Alfred Hermida and Twitter


I was lucky enough to interview Alfred Hermida last week for my Special Study Research Project. As recently discussed on one of my last posts, I am basing my project on Twitter.

My hypothesis statement is: “Twitter is the new driver of the news agenda”. I thought this would work well, because I would be able to get some interesting viewpoints and relevant questions from it, which indeed I have.

Alfred Hermida is an award-winning UBC associate professor, digital scholar & online news pioneer. He is currently working on his second book.

“Hermida is a 16-year veteran of the BBC. During his four years as daily news editor of the BBC News website, the site won the BAFTA for best news website four years in a row.” (Wikipedia, 2012)

Here is a few questions and answers from Alfred Hermida and myself (G: Gemma Coleman, myself and A: Alfred Hermida):

G: What drew you to join twitter and to get involved?

A: “Well, my area of research and my personal interest is media and technology. So it is something I have been involved in pretty much all my life. I remember the first time I went online back in the early 1990’s, through a very dodgy modem connection. To then suddenly being able to access this other world and it was just remarkable. So, the way look at it is, as a journalist you are always curious, and you work in media and you work in communications, so you have this sensational appetite to look at and see what’s new in communications. What does it mean? How do we use it? What’s happening in that space?”

G: Do you feel that this ease of sharing and distributing information helps to make twitter a necessary tool of news? 

A: “I think it is really up to individual journalists to decide whether this fits into the journalism they are doing. Really its in terms of thinking, what is the best way for you to serve you audience and to provide people with, as journalist always do, the information they need to make good decisions. Now I do find it hard to think of a scenario where twitter wouldn’t be part of that, if you are a journalist. But, I also accept that not necessarily every journalist will be a good tweeter. Twitter in particular, because of its mix of personal and professional, and its interaction with the audience. It does shift away this idea of the journalist as this abstract voice of authority, kind of removed from the public. Some journalists find it hard to get beyond to break down that distance and be in a situation where much more of their personality is going to come through, where the audience has direct the ability to contact you directly, the ability to take your material and share it and frame it to their own way.  I find it hard to see a situation where a journalist would not find a use for twitter but at the same time I accept there are different ways of using twitter that journalists can adopt. One of them can be simply by monitoring, by following up and in the sense lurking rather than being active on the network.”

G: So, following any update on Twitter itself? 

A: “Yes, like setting it up as a newswire. But I think to get the real benefit of Twitter, is when you think of Twitter as your newsroom. So think of Twitter as the place where you talk to people, you share ideas, you compare notes, you check sources, you get comments back on your story and that means also a different way of thinking of your journalism. The way journalists work, traditionally, is we have an idea for a story, we get the editor to say ‘yep, that is a great idea’, we then go out, we talk to people, we come back, we decide who to quote, how to frame the story, how its going to be produced and then send it out for the audience to then comment and discuss. That is how you would use twitter as a newswire. But if you think of twitter as a newsroom, then suddenly what you are saying is the process of journalism is taking place on twitter and discussing story ideas and getting feedback and chasing up sources and asking for ideas on source. But it is a very different way of thinking about twitter; it is a very different way of thinking about journalism, if you suddenly take what you can do on twitter to sort of a logical conclusion. And that’s why I think most journalists aren’t there; they look at twitter much more as a newswire and as a distribution mechanism than as a newsroom.”

G: Do you feel that nowadays Twitter is able to shift and move the news agenda and trends? How do you think it does or does not shift this news agenda?

A: “The answer I feel is both yes and no. What you have is this quite complicated and quite complex interaction between mainstream media and other things like Twitter.”

G: How far would you agree or disagree with my hypothesis statement? 

A: “I would agree that it has an affect on the framing of news, in other words how a news event is presented to the wider public, because one of the differences or one of the key things in journalism is the sources. Who journalists talk to, to then shape the news and the way we represent reality is influenced by the people we talk to. So sources are really important in shaping a type of journalism and how we represent a certain event and it also affects the way we frame an event, is this a struggle for democracy or is this people disrupting law in order? Think of when we had the G20 protests and very often the media would represent the demonstrators as people fighting for economic justice and represent the governments as tyrants of the big business. That’s not the frame it uses. The frame it uses is “here’s our political leaders, trying to sort out the economic mess and there are these violent activists who don’t have jobs and should really get on their bikes”. It is obviously an exaggeration but in memory that is how those protests were presented. And part of that is because whom did journalists talk to generally, they talked to the politicians, the police, and if they talked to a demonstrator they were presented as this deviant other person. The person who is trying to disrupt law and order. So, Twitter can help to influence the news agenda having different voices come through that effect how an event is presented and how that event is then framed. Potentially changing how journalists think of how they should be reporting but it all happened within the context of established institutions of business, politics, media and these established institutions are still powerful. And somebody tweeting something, is not necessarily going to over turn institutional elites. But, I think there is the potential for influencing the type of journalism, influencing reporting, influencing who gets quoted and ultimately influencing how the story is presented, the narrative that shapes that story.”

These are just a few of the questions I asked Alfred, and some of the answers I received. It was a very interesting and rather informative interview. I now have some great examples of when Twitter was in some ways a driver of news and when it was not. I am also lucky to have Alfred’s own viewpoints on my hypothesis.

I had great fun undertaking this interview and hope to hear from Alfred again.

Interview date: 5th December 2012 at 11.00pm (UK time).

Posted on December 10, 2012, in Twitter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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