzard, Fashion Week | How journalists can use RebelMouse to craft Web content from social media curation Read more

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What every young journalist should know about using Twitter

Young journalists have a lot to teach the rest of the industry about how to use social networking sites. They grew up with these sites, and many are eager to use them in the workplace.

But as a journalism educator, I’ve found that some students don’t take Twitter seriously enough; they don’t see it as a legitimate source for news or journalism, and they tweet whatever they want, not realizing the impact that tweets can have.

Twitter is taken very seriously at many different levels. The Secret Service, for example, responded to a high schooler’s tweet earlier this month after she made a reference to assassinating President Barack Obama. And last week, the Kansas Chiefs’ official Twitter account issued an apology after insulting a fan.

So how can professors best prepare their students for the Twittersphere? I spoke to four Twitter-savvy journalism professors for their tips.

Assume that everything you tweet is public, even from a private account.

Sue Robinson, associate professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says students have a level of comfort with Facebook and its privacy settings and therefore think they’re also “safe” when using Twitter. In a phone interview, she advised students to look into the future and ask themselves, “Can this get me into trouble 10 years from now?”

“Students just don’t believe anyone is paying attention to them on Twitter,” she said. “They think it doesn’t matter what they say. We need to change that mindset.”

Thomas Lieb, professor of journalism and new media at Towson University, says students need to stop and think before they tweet. “As with all social media, you need to remember that your tweets are public and they will be around a long, long time,” he said via email. “A poorly thought-out tweet can come back to haunt you just like all those drunken photos on Facebook can.”

Professors need to reinforce this idea that Twitter is a permanent record. “Even though Twitter feels fleeting, tweets can live on through retweets, screengrabs, etc.,” said Andy Bechtel, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In sum, don’t write anything that you wouldn’t want the police, a professor, editor, employer or your mother to see.

Tweet with a purpose & be professional.

Lieb says his main concern is that many journalism students don’t consider Twitter to be an important tool.

“Very few of my students at the junior or senior level come into class being active on Twitter. The ones who are active only see it as a private message service [to] use with close friends; they have accounts but don’t make them public,” he said. “I guess this lack of awareness can lead to problems: If you are not used to driving a car, chances are pretty good you’re going to make a mess of things when you hop behind the wheel.”

He says students need to “clearly define the purpose” of their Twitter account and write their tweets accordingly. Some journalists define the purpose of their account in their Twitter bios.

Bechtel says students should keep in mind that their Twitter account will generally be seen as reflective “of you and your organization. Be professional.”

This also means avoiding SMS language and rumors. As Robinson says, “Informal conversation is no excuse for sloppiness or passing on incorrect information.”

Add value with each tweet & see the bigger picture.

Leslie-Jean Thornton, associate professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, says students should also use Twitter to add value to their online identity and shouldn’t “waste a tweet.”

“Add value with every one of your tweets. Sometimes the value is revealing yourself as a nice, maybe even witty, person they’d like to be around. (Do this in small doses). Other times, you might add a comment to a link you’re forwarding or further a discussion in a meaningful way,” Thornton said via email. “Give as much information as you can. ‘New blog post’ is pretty useless. Giving a clue as to the post’s substance is meaningful even if the person doesn’t click through to the post.” It’s a good idea to tweet links to not just your own stories but to other stories you’re reading.

Thornton advises students — and faculty — to view Twitter as part of a bigger picture.

“It is so not about what you had for lunch or what color your nails are,” she said. “It’s all about developing a network and a beat.”

She says some students view Twitter as an isolated stream of random snippets and need to be shown how to use it as a global information network. She advises professors to use tools like Storify to help students realize the value of Twitter as a storytelling and verification tool.

Robinson says students need to step back and look at Twitter’s multiplying effect: “It’s the network upon networks. Every tweet has followers on top of followers, which means that any tweet can have a volumizing effect.” And any tweet can go viral.

Don’t hog the Twitter stream.

Live tweeting poses particular problems for students (and anyone, really); their regular followers can feel spammed when they’re suddenly exposed to a stream of live tweets.

Thornton suggests that students let their followers know that they’ll be live tweeting. “It should be clear why you’re flooding Twitter with tweets,” she said. “If you can, give people who want to follow all those tweets a hashtag to follow.”

Bechtel agrees: “If you are going to tweet frequently from a live event, give your followers a heads-up with an introductory tweet. That way, they’ll be ready for a lot of tweets from you in a short period. (Example: “I’m at a social media workshop. I’ll pass along the best tips as I hear them.”)

When possible, write tweets that are shorter than 140 characters.

A general rule of thumb is to stay under the 140 character count to allow for retweets.

“If possible, also allow room for a comment or hashtag to be added,” Thornton said. “Don’t make the retweeter edit for space if it’s tight. Use an “&” for “and” if you have to, and write so the tweet is tight. Information trumps AP style so long as the message is clear and accurate.”

Tweeting, it turns out, can be a good exercise in learning how to write short — and well.

Roll the credits.

Lieb advises students to “give credit where credit is due.” This is also good journalism practice to show readers where you got your information from.

“Anytime you tweet something that was originally tweeted by someone you follow, acknowledge them by using (via @somebody) or (h/t @somebody). Even if you write a brand new tweet around the link, you wouldn’t have known about it if not for them,” Lieb said.

It’s also good practice to include “RTs are not endorsements” in your profile. And try to include retweets from both sides of the aisle if your tweets are any way political in nature.

Finally, be responsive.

It’s important to be respectful on Twitter — and responsive. Twitter, after all, is a great tool for engaging with your audience.

“Respond to followers in a timely, courteous way,” Bechtel said. “Twitter is a conversation, not a broadcast.” Read more


7 ways journalists can make better ethical decisions when using Facebook

Journalists using Facebook as a reporting tool have likely faced some ethical questions about what is and isn’t appropriate — particularly when it comes to the information they post and the way they interact with sources on the site.

For some insight, I talked with several journalists — including The Wall Street Journal’s Liz Heron and Breaking News’ Lauren McCullough — for advice on how to avoid ethical issues on Facebook. Here are seven related tips.

Keep your audience’s trust in mind

When using social networks, journalists should keep this question top of mind: Could this action affect my audience’s trust in me?

“What matters is whether or not your audience feels it can trust you or not,” Anjali Mullany, social media editor at Fast Company, said in an email interview. “When it comes to trust, your audience’s opinions outweigh your opinion.”

This is why “friending” politicians on Facebook can be so problematic. As Mullany says, “If you are a political reporter or your beat (as many are) is influenced by politicians, and you are friends with a politician online or in real life, you better be prepared to explain that and be transparent about it. It doesn’t matter if you think honoring a friend request isn’t an endorsement.”

National Public Radio’s guidelines say that using Facebook in this way to monitor politicians is “as basic a tool as signing up to be on mailing lists used to be.” But NPR urges journalists to make sure they do not participate in any lobbying or advocacy so they can maintain that trust with the audience.

Ask your editor for feedback

Lauren McCullough, editorial supervisor of Breaking News, said there are often legitimate news-gathering reasons for “friending” a politician, “especially in state and local governments where candidates and politicians may not have public-facing pages and accounts.”

In an email interview, McCullough said this access can “help you stay on top of the politician’s official movements, and may also tip you off to more under-the-radar developments.”

But, she said there are risks for the journalist because these “friendships” could damage the appearance of their objectivity. Reporters, she said, should check with their editors before “initiating or accepting a friend request.”

Mullany agreed, saying: “Apply the same rules you would apply to the rest of your reporting. When in doubt, defer to your editor, as a publishing platform should not change the essence of your ethical philosophy.”

Make sure you follow the other guy/girl

Apart from checking with the editor, McCullough and Mullany both advise journalists to be impartial.

Reporters should always “friend” the politician’s opponent, McCullough said: “If a reader or source ever questioned your ‘friendship,’ you’ll want to point to other politicians you’re connected to as examples of your balanced newsgathering purpose.”

It’s the same across the Atlantic. Chris Hamilton, who famously parsed the BBC’s advice to one succinct sentence, “Don’t do anything stupid,” says reporters need to avoid giving the appearance of bias. “Make sure that you’re not following all Conservatives for example,” he said by phone.

This is a sensitive area for all the news organizations, and Hamilton said it often comes down to context. “The act of friending is “less significant than what you do with that relationship,” he said.

NPR keeps it simple. It advises staffers to “follow” or “friend” political parties and advocacy groups as long as they are doing it to “keep up on what that party or group is doing.” And, they say, reporters “should be following those on the other side of the issues as well.”

Cull your friend lists

The Radio Television Digital News Association’s social media guidelines suggests journalists cull their “friends” lists regularly to make sure they don’t appear one-sided.

RTDNA says, “You may believe that ‘online’ friends are different from other friends in your life, but the public may not always see it that way.” The organization advises journalists to avoid any conflicts with people who “become newsmakers.”

McCullough shared similar advice: “Review the ‘friendship’ with your editor regularly, to ensure the cost/benefit is still worth it,” she said.

Avoid interacting with politicians or sources on Facebook

McCullough also advises journalists to avoid interacting with the politician or source on Facebook.

“There are legitimate news-gathering reasons for ‘friending’ a politician, especially in state and local governments where candidates and politicians may not have public-facing pages and accounts,” she said.

But she suggests taking the conversation off Facebook and following up in person, or by phone or email, if the politician posts something that you’d like to learn more about.

“Taking the conversation away from Facebook will give you a better opportunity to ask questions without giving away your story,” McCullough said. “An off-site interview also may help you get valuable information that wouldn’t otherwise be shared on a personal profile.”

Use Facebook Lists to avoid Friend/Like/Subscribe issues

Markham Nolan, managing editor at Storyful, told me via Facebook that the terminology is often the problem.

He said the Storyful team “liked” the pages of activist groups on both sides of the conflicts in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen during the Arab Spring, along with “individual politicians and other groups of every political hue.” But, he said, they never considered the act of “liking” to be an endorsement of the page’s particular point of view. In fact, he considers the verb to be “often inappropriate,” partly because its meaning is so vague.

Mullaney said she wishes there were a greater definition of the term. “What does a ‘like’ mean on Facebook?,” she said. “To me, that may be considered an endorsement. On the other hand, liking a page better enables a reporter to receive updates from that page in their newsfeed. What I haven’t seen anyone or any organization do, but maybe it’s time to do, is put out a little explanation of what they believe their ‘like’ actions on Facebook mean.”

Vadim Lavrusik, the journalist program manager at Facebook, said the company is seeing more journalists using the interest lists feature as a workaround.

“(Lists) enables you to curate Pages and People around a specific topic without having to connect with them directly. So you could add politicians to an interest list without having to ‘like’ their pages. We’re seeing more journalists using this as a way to create a curated feed around topics they cover,” he said, via Facebook after a request for comment. (Here’s more on what journalists need to know about interest lists.)

McCullough advises that journalists limit access to their personal information “by putting them on a list and setting specific privacy settings that determine what they can and cannot see.” Of course, this also means untangling your privacy settings.

Accept that there is no privacy on Facebook

The RTDNA guidelines say: “When you work for a journalism organization, you represent that organization on and off the clock.”
The Washington Post’s guidelines say journalists’ social media accounts, whether personal or work-related, “reflect upon the reputation and credibility of The Washington Post’s newsroom” and that journalists must always protect their professional integrity.

Liz Heron, director of social media and engagement at The Wall Street Journal, said the Journal encourages staff to “Keep it professional,” everywhere, even on their personal Facebook page. “Confusing privacy settings and years of collecting Facebook friends may mean that your status updates have a wider reach than you realize,” she said via email. “Just don’t post anything that might call your journalistic credibility into question.”

This echoes Hamilton’s “Don’t be stupid,” advice. The BBC guidelines say this applies to personal use because a reporter’s groups of friends and contacts still view them as a BBC representative.

To this end, Hamilton says, it is “very important” that journalists don’t “reveal their political affiliation” in their social media profiles. (There are different schools of thought on this. Jeff Jarvis, for instance, has said that news organizations should reveal who their staffers voted for.

National Public Radio acknowledges that, “Regardless of how careful we are in trying to keep them separate, our professional lives and our personal lives overlap when we’re online.”

NPR advises staff to use the highest level of available privacy tools but says that the line between public and private has become so blurred by social media that even personal messages to friends and family can be “easily circulated beyond the intended audiences.”

The lesson for all of us is that nothing is private on the Web, and journalists are now subject to the same level of scrutiny as the people they report on.

What tips would you add to this story? Share your feedback in the comments section. Read more


How journalism educators can use Coursekit to enhance classroom learning

Coursekit is a new learning management system aimed at professors who want something more than the traditional Blackboard experience. Some journalism professors call the free site — which integrates social media and course content — a Facebook for academia. Students like it, too.

CEO and Co-founder Joseph Cohen, 20, said in a phone interview that the site was designed with students in mind because “we were students ourselves until last year.” Cohen has postponed his studies in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania to concentrate on his new business.

Coursekit, which was launched out of beta two months ago, enables professors to email students, post content, grade assignments, post notes, comments, Q&As etc. The syllabus can be posted as text, a standalone document or into the calendar section so students (and professors) can see exactly what is coming up. Oh, and it also includes a social media stream.

It’s that all-in-one solution that appeals to associate professor Chris Harper at Temple University in Philadelphia.

“Coursekit is like a one-stop-shop for academics,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s simple and easy to navigate and allows me to have very quick and accurate conversations with students.”

Harper, who is co-director of Temple’s multimedia reporting lab that produces PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.comuses the tool to keep his students informed.

“Two [of my classes] are co-taught and two are separate, but we can all cross-post on Coursekit, which means that all of us are up-to-date with what’s going on with the students and with,” he said.

Harper uses the social media stream to deal with questions about libel, grading and assignments. “Why not facilitate learning by simply answering a question?” he said. “For example, a student asked a question about grading policy. I could immediately respond to it and the ensuing Q&A was available to the class.”

“The questions might be as small as checking telephone numbers or tips for stories but the point is that we can respond much more quickly. That quick exchange among faculty and students works really well.”

Harper had used Facebook to engage with students in the past but has found Coursekit to be more effective. It’s difficult for instructors and students to find older or specific posts on Facebook, he said, noting that “with Coursekit you can search posts by time, terms and other filters.”

He also found that students didn’t view Facebook as an academic tool, “whereas with Coursekit, they know that’s where the course information is.”

Carol Stabile, a professor in the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, agrees.

“A Facebook generation is not going to be interested or engaged with Blackboard,” she said in a phone interview. “If we’re going to be teaching social media we need to find a way to incorporate social media into out classes, and Coursekit facilitates that,” she said.

Stabile, who is also the director of the Center for the Study of Women in Society, found it hard to use Facebook in class. “It was great for dialog but it was too messy for organizing content. It wasn’t a productive messiness.”

Stabile’s lecture classes can hold 200 students and she says Coursekit significantly cuts down the typical traffic to her inbox.

“I used to receive a ton of emails from students sharing links and now they post them all on Coursekit,” she said. “Within a week of the class starting, students were creating their own profiles, posting content and sharing interesting pieces of information online.”

Unlike Blackboard, Stabile said, the design of Coursekit has encouraged participation and interaction among students and professors.

“Interaction is incredibly important in this contemporary media environment, and if you are not paying attention to interaction, you’re missing the boat,” she said. “We all spend a lot of time creating content for our blogs and Twitter, and we need to be able to use this in our pedagogical practice.”

Simplicity and ease of use are big attractions for Jeremy Caplan, who directs the education program at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism and teaches interactive and entrepreneurial journalism.

Caplan, who is also a Ford Fellow in Entrepreneurial Journalism at Poynter, likes Coursekit’s simple design.

“We use so much technology in our journalism tools that I don’t want to overwhelm students by the means of transmission. This tool has to be simple,” he said by phone. “With Coursekit, I can tag class sessions and items across the course so links and resources can be associated with a particular reading and class session. Everything is then easy to find.” He hopes that at some point, Coursekit will enable users to integrate Google docs into the system.

Caplan, who is developing a distance-learning course in entrepreneurial journalism that will serve students across the globe, hopes to use Coursekit as part of this effort.

“Coursekit seems like a very good solution for this kind of remote teaching project because of the interactive element,” he said. “We are looking at this as a way of testing whether we can serve them in some way, working on creating some sort of short course initially over a couple of weeks.”

He sees Coursekit as a way of facilitating cross-border participation and a simple, single place to post ideas, links questions and feedback. He describes his current crop of Tow Knight fellows as “very active” in discussion and dialog on the site and said he expects this will only increase in a remote environment.

CEO Cohen didn’t share the number of professors who have signed up for the service, but said he he’s happy with the company’s growth. He views his site as an effort at re-imagining the learning experience and organizing it around groups and social networks.

“People naturally form groups and there are social networks throughout academia, and we wanted to represent those networks,” he said. “It’s about people and connections.” Read more

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Journalists connect the dots between data & reporting at Columbia J-school hackathon

Data journalism was recently singled out by an Online News Association panel in New York as one of the core skills for journalists. Students and journalists, however, often admit to being intimidated by data and coding.

British computer programmers Julian Todd and Francis Irving are on a mission to help journalists make friends with data.

Todd is the chief data scientist and Irving is the CEO of ScraperWiki — a UK-based startup that hosted a two-day journalism data camp at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Feb. 3 and 4.

Aine McGuire with Franics Irving introduce ScraperWiki to the crowd.

The ScraperWiki data camp brought together journalists and coders to work on collaborative projects. The days were divided into three streams. One stream was aimed at teaching journalists about cleaning, analyzing and visualizing data; another explored basic scraping skills for intermediate coders; and the third was aimed at experienced coders.

ScraperWiki is a Web-based tool that gives users a way to pull unstructured facts and statistics from Web pages and PDFs and then create organize sets of information that can be easily re-used. Some news outlets, such as The Guardian, used the tool to report on lobbyist funding and Britain’s national debt.

ScraperWiki shares data with the community, in much the same way that users can share data on Google Fusion.

Irving and Todd also worked on, which has been described by The Guardian as “an idiot’s guide to making a freedom of information request.”

Irving says their mission is simple. “We’re trying to reduce the costs of doing investigative journalism to make it easier for journalists to keep digging for the truth,” he said in an interview at the data camp.

Finding stories behind data

Both programmers believe journalists need to understand data if they’re going to succeed in their field. This is especially true when journalists want to check the validity of press releases, or politicians’ statements, Todd said.

“These sources often misrepresent the base statistics and so journalists need to have the ability to independently put these facts into context and these facts are often summaries of data,” he said.

The data camp sessions were squarely aimed at making such data accessible for journalists. This was the first hackathon in the J-School’s 100-year history, an event described by Emily Bell as “incredibly important” for students and journalists.

Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, said in an interview that it is vital that journalists make friends with data.

“Journalists are often interested in the subject matter but perhaps don’t have the computer skills to match, to demystify the process and enable them to feel confident in exploring data stories,” she said.

But, she says, data needs journalists “to ask the right questions and to get stories out of the data. You need those analytical and dot-joining skills that journalists have.”

This was a constant theme throughout the two days. It’s not just the data. It’s the ability to find a story.

Aron Pilhofer, editor/director for interactive news at The New York Times, said journalists are uniquely positioned to connect the dots between data and reporting.

“Journalists need to treat data as a character in one of their news stories,” he said in an interview at the data camp. “Data’s just a source. You need to knock on the door and ask the data if it has a story to tell.”

Creating data-driven projects

The power of data could clearly be seen in the presentations that took place on Saturday. The journalists and programmers had joined forces to create projects as varied as UN peacekeeping, lobbying in New York state, graffiti locations, stop and frisk data, and why people smile in mug shots.

Pilhofer and Columbia assistant professor Susan E McGregor judged the presentations. McGregor, who was formerly the senior programmer on the news graphics team at The Wall Street Journal, said her first task at the start of every semester is to demystify data for concerned students.

On the first day of class, she draws a Venn diagram on a board. “That big circle represents the English language,” she says, before drawing another, tiny circle. “And that smaller circle represents programming language.” Her theory is that “if you can do English, you can do programming.”

Both McGregor and Pilhofer agreed on the overall winner: the data visualization built out of the stop and frisk data that clearly  and dramatically showed an increase in stop and frisks near New York mosques.

Says Pilhofer, “What we thought was great about the ‘stop and frisk’ project was that it posed a journalist’s question up front and applied data technology and tools to answer that question. That’s the power of data.”

ScraperWiki will hold several more events in the U.S. The next one will take place at the Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference in St. Louis on Feb. 23-26 and the second on March 30-31 at The Washington Post.

The events are free (although registration is strongly advised) and journalists without coding skills are especially encouraged to attend. Read more


4 ways journalism educators are using Storify as a teaching tool

More and more news sites have been using Storify to capture reaction and highlight interesting discussions taking place on social networks. And journalism educators have also started using it — to create multimedia course content, organize handouts and teach students how to curate social media.

The tool, which lets users pull together content from various social networks to tell stories, is a one-stop Web publishing shop for even the most technophobic educator.

To organize readings, create handouts

Simply put, you can use Storify to gather up all those “must-read” Web links (which, let’s face it, never get read) and organize them. Like many educators, I use Storify to develop reporting and editing assignments in the classes I teach at Hofstra University. By using Storify, I’ve transformed my out-of-control Instapaper account into topic-specific handouts that I can distribute electronically.

For example, I created this Storify handout to introduce students to making a basic Web news video.

Here’s an example of a Storify I created for my class.

Storify, which recently unveiled a new interface, has helped me develop a system. This is only my third semester teaching and it’s been a lesson in barely controlled chaos. I had posts on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Instapaper and Google Reader. I had links just about everywhere there is a “Save,” “Share” or “TLDR,” button.

I had piles of un-filed virtual clippings and paperwork. The more I taught, the more links I collected and posted, to the point where the information became truly unmanageable. I tried WordPress and Tumblr but they didn’t solve the problem. Storify, however, did.

Next semester, all my course content will be published in themed Storify handouts. Each element will include narrative, curated links and embedded multimedia. Students will be able to move through the items without leaving the page.

Other educators are using Storify this way as well.

Jamie Cohen, who teaches new media at Molloy College in New York, uses Storify to create “vignettes” of recent media history by curating YouTube clips, articles and Flickr images.

Cohen told me he’s a big fan of organizing multimedia content in one place: “That way, students always have access to the examples and assigned reading on each topic.”

To teach students to curate social media

Often, I’ll assign a current affairs topic and then have my students create stories built around the sources and information they find through Storify. Robert Quigley, who teaches multimedia journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, also uses Storify this way. He requires students to create a Storify about their specific beat topic and says students are often surprised by how much work is involved in curating social media.

“It’s a journalism skill that needs to be learned,” he said by phone. “Otherwise it’s just a bunch of social media comments.”

Quigley wishes Storify had been around longer when he was at the Austin Statesman. “I was embedding code, pasting links, taking screen grabs and doing this the hard way,” he said. “Storify is a new way to do an old thing.”

Paul Mihailidis of Emerson College said via email that Storify is more than just pulling in bits and pieces of information online.

“It’s multimedia storytelling that can redefine how we think about organizing information, ideas, and identities. In the classroom it helps us to understand curation as a habit of our everyday lives online,” he said. “Storify has helped my students see the purpose, value and real opportunities in crafting trans-media stories as a natural way to report in a hypermedia age.”

To help students gain credibility, exposure

Leslie-Jean Thornton of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, says her students have embraced Storify without reservation. “Within hours of my introducing it,” she said, “students were Storifying, unbidden, all on their own and posting the results to our shared class hashtag.”

The tool, she said via email, has given students a way to be noticed on a global platform.

“If they get in on an active hashtag and start contributing smart material, the chance they’ll be picked up and included in someone’s Storify, which then becomes an archive of sorts, is very good. It’s a way to establish an online presence and credibility.”

Thornton is working with her students on “a huge project — making the Census come alive through multimedia reporting.” Her students, she said, are currently examining ways to incorporate Storify curations into the mix: “There are so many things we could consider, including replies to questions we put out there in social media as a crowdsource technique, and searches in image and video banks.”

Storify co-founder Burt Herman has seen many classrooms experimenting with Storify. There’s a clear benefit for journalism instructors, he said via email, because Storify “always keeps attribution and makes sure proper sources are credited.” This goes a long way toward preventing plagiarism and copyright issues.

“Given the natural inclination of younger people toward social media, many of them get it right away and embrace the new form of storytelling,” Herman said. The Storify folks created a Storify earlier this week that shows how two student journalists used Storify to report on the Occupy Wall Street crackdown.

“We think professors and teachers can actually do more to encourage students to cover major stories, not just the issues on campus,” Herman said. “We’ve seen many students do great work on major news, because they are skilled at finding the best material from social media.”

For more insight, check out this Storify I created on how to use Storify for journalism education.

Correction: This story originally misspelled Leslie-Jean Thornton’s name. Read more