Social Media: News about social media that matters to journalism. Written by Jeff Sonderman. Suggest a story.

Twitter image preview can be either interesting or maddening.

Twitter image preview either interesting or maddening

Remember when Twitter was just a 140-character microblogging platform?

The service today added in-line images and videos to timelines accessed via and Twitter’s mobile apps. Depending on how many accounts you follow, this new ability to view image previews without clicking or tapping a link could save you some time and make your feed more visually interesting — or make it maddeningly longer to scroll through.

Curiously, the image previews can be turned off on mobile devices (they’re turned on by default), but not on the Twitter site. We’ll have to see how the change — which affects only images uploaded directly to Twitter or videos posted to Twitter-owned Vine — impacts engagement with tweets.

A recent study showed images were 94 percent more likely to be retweeted than other images were, a homefield advantage that could grow larger because poor Instagram and Facebook are left out of Twitter’s image preview game. There’s also evidence that Facebook’s introduction of larger images in page posts this summer significantly impacted engagement.

Also, of course, sponsored tweets just got a heck of a lot more appealing — for advertisers, at least.

Meanwhile, Tweetdeck already offered the option to preview images in three different sizes. And, crucially, it also offers the option to turn image previews off — for now.

Read more


Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013

John Boehner

News orgs could have done a better job tweeting shutdown news

Every editor should know how a bill becomes a law — but no editor should assume every reader does. That’s why some of the breaking news tweets before and during the government shutdown were incomplete and potentially misleading.

I made this point before, after the Chelsea Manning verdict: We must choose completeness over succinctness when tweeting breaking news, especially if it’s complex breaking news that’s easily misunderstood.

First, let’s go back to Sept. 27, when the budget drama was heating up:

I’m picking on the big guys here because they have the largest audiences and their tweets travel the farthest. The real story that day — and every day since, until Wednesday — was what House Republicans would agree to. Democrats in the Senate passing a budget bill meant little if it was dead on arrival in the GOP-led House, as the New York Times’ fantastic ongoing back-and-forth graphic showed throughout the shutdown.

So, the all-caps #BREAKING treatment perhaps made the Senate’s move seem more consequential than it really was, especially with wording that could be misconstrued as indicating the Senate’s vote actually meant the shutdown threat was over. Those three tweets weren’t factually wrong, but responses to them indicated at least some confusion from readers.

Keeping that danger in mind, I tweeted this for the Chicago Sun-Times:

Paragraph two in that AP story we ran at the Sun-Times website was the key: “The 54-44 vote, however, hardly spelled an end to Washington’s latest down-to-the-wire budget drama.” There’s enough room in a tweet to include something from stories’ crucial second-graf howevers.

Here’s a perfectly nuanced tweet from the folks at the New York Times, who naturally didn’t fear including a comma:

Now, flash forward to Wednesday, the 16th and final day of the shutdown:

Call me a stickler for completeness, but I wanted more from these tweets, too. This Senate deal was a big one, and there was more reason for optimism in those early Wednesday tweets than there was a few weeks earlier. But at the time of those AP and Reuters tweets, Majority Leader John Boehner hadn’t made a statement on the House’s intentions, the Senate hadn’t even voted yet, and it wasn’t clear whether Sen. Ted Cruz was going to stand in the way of a vote. In other words: It wasn’t over yet.

While most news outlets followed their initial breaking news tweets of a Senate deal with details on what still needed to happen for the shutdown to end, there’s no reason not to offer context immediately, as CBS News did:

With 140 characters to work with, let’s not shy from commas, semicolons and buts.

Read more


Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013


Radio show seeks funding to uncover undercovered America

A few days before the government shutdown, the former co-host of “The Takeaway” launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $92,000 for an independent radio show covering the often-ignored world between the two coasts.

But because of the Washington stalemate, the fundraising campaign to produce a show that’s not about the Beltway was canceled — for now.

“Believe me, the irony is not lost,” Celeste Headlee said.

Several factors prompted the suspension of the campaign, Headlee said, including problems filing paperwork with closed government offices and the busy schedules of people helping to develop the show who are also covering the shutdown.

Really, it was just bad timing, Headlee said.

The campaign relaunches on Oct. 25, with a push to raise the money needed to independently produce the hour-long news show and podcast called “Middle Ground.” The show’s producers will be asking for less money, too — down to $59,000 with the decision to seek three months’ funding instead of six.

Headlee, who started her career in Flagstaff, Ariz., and later worked in Detroit, Mich., found stories in those two locations that national radio just never picked up. And the kinds of stories they did choose to air fit into already comfy narratives about those places. From Arizona, most of Headlee’s stories that got selected were about Native Americans, she said. From Detroit, the national stories always focused on the ongoing decay of the city and troubles faced by the auto industry.

But there’s much more there to cover.

“Anybody that’s worked in the national media, if they’re being honest, they’re aware of a coastal bias,” Headlee said.

It’s not malicious, she points out quickly. “There’s no conspiracy theory to downplay the middle of the country.”

To cover the territory well, “Middle Ground” will pay for stories from local reporters. It doesn’t make sense to parachute reporters in, Headlee said, when writers there drive down those streets daily and know those communities.

Headlee, who currently lives in Washington, D.C., says several radio stations in the area east of California and west of the Eastern Seaboard are interested in serving as the show’s home. Once a location is chosen, she’ll move there. She’s working with Sue Goodwin, former executive producer of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” senior editor Jacob Conrad, formerly of “Day to Day,” and producer Chris Gauthier. For now, Headlee said, everyone’s working on the show during his or her spare time.

Once funded, “Middle Ground” would join a number of successful crowd-funded radio shows and podcasts, including “Investigating Internships” from ProPublica, and Andrea Seabrook’s “Decode DC.” Community funding also got KHOI on the air in Ames, Iowa.

The whole idea behind funding the news show wouldn’t have been possible in the past, Headlee says, but with social media and growing partnerships in radio, people are more willing to support a show like “Middle Ground.”

“I think, in the end, it’s a better way to serve the public,” she said.

  Read more


Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013


Twitter research shows how multimedia increases engagement

To update an old saying for the Twitter era: A picture is worth a thousand characters.

Research by Twitter shows that tweets that include a photo or video receive 3 to 4 times more engagement (retweets, replies, etc.) than those that don’t. Read more


Friday, Dec. 21, 2012

‘Frictionless sharing’ is an instructive failure of 2012

Two of the news organizations that led the push into social reader Facebook apps are retooling their products, and Facebook itself is signaling that it’s time to leave behind the “frictionless sharing” experiment.

The Washington Post has extended its Social Reader — the app whose name went on to define the genre — outside of the Facebook environment and onto the open Web at At the same time, it introduced more privacy controls over the sharing of a user’s reading activity, and enabled users to follow specific topics they enjoy reading about.

Meanwhile, the Guardian closed its social reading app altogether. “We are now focusing on building intent-driven sharing prompts and will not simply share your reading and viewing activity,” product manager Anthony Sullivan told me by email.

That means The Guardian will focus on getting readers to explicitly choose to share content or react to content. It’s a refined concept of “social participation,” Sullivan writes:

In the future, for example, users on our site may be able to “agree” or “disagree” with comment pieces, take part in polls or express their view on the likelihood of a football rumour coming true. The key thing is that the user will be in control and if they’re not interested in sharing it will not impact on their experience of accessing our content.

Facebook itself now says this is the better way for publishers to go. A spokeswoman provided this written statement:

As with any new product, we have learned more about the partner and user experience associated with social readers since launch, and evolved our guidance for publishers to encourage them to focus on distributing content through tools such as the share and Like buttons.

What went wrong

The primary reason for the retreat of frictionless sharing is that the numbers just weren’t sustainable.

“The initial launch in a blaze of glory, with recently read stories pinned to the top of everybody’s Facebook news feed, was clearly overkill to a lot of Facebook users,” writes Martin Belam, former Guardian user experience chief who led its app design and launch. “Getting the kind of content super-distribution that allowed Facebook to briefly oust Google as the main referrer to requires lots of people to be exposed to the content, and Facebook has long since stopped notifying users of every single read.”

As soon as Facebook stopped hyper-promoting frictionless sharing in news feeds, usage plummeted.

In April, The Washington Post’s Social Reader had 12 million monthly active users. Now, it has about 600,000 according to AppData, a decline of 95 percent.

The Guardian had nearly 6 million monthly active users of its Facebook app in April. Now it has about 2.5 million, a decline of about 75 percent.

Most Facebook users didn’t want this, for all the reasons we’ve discussed before — thoughtless sharing means little to your friends, can lead to faulty assumptions about why you read something and have a chilling effect on what you choose to read.

Frictionless sharing was an idea we tried. It failed.

But even as someone who was critical from the beginning, I don’t fault anyone for trying this or for failing. We need to defend the right to fail. We need to remove the stigma too often attached to that word.

We didn’t know for sure it would fail until we tried it, so we’ve learned something valuable. And the news organizations who experimented with it also simultaneously developed technology skills and personalization insights that may someday be the keys to a successful product.

On to the next experiment. Read more


Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012


When to go fast, when to go slow on social media

Reuters | Nieman Lab
Ben Walsh writes that his unfiltered Twitter stream “was basically unusable as an information source” during the Newtown school shooting.

Because he follows so many journalists and news organizations, his timeline repeated the same facts over and over. Twitter, he says, “has developed its own news cycle” that occurs predictably in any big news event and drowns out originality.

Broadly speaking, it goes like so:

1. New facts are reported and quickly repeated.
2. Reactions are added.
3. Commentary is layered on.
4. Those original facts are amended, corrected, or invalidated.
5. Forcefully folksy explainers and lists of “The [Insert Number Here] Facts You Need to Know” are published.
6. Conventional wisdom is formed so that it can be…
7. Ideologically challenged, wonkishly debunked, and expertly analyzed.
8. Infographics appear.
9. The medium is truly, fully saturated.

Let me pause here to add two footnotes:

  1. This is, as Walsh acknowledges, a #firstworldproblem faced mostly by power users and the news-obsessed; and
  2. This information-overload phenomenon is just one of many side effects that may come from surrounding yourself with too many journalists (others include: gluttonous alcohol consumption, desensitization to human suffering and overinflated self-importance).

That said, I think Walsh has a point. Twitter and its journalist users might do better sometimes to ease off the rapid-fire updates and focus on surfacing what’s truly new and significant.

NYU professor Jay Rosen expressed a similar thought as the shooting coverage developed:

ProPublica’s senior engagement editor Amanda Zamora suggests journalism is in need of something called “slow social.”

In our fixation on immediacy, we’re missing opportunities to tell a larger story through social means. At times, we’re even perpetrating rumor for the sake of “real-time” coverage.

The rush of real-time tweets is good at answering some questions: What happened, when, and who did it? It’s not so good at others: Why did it happen, how, and what did it mean?

Zamora points to a couple examples of news websites harvesting YouTube videos of conflict in Syria (“social”), but then taking the time to add context, maps, verification and other original reporting (“slow”).

“Slow social” is about the chance to refocus our efforts toward connecting people in more open-minded conversation, adding more context and reporting, and producing more meaningful engagement and longer-lasting impact.

Zamora challenges us to make 2013 the year of the slow-social movement, and I second that.

That’s not to say journalists shouldn’t live-tweet big news or be concerned, at times, with speed. But maybe during the next Code Red news event we all should raise our eyes from the keyboard before hitting “send” and ask a few questions:

1) Is what I’m about to share really adding new knowledge or insight? Or am I about to become just another sound wave in an echo chamber?

2) Can I add more clarity, context or understanding to what’s already been said? (Examples: Chris Cillizza, Andy Carvin, Anthony De Rosa)

3) Is there a way to step back and to deeply engage my audience in this story through collaborative or coordinated action? (Example: ProPublica’s Free the Files project)

Journalists ask these questions while making decisions in their other daily work — there is a time to bang out a quick news bulletin, and a time to step back and take a few days to develop a long, thoughtful enterprise piece.

We’ve figured out how to bang out news on social media, but there’s much more we can discover about leveraging social dynamics for more thoughtful, impactful journalistic efforts. Read more

1 Comment

Monday, Dec. 17, 2012


Newtown response shows perils of requesting interviews on Twitter

Any journalist who’s had to ask grieving loved ones for an interview in the wake of a tragedy will tell you, it’s one of the hardest parts of her job.

It’s also one of the most difficult requests for non-journalists to understand.

In such uncomfortable situations, we often seek comfort in rules and guidelines that may tell us how to act. But each tragedy is unique, and the people and emotions involved are never the same.

There are no rules to save you. In the end there are just two human beings — a journalist and a potential source — trying to figure out what feels right.

Sometimes, people welcome journalists. They value the chance to share their stories and grief with the community, that others may remember the victim’s life, feel the loss and do what little they can to help.

But other times, they don’t. The emotions are too overwhelming. The facts still too uncertain. The pain too unbearable to share. The conversation ends with a slam — a door in your face, or a phone hanging up.

That’s always been true. But the arrival of social media is new.

While social networks have made it easier for journalists to find and contact potential sources, it’s also made the hardest part of the job even harder. Those delicate interactions, what used to be just two humans figuring out what feels right, often occur over the cold distance of electronic communication and in full view of the public.

Look, for example, at what happened to ABC News editorial producer Nadine Shubailat on Friday when she reached out to a man who tweeted that he had a friend with a daughter in kindergarten at Sandy Hook Elementary, where a deadly shooting had just occurred.

A vulgar response, and not an easy one to hear. But frankly not that much worse than any old door-in-the-face experience a journalist might be used to.

What is different, though, is the dozens of other tweets and pile-on-criticism that followed. There was a backlash from some people who saw the tweet, and the conservative website Daily Caller stirred up widespread outrage with a post about it. Shubailat eventually deleted her Twitter account.

New York Times metro reporter Sam Dolnick faced similar blowback from this tweet he sent in response to a woman who posted a photo of her cousin, one of the shooting victims.

What’s new here isn’t what the reporters do, it’s how they do it.

“Out in the open,” from a distance and condensed into 140 characters is not the most sensitive way to handle a sensitive situation.

It’s not just the publicness of social media that’s complicating things. When journalists attempt these types of interviews in person, they rely on a couple of other things that social media does not provide:

  • True empathy. There really is a difference between being a quote-hungry vulture and an empathetic, respectful journalist. In person, a journalist demonstrates that empathy through a soft face and tone of voice, and by not rushing into things. On Twitter, you don’t get that option. You have 140 characters to 1) express condolences, 2) pivot to requesting an interview, and 3) provide contact information. There’s almost no way for that not to come across as curt, crass or insincere.
  • A sense of timing. At a crime or disaster scene, a journalist can read body language and visual cues sent by potential sources. You have a sense of whether a person at this moment is approachable, or too distraught or angry to talk. Online, you have no way to know if the timing of your outreach is particularly terrible.

None of this is to say journalists should stop reaching out to sources through social media. In-person or telephone contact is probably better in most cases, but often social media will be the only method available.

But we do have to keep in mind the new realities here as we move a difficult, sensitive process into public view and impersonal channels.

The outreach becomes harder to get right and messier when it goes wrong.

Related: After the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, my colleague Mallary Tenore offered some tips for approaching sources on Twitter Read more


Friday, Dec. 14, 2012


News orgs circulate Facebook profile, photos of man who wasn’t the shooter

Reporters and producers around the country, frantically searching for information online about the alleged school shooter, found what seemed like a match. Ryan Lanza, 24, was believed responsible for the deaths of 27 people in Newtown, Conn., at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The Facebook profile showed a Ryan Lanza from Newtown, Conn., who currently lives in Hoboken, N.J. — a male who looks like he’s in his 20s. The photo fit the description, so countless news orgs ran with it in stories and tweets.

Problem is, it was the wrong guy.

Hours later, there were reports that Adam Lanza, 20, was the shooter, not his brother Ryan. The AP’s latest report explains that “earlier, a law enforcement official mistakenly transposed the brothers’ first names.” reported that “former Jersey Journal staff writer Brett Wilshe said he has spoken with Ryan Lanza of Hoboken, who told Wilshe the shooter may have had his identification.” Read more


Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012

What the world population is doing on smartphones and social networks

In the past year, American cell phone owners became more likely to use the Internet on their phones (51 percent, up from 43 percent in 2011) and capture pictures or videos (67 percent, up from 57 percent).

That’s one insight from the 2012 edition of the annual Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project survey, which studied how people in 21 countries are using mobile and social media.

86 percent of U.S. adults now own some kind of cell phone, according to the survey. About half of those people use one to access the Internet.

Majorities of U.S. smartphone users are regularly looking up consumer information (64 percent), accessing social networks (60 percent), getting political news (54 percent) and getting work-related information (54 percent).

The rest of the world’s smartphone users are less likely to use them for consumer information, political news and work information (43 to 46 percent do so), but slightly more likely to use them for social media (64 percent).

Social media activities

In the U.S., the survey found, social network users share views about music and movies (63 percent), sports (49 percent), community issues (47 percent) and politics (37 percent) and religion (32 percent).

(An aside on this data point: The survey questions named different examples of social networks in each country. In the U.S., respondents were asked if they used social networks “like Facebook and MySpace,” omitting Twitter and other popular networks like, Tumblr, Instagram, Reddit or Pinterest.)

Those U.S. figures each are fairly close to the international medians, except for the topic of religion, where the U.S. rate of sharing is more than double the world average of 14 percent.

Another notable trend detected in the survey is social media’s role in Arab Spring nations. From the report:

Expressing opinions about politics, community issues and religion is particularly common in the Arab world. For instance, in Egypt and Tunisia, two nations at the heart of the Arab Spring, more than six-in-ten social networkers share their views about politics online. In contrast, across 20 of the nations surveyed, a median of only 34% post their political opinions.

The survey consisted of 26,210 interviews across 21 nations. In the U.S. there were 1,011 interviews, leading to a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for that population. Read more

1 Comment

Monday, Dec. 10, 2012

Twitter-Instagram photo war reveals new business realities of social networks

The photo-sharing turf war is escalating, with Twitter copying Instagram-like features and Instagram (owned by Facebook) no longer making its photos viewable within tweets.

No matter which company wins, users will lose.

It seems time to just accept that Facebook and Twitter’s forget-about-money-and-put-users-first startup phase is over. Both companies are pivoting hard toward monetization and market-share protection as their primary goals.

Promoted tweets and sponsored stories are filling up timelines and news feeds. Facebook Page owners are relentlessly pestered to fork over cash for better visibility of their posts. And third-party developers are increasingly being disempowered.

The networks have shifted focus from creating value to capturing value. And to capture value, they each feel the need to lock users into their own platforms and reduce integration, thus limiting competition.

A quick history of the photo-sharing wars

In 2011, Twitter launched its own photo hosting and sharing service, rather than rely on third parties like Yfrog or Twitpic.

After trying and failing to dominate the market with its own Facebook Camera mobile app, Facebook was willing to pay $1 billion – over $28 per user at the time —  to acquire Instagram this year.

In July, Twitter stopped letting Instagram users sync their Twitter friends list with the service.

Twitter now plans, perhaps by the end of the year, to launch photo filters that would mimic Instagram’s popular feature. And Instagram just decided to stop letting Twitter show its photos embedded inside tweets. Tweets can still link to an Instagram picture, but the user will have to open the link in a Web browser to view it.

Writing at GigaOM, Mathew Ingram surmises that Twitter is motivated by “ambitions as a media entity,” which means it “is trying hard to monetize or at least to exert some control over content that is being created by other companies, whether it’s Instagram or The New York Times.”

Implications for journalism

Ingram concludes with questions for news organizations and other media:

I think moves like Instagram has made should get more media companies thinking hard about the relationship they have with Twitter. It is not just a conduit for your content to reach your users whenever and wherever you wish (if it ever was) — it is a proprietary network built by a company with monetization and expansion on its mind, and your content is part of that equation. What are you getting out of it and why? And will that change in the future as Twitter’s mission and vision evolve? And what will you do if it does?

That’s probably correct. However, it is also unavoidable. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are dominant players in social media, and you have to play with them if you want to be in the game.

This bargain reminds me of a scene from “The Godfather,” in which Don Corleone declines to join Virgil Sollozzo in his heroin business:

I want to congratulate you on your new business and I’m sure you’ll do very well and good luck to you. Especially since your interests don’t conflict with mine.

Social networks are great partners for news and media, and even for other social networks, as long as your interests don’t conflict with theirs. Read more

1 Comment