Your Guide to Cutting the Cord to Landline Phones

From time to time, I provide an overview of one broad MediaShift topic, annotated with online resources and plenty of tips. The idea is to help you understand the topic, learn the jargon, and take action. I previously covered Twitter, local watchdog news sites, and Net neutrality, among other topics. This week I look at cutting the cord to landline telephone lines.


The number of landline telephones in the developed world has steadily risen over the past century, but something changed in the last decade: A decline began. The International Telecommunication Union found that there were 57 fixed telephone lines per 100 inhabitants in the developed world in 2001, but that number dropped to 50 lines by 2007 (see chart below). What happened? The mobile phone revolution started displacing landlines as more people relied on cell phones and voice-over-IP (VoIP) services such as Vonage.

itu phone usage.jpg

That trend is becoming even more pronounced in the U.S., where the National Center for Health Statistics recently found that in the second half of 2009 nearly one out of every four households relied completely on cell phones, while one eighth had landlines but rarely used them. As smartphones proliferate and offer text messaging, web access and addictive apps, people are spending more time with their mobiles rather than their landline phones. And the less time they spend on landlines, the more they wonder why they need to pay that extra cost. In recessionary times, people looking to save money make the calculations and cut the cord to landlines.

Pam Collins, a speech language pathologist in Atlanta, told me she's saving $50 per month by cutting the landline in her household.

"We gave up our landline to cut costs when my husband was starting his business -- we use our cell phones," she explained in an email. "I have taught my children to unlock my phone and try to keep it in a central location for emergencies. It got to the point where we weren't answering the home phone and forgetting to check the messages since anyone we wanted to talk to had our cell numbers. My mom just gave up her landline as well."

Just as I explained in the Guide to Cutting the Cord to Cable TV, some people find it daunting to give up a traditional service in exchange for a newer one. The newer services can be glitchy and not provide the service you expect with landlines. But many services such as Vonage and Skype have been around for years and score well in customer satisfaction.

Cell Only

The easiest way to eliminate your landline phone is to rely entirely on your mobile while at home. That means that you'll need to have excellent cell coverage at home, or use a femtocell or microcell tower (see next section). It also means you should make sure you have an adequate plan to cover all the extra minutes you'll be talking on your cell. The advantages of using your cell phone at home are obvious: No landline phone bill; only one phone number to share with friends and contacts; easy mobility to start a call at home and keep talking on the go.

But there are downsides that come with cutting your landline and relying on your cell phone at home:

> If there's a power outage, you can't communicate with anyone once your cell phone battery runs out. Many people keep a spare landline phone around that doesn't require electricity to make calls. That becomes more difficult without the landline.

> Similarly, in an emergency, when you call 911 from a landline phone, the operator can get a location without you having to tell them where you are. That's not always the case with a cell phone. However, the FCC is trying to implement new rules so that 911 dispatchers can more readily locate cell phone callers.

> It's often easier to locate a landline phone in your house than a cell phone. Although with the proliferation of wireless landline phones, those can be misplaced as well. Another problem is that you don't have one central shared phone for everyone in the household.

> Reliance on cell phones leads to more asynchronous communication. As Dana Blankenhorn wrote recently on SmartPlanet:

When you give up on calling and just send send a text, you become part of what I call the Asynchronous Nation. There is nothing inherently wrong with asynchronicity. It's just very different. It's the biggest change in human, electronic communication since the phone replaced the telegram, since synchronicity began in other words, over a century ago.

Personally I don't mind. I'm more productive when communication occurs on my schedule. And I find I can do more of it ... What I have learned since cutting the phone cord is that the Asynchronous Nation is a different place from the one I lived in last century. How different we don't yet know.

Femtocells or MicroCell Towers

One of the biggest issues with going cell-only at home is a weak signal from your mobile provider. The providers have a solution for that: The femtocell or microcell tower, which give you a mini-cell tower in your living room. Well, not really. Femtocells plug into your home high-speed Internet service and route your cell calls through them, offering perfect coverage and no dropped calls. Jim Rossman of the Dallas Morning News raved about his AT&T 3G MicroCell in a review, saying "it's one of the best products I've ever reviewed" in part because it brought the solid landline feeling to his cell phone.

But others find the idea of consumers paying to offload network traffic from cell carriers abhorrent. Nick Mokey at Digital Trends compares AT&T's tactics to Tom Sawyer tricking people into doing his whitewashing work for him. AT&T in this case is getting the benefit of less network traffic, and also making you pay for it.

"In exchange for taking your weight off its creaking, overburdened network, AT&T will happily charge you $150 for the 3G MicroCell, and continue to deduct minutes from your plan when you use it, even though you're paying another company to handle your traffic, and paid out of pocket for the device to do it," Mokey wrote.

If that doesn't bother you, and you'd like to try out a femtocell to turbo-charge your home cell coverage, here are the main options:

AT&T 3G MicroCell

Description: "Connects to AT&T's network via your existing broadband Internet service (such as DSL or cable) and is designed to support up to four simultaneous users in a home or small business setting."

Price: $150, but you can get a $100 rebate if you sign up for the $20/month unlimited calling plan. Otherwise it uses your cell plan's minutes. If you have AT&T DSL or U-verse, you can get an additional $50 rebate.

Learn more here.

verizon extender.jpg

Verizon Network Extender

Description: "Network Extender is easy to set up and ready to use right out of the box and can provide coverage in an area of up to 5,000 square feet."

Price: $250. No monthly usage fees.

Learn more here.

Sprint Airave

Description: "Works with any Sprint phone -- up to three users at the same time. Installs in minutes with your existing broadband Internet access, such as DSL, cable or T1."

Price: $100, plus $15 to $25 per month for unlimited calling.

Learn more here.

VoIP Services

If you'd prefer not to go the cell-only route at home, there are various VoIP calling services, many of which allow you to use your existing phone. With VoIP, your calls are routed via the Internet, which means quality can vary depending on your high-speed connection and data loads. While the charges for long distance calls are usually tiny or free, there are a few other downsides with VoIP services, as reported by John Ewoldt in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: VoIP won't work in a power outage; you need a broadband connection; fax machines won't work with most VoIP setups; and you may need the computer to be on to receive or make calls.

Alan Pearlstein, CEO of Cross Pixel Media, told me that he tried the magicJack VoIP service (see info below) but dropped it after call problems.

"MagicJack was easy to install and was working well for me until I had a few negative experiences that led me to stop using it," he said via email. "My calls were full of static and were being dropped every so often. It became unreliable for any important call. If I needed a second line at home I would probably use it for that, but not a main line."

Dan Frommer, deputy editor of Business Insider, told me he loves magicJack and thinks the company will be bought out or go public in the next six months.

"I love it," he said via email. "Pros: Cheap, reliable, cheap, reliable. Cons: Software not very elegant, need to leave it plugged in to computer (and need to leave computer on), blue LED keeps [my] bedroom slightly lit up."

If you're still undaunted, here's a rundown of some of the more popular VoIP services:

vonage vportal.jpg


Description: "Your computer doesn't have to be on to use Vonage. The people you call don't need to have Vonage or the Internet to get your call -- just a phone. And when someone calls you, your phone rings as usual."

Hardware: The Vonage V-Portal device costs $80 but is free when you sign up for a one-year service contract.

Price: Vonage World is $15/month for first six months, then $26/month afterwards for unlimited long distance calls in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and unlimited calls to landline phones in 60 countries; Vonage Pro for $35/month; and Vonage Basic 500 for $18/month.

UPDATE: Vonage now offers a cheap basic home phone plan for $10/month for 200 minutes, plus 5 cents per minute over that.

Learn more here.


Description: "Do amazing things for free: voice and video calls to anyone else on Skype; conference calls with three or more people; instant messaging, file transfer and screen sharing."

Hardware: Will work through your computer or laptop microphone and speaker, or you can get dedicated phones or headsets. Accessories here.

Price: Free for calls or videoconferences to other Skype users; cheap rates for calls to mobiles and landlines around the world; unlimited U.S. and Canada calls for $8/month or unlimited calls to 40 countries for $14/month.

Learn more here.


Description: "Ooma lets you make free U.S. calls over the Internet with outstanding voice quality. No PC or headset required, just use your existing phone. The award-winning Ooma system offers 911 service, free U.S. calls, voicemail, caller-ID, call-waiting and low cost international rates."

Hardware: The Ooma Telo connects to your high-speed Internet connection and you plug your existing phone line into it.

Price: $250. You need to pay taxes and fees each month, usually a few dollars, for unlimited U.S. calls; international calls are cheap per minute or you can pay $5/month for 500 minutes to 70 countries.

Learn more here.



Description: "magicJack is an easy-to-use portable device that allows you to use a traditional telephone handset to make and receive calls. magicJack utilizes a dedicated telephone network and provides cystal-clear call quality. magicjack provides a free telephone number and free voicemail."

Hardware: Small device plugged into computer's USB port, and you plug your phone into it.

Price: $40, but a limited free trial is currently being offered; $20/year after the first year, plus more for international calling packages.

Learn more here.

Google Voice

Description: "Google Voice is a service that enhances the existing capabilities of your phone numbers. With it, you can access your voicemail online, read automatic transcriptions of your voicemail, create personalized greetings based on who is calling, make cheap international calls, and more."

Hardware: You provide your own cell phone, but can get a new number free.

Price: Free; currently invite-only.

Learn more here.

Many of these services, including Skype and Google Voice, have mobile apps that will run on smartphones such as the iPhone. Plus, Vonage recently announced support for T-Mobile and Android mobile users.


Ultimately, your decision on cutting the cord to landline phone service depends on where you make the most calls and whether you're using it for business calls. If you are dead set on saving money but aren't as worried about call quality, then solutions like Skype and magicJack would work. Or if you want higher quality calls, you might pay more for Vonage or Ooma. If you are hooked on a cell-only setup, buying a femtocell extender might do the trick. Just as with cutting the cord to cable TV, it might take some experimentation -- and multiple solutions -- to figure out what works best for your situation.

More Reading

To learn more about ditching your landline phone, check out these relevant articles:

AT&T Tries to Trick Customers into Paying More to Use Less at Digital Trends

AT&T wants to cut the cord as telecom industry transforms at the Peoria Journal Star

Bringing You a Signal You're Already Paying For at NY Times

Cord-cutting Rates Exceed 40 Percent in Some U.S. States at Yankee Group blog

Cell Phones Gaining On Landline Phones at InformationWeek

Is Google Voice For You? at Boosh News

Lower Your AT&T Cell Phone Bill with VoIP iPhone Apps at Digital Trends

magicJack -- Cheap, Way Overhyped, But Really Works by Walt Mossberg

MagicJack Will Top $100 Million In Sales This Year at Silicon Alley Insider

Ripoff -- AT&T's 'Home Cell Tower' Helps AT&T's Congested Network While Eating Your Calling Minutes at Stop the Cap! blog

Verizon Wireless Network Extender review at CNET

What do you think? Have you cut the landline cord, and what services do you use instead? If you haven't cut the cord, tell us why. Share your thoughts in the comments, and add in any missing services that you think are crucial. We'll add them to the story with a credit to you.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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How 6 Big Summer Films Are Using Facebook For Marketing

Tony Stark, better known as Iron Man, believes in "better living through technology." Most marketers would argue that better marketing is enabled by technology as well. One of the primary game-changers today is Facebook and studios are learning how to engage audiences online to spur a better box office.

Movie marketers understand the impact that reaching their desired audiences on Facebook can have on driving awareness and interest in a film. For them, the power of Facebook is its ability to quickly build a community and customer relationships, generate real-time conversation and feedback, create promotions that reach relevant users, and accelerate content-sharing across the web and mobile devices. (Also, see my previous post, Movie Apps Get Social as Studios Integrate Facebook Connect.)

According to Facebook, more than 25 billion pieces of content -- such as links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos -- are shared each month. Millions of these comments and posts are movie-related. Facebook is rocket fuel for word-of-mouth and studios are experimenting with how to best engage users in order to convert those who "Like" a movie to someone who purchases a ticket. With the arrival of the summer movie season, I decided to take a closer look at the Facebook pages for six studio movies and see which one, if any, was Buzz Lightyears ahead with Facebook engagement.

Iron Man photos1.jpg

Iron Man 2 | 1,360,503 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall (landing tab) | Info | Photos | Boxes | Video

Studio: Marvel, Paramount Pictures | 28,201 Likes

Release date: May 7

Iron Man 2 has made more than $290 million at the U.S. box office, according to Box Office Mojo. More than a million people are fans of the franchise on Facebook. While the Facebook page is nothing to marvel at when it comes to creativity outside of the core Facebook tabs, there are seven international pages (Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the U.K.) for "Iron Man 2" which is a testament to the global interest in the superhero. The U.S. page provides the essential photos and videos, but lacks the charisma of Tony Stark or the appeal of Pepper Potts. Alternatively, the Facebook page for Stark Expo, which includes a letter from Stark about his commitment to technological wonders, is a clever mechanism to get fans engaged with an event that occurs within the film.

When more than two thousand people respond to a simple question, such as "Did you see Iron Man 2 yesterday?," a Facebook page can be a weapon of mass conversation.


Sex and The City 2 | 1,967,023 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall (landing tab) | Info | PREMIERE | Photos | Video | MORE FUN

Studio: Warner Bros | 62,308 Likes

Release date: May 27

Fittingly, the glossiest Facebook movie profile belongs to "Sex and The City 2." The "MORE FUN" tab on the page opens up a world of content, including a character quiz, an interactive trailer, a Girls Night Out planner, an iGoogle theme, a local hotspot guide and perhaps most importantly, one-click access to Carrie Bradshaw's closet.

While it's not clear how many SATC2 fans glammed up their Google page, the more than 30 official international pages reveal that the movie is a global phenomenon.

A Team movie.jpg

The A Team | 36,197 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall | Info | A-Team (landing tab) | Video | Photos | Discussions

Studio: 20th Century FOX

Release date: June 11

With a team member named "Face," the "The A-Team" is a natural fit on the A-list of social networking sites. While the page provides good mix of behind-the-scenes videos, character profiles and promotional news, it also should reflect the rogue nature of "The A-Team" and give fans a sense of adventure.

The page does link to a "Drive The A-Team Van" YouTube channel, where fans can drive the van in Google Earth to unlock videos. This is an innovative use of Google Earth that isn't easy to discover on the movie's Facebook page. The van is arguably the movie's most recognizable character and the opportunity to get behind the wheel of it -- even in a virtual scenario -- is a fun engagement vehicle that should be showcased on the page.

Toy Story 3 FB Tickets.jpg

Toy Story 3 | 791,581 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall | Info | Video Game | Fan Board | Tickets (landing tab)

Studio: Disney Pixar | 1,347,406 Likes

Release date: June 18

Disney Pixar movies have an advantage when it comes to Facebook movie marketing, due to the large Facebook communities for both Disney (more than 3.5 million Likes) and Disney Pixar (more than 1 million Likes). Four "Toy Story 3" characters even have their own Facebook pages (Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Buttercup and Lotso) that have larger communities than many summer movies. Disney Pixar also recently launched its Disney Tickets Together Facebook app, so now Facebook users can buy movie tickets without leaving Facebook. The combination of multiple Facebook pages sharing content and promotions with millions of passionate fans allows the box office for Disney Pixar films to, as Woody would say, "reach for the sky."

Twilight saga facebook1.jpg

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse | 6,154,389 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall | Info | Eclipse (landing tab) | New Moon | Discussions | Video

Studio: Summit Entertainment

Release date: June 30

Summit Entertainment is not one of the major six movie studios, but it is coming off a Best Picture Oscar for "The Hurt Locker" and big box office receipts for the "Twilight" franchise have the studio howling at the moon. "Twilight" also enjoys one of the largest audiences for any movie on Facebook thanks to the many community-created fan pages and groups dedicated to the movies and characters (e.g. Team Jacob or Team Edward).

But how effective is the Facebook page for "Eclipse" in engaging fans? Let's look at a typical day in "Eclipse" engagement. On May 12, the page shared eight pieces of content, which generated 60,000 Likes and comments. Much like the immortal characters in the movie, "Twilight" fans have an insatiable thirst for content. And for Facebook users who visit the page, the landing "Eclipse" tab does what all movie pages should do (but often don't) -- link directly to sites where tickets may be purchased online. And only a beloved franchise with ravenous fans could boldly ask viewers to organize a viewing party in their area. Twilight eclipses the rest when it comes to fan engagement and mirrors the massive built-in audience for Disney's "Toy Story" franchise.

Despicable Me FB.jpg

Despicable Me | 22,822 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall | Info | Win a Minion (landing tab) | Games | Minion Mail | Ringtones

Studio: Universal Pictures | 18,736 Likes

Release date: July 9

The Minions featured in the new animated film "Despicable Me" hope to rival the popularity of Woody or Buzz Lightyear. They have their own Facebook page with more than 68,000 Likes, or three times the number of the movie's page. "We're concentrating on building two Facebook communities for the film -- one focused on the film and one on the Minion characters from the film," said Doug Neil, senior vice president of digital marketing at Universal Pictures. "We want to engage our target audience with video clips, trailers, images, games, news stories, activities, etc., that help to drive awareness and interest in the film."

Regarding content that these communities find most compelling, Neil said that, "Video content -- trailers, clips, custom animations, etc. -- drive the most engagement and response. There has a been a lot of interest in the Minion Mail cards that have been themed to holidays and milestone events."

There are varying degrees of experimentation and community-building strategies being deployed on Facebook, but if movie marketers can agree on one thing, it might be the belief that there's nothing despicable about an engaged audience of minions with a positive message to share in their personal networks.


Share your favorite movie page on Facebook in the comments below.

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital and social media engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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PBS NewsHour Collaborations Require Buy-In from the Top

Collaboration is one of the public broadcasting buzzwords of the moment. The new PBS NewsHour is a national news organization that is trying to figure out how collaboration works.

Collaboration was one of the bullet points when we announced the changes to the program. As with the staff reorganization, which I wrote about in my previous post on MediaShift, our collaboration efforts are moving along but still have a ways to go.

There are barriers between organizations within the public broadcasting system that we need to continue to break down before real editorial collaboration becomes a part of our natural process.

For us, it will take time and it's harder to do when HD video feeds are involved, since that requires a high level of quality. But it's not impossible. It requires creating open communication channels between partners and connecting them with the right people internally who can listen and follow through.

Driving Collaboration From the Top

The plans and intentions for each broadcast are more visible now that I sit in the middle of the newsroom. I'm happy to report that after years of thinking I was one of the only people around who cared about local stations, the new PBS NewsHour is shifting how our producers think about working with our friends in the public broadcasting system.


It's much easier to move mountains when you have buy-in from the top. And that is what I think we have now, starting with Jim Lehrer who is a big fan of the stations. This is reinforced with support from Linda Winslow, our executive director, and Simon Marks, our associate executive producer.

"The NewsHour recognizes that collaborations with like-minded journalists are a good way to both enrich our content and extend our reach across many different platforms," Winslow told me. "Most successful collaborations require constant attention and hard work, but the rewards are potentially immense. As news organizations strive to find new ways to engage an audience, partnering with people and organizations who are dedicated to reporting stories fairly, accurately and in some detail is, we believe, one way to ensure the survival of serious news coverage of both domestic and international developments."

Sample Initiatives

Here are some examples of how the PBS NewsHour is looking to other public broadcasters for collaboration:

I'm sure you'd get mixed responses if you asked the different parties how well these collaborations worked. That's part of the learning process. Expectations need to be set from the start, relationships need to be built slowly, and the conversation should continue after the report is posted.

Changing Roles

My job has changed, too. Since our redesign, one of my main jobs is keeping stations informed of our editorial plans, and making sure the best reporting by other producers or stations makes it onto our home page.

People who tried to partner with us in the past may find a different organization this time around, whether it's working together on a widget or co-producing a series of reports. In terms of collaborations, we're still not all the way there, much like the way PBS NewsHour's complete reorganization still has some kinks to work out.

Fellow public broadcasting collaboration veteran Amanda Hirsch, the project manager for the recently ended EconomyStory project, summed up some of the collaboration projects from the past in her own MediaShift post.

She's right on many points. I also think it takes a significant amount of internal pressure within an organization to make working with other organizations a priority. And unlike in her post, our online department is no longer in the ghetto. (My first post talked about the creek we had to cross to talk face to face with a broadcast colleague.) I now have a sunny newsroom office, and we're working hard to bring collaboration to our now-merged PBS NewsHour.

Anna Shoup is the local/national editor for PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. She coordinates with local stations to develop collaborative editorial projects, such as Patchwork Nation, a partnership to cover the economy in different types of places. She also helps out with daily news updates, multimedia stories, and social media projects.

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Aussie #Spill Breaks Down Wall Between Journalists, Audience

The spectacular demise of the Australian conservative party's leadership in November 2009 was a turning point for political journalism in the country. This is the third and final installment in a special MediaShift series (read part one here and part two here) about the transformative impact of the biggest Australian political story of 2009, which became known simply by its Twitter hashtag, #spill. The series is based on a case study featuring tweeting Canberra Press Gallery journalists, eight of whom I surveyed in the immediate aftermath of the story.

The conservative leadership spill, which unfolded in real time over two of the longest weeks in the history of the Liberal-National coalition, highlighted the emergence of a new form of political communication via Twitter. This was characterized by instant, multi-contributor, user-controlled information feeds. These feeds accommodate the transmission of breaking news; instant reaction, critiques and analysis; and live interaction between the the Fourth Estate and citizens, with occasional input from politicians. The aggregation of Twitter discussion about the leadership crisis using the #spill hashtag enhanced Twitter's role as a journalistic platform for broadcast and audience engagement, and highlighted its emergence as a critical news source for Press Gallery journalists.

Participatory Democracy

"Now when it comes to politics, there's virtually no difference between journalists camped outside the party room and voters in Sydney, Perth or on the other side of the world. Instantaneous live coverage is just a tweet away," wrote Crikey's Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane in the grip of the #spill. He was speaking about the collapsing of boundaries between political journalists and "the people formerly known as the audience," as Jay Rosen famously wrote.

Australian journalist and consultant Bronwen Clune re-purposed Rosen's quote, telling the Sydney Media140 conference last year (just a few weeks before the #spill erupted) that "journalists are the audience formerly known as the media." During the coverage of the #spill, it became clear that tweeting Australian political journalists _were _ playing a new role: as audience members and consumers of citizen-generated political observation and commentary.

The aggregation of #spill tweets under one hashtag had a leveling effect: The tweets of Press Gallery journalists intermingled with those of political scientists, politicians, bloggers and ordinary citizens using Twitter as a platform for democratic participation. This was a point acknowledged by Keane, who described the effect as a "flattener...ironing out the differences between members of the public, even on the other side of the world, and veteran insiders in Parliament House."

The process also facilitated engagement, predominantly between external commentators and observers (both professional and amateur) and Press Gallery journalists. While talk show hosts are used to having direct contact with audiences, professional journalists -- particularly those occupying well-insulated senior positions inside large news organizations -- have historically been shielded from direct engagement with their audiences and, to an extent, the reactions of people on whom they report.

The breaking down of the barriers between the professional journalist and the media consumer is a significant change being facilitated by Twitter. #Spill played a major role in helping bring this change about.

Real-time Feedback for Media Messengers

One of the most interesting aspects of the affect of Twitter on professional journalism is the impact of real-time feedback on those used to being in control of the message -- the chance for an instant critique. As The Age newspaper's Misha Schubert observed: "Once upon a time newspaper readers would call us or write lovely long letters in spidery handwriting suggesting directions for a story, or relating great anecdotes. Now that process also happens instantly on Twitter."

But while some #spill commentators used Twitter as a tool for correcting the record -- pointing out mistakes and misperceptions to journalists, for example -- and complaining about an angle, there was a common theme of gratitude towards tweeting journalists. Stephen Murray, a politically engaged Australian Twitter user, tweeted, "Thanks to @latikambourke @annabelcrabb @samanthamaiden @David_Speers for letting us tweeters in on the 1st draft of history." What Murray and others really appreciated was being given front row, interactive seats to view the drafting process.


Schubert also alluded to the 3D effect of Press Gallery journalists' tweets. "I think (they) drew readers into the parliament, giving them a chance to follow events as if they were cantering down the halls along with those of us lucky enough to do this for a living," she told me.

But how do the journalists feel about receiving instant feedback? While some privately express resentment at being subjected to harsh criticism from consumers of their work, those I surveyed said they enjoyed the experience.

"I like the direct audience feedback," said ABC Radio's chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis. "I like that people can get a sense of what it is like to be a journalist in the eye of a storm like a leadership challenge. I think it is worthwhile for people outside the bubble to see it."

Political Engagement

Along with citizens and journalists, the third essential prong for democratic engagement is the politicians themselves. During the #spill, one of the conservative leadership contenders, Joe Hockey, interacted with constituents via Twitter, although too many Australian politicians use Twitter like an old telex service for distributing press releases.


One of their objectives in using the medium is to bypass the journalistic information gate-keepers. Ironically, instead they find themselves entwined with journalists in a three-way political communication process which is ultimately controlled by the voters. Instead of being held to account only by professional journalists, they're also being questioned, corrected and challenged by active citizens.

Kristina Keneally, the premier of New South Wales, the biggest Australian state, discovered this recently when she responded to Twitter questions from journalists and constituents challenging her excuse for being absent from Parliament during a vote on gay marriage.

Risks of Political Tweeting

The journalists who participated in this survey acknowledged some downsides associated with tweeting political news. Two out of the eight journalists I spoke with mentioned the problem (or perception) of inaccuracy often associated with the medium.

"There is no doubt that Twitter updates, being of the moment, can be incomplete," said Annabel Crabb, the ABC's chief online political correspondent. "They are sometimes inaccurate. They are easily superseded."

But she went on to highlight the benefits of real-time reporting of political news, particularly fast-paced stories like the #spill. She said this provides "an insight into the minute-by-minute business of politics, and in times like the last fortnight, I think such an insight is definitely worthwhile."

ABC Radio's chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis pointed to the internal editorial impact of Twitter on her capacity to cover the #spill accurately from her Canberra Press Gallery front row seat.

"I had to spend some time talking to my colleagues in Sydney and telling them that what they were seeing on Twitter was wrong," she said.

Her colleagues based in Sydney (the home of the programs Curtis files for) partly formed their reading of events on the basis of Twitter feeds from journalists attached to competing media outlets.

"Sometimes it's not the fault of the journalists -- in a fast moving and bizarre story as this one was...things have to be checked with more than one person...something you may believe to be right can be wrong the next minute," Curtis explained.

Inaccuracy or Realities of Real Time?

What Curtis is highlighting is not necessarily inaccuracy, but rather the reality of real-time reporting where facts change rapidly. This creates the impression of inaccuracy when a story shifts. It's is a common peril of live broadcasting, which compels journalists to go to air with what they know, when they know it. It's also a reality of print journalism: When a newspaper is put to bed at night, the front page may accurately reflect a changing story, but then appear inaccurate in the morning thanks to facts that emerged overnight.

This is not to diminish the importance of fact-checking (either individually, collectively or via crowdsourcing), but to point to the nature (and perils) of rolling or iterative reporting. As Samantha Maiden noted: "I suspect you would find in such a chaotic, fast-moving environment that mistakes were made in old and new media alike."

The speed with which mistakes can spread via the re-tweet function of Twitter, and the associated need for quicker correction, was noted by three of the journalists. Radio 2UE correspondent Latika Bourke also pointed to the competitiveness between journalists on Twitter as a factor.

"There is even greater pressure to be first and the pitfalls of being wrong are greater, because of the ability to re-tweet, which can send your mistake farther than you can imagine, before you've even had time to correct, or delete," she said.

As more than one journalist has already discovered, you can never really delete an inaccurate tweet, and doing so can create the impression of dishonest reporting. However, journalists' Twitter slip-ups were limited during the #spill coverage thanks in part to an informal peer-review process that also ensured necessary corrections were made almost immediately, according to Crikey's Keane.

bernard keane.jpg

"Given that journalists on Twitter knew they were being monitored and relied on by their peers, I suspect that played a role in keeping the tendency to report poorly-sourced information or rumors down," he said. "There were only a couple of occasions when outright wrong info was circulated, and it was retracted by those who had done so once they realized it was wrong."

What Does the Future Hold?

This snapshot of a case study of Australian political journalists' use of Twitter as a reporting tool highlights the transformative effect the micro-blogging platform is having on journalism practice: Sharpening competitiveness, collectivizing reporting efforts, and rendering processes transparent.

It's also demonstrated the Twitterization of political news consumption, which delivers real-time access to the corridors of power, with engagement between journalists, between citizens, and between citizens, journalists and politicians.

But is the change permanent, or is this just a fleeting shift in times of great industry upheaval? I contend that the lessons being learned and the change being wrought is likely to have a permanent affect. But Crikey's Keane suspects the transparency Twitter has delivered will ultimately prove short-lived.

"What I suspect will happen more and more is that journalists will treat Twitter the same as other media -- they'll start hoarding info for commercial advantage," he said. "We're in an unusual spot on Twitter...but more traditional media practices will kick in soon enough."

Nevertheless, he concedes Twitter will continue to be front and center in fast-paced stories like the dramatic leadership challenge that was the #spill, "where a certain competitiveness overtakes everyone to see who can report via Twitter whatever they've found ASAP."

The very popular political tweeter Latika Bourke said Twitter, or something like it, is here to stay. "Maybe the platform will change over time, but having seen the hunger for coverage of the #spill (my followers doubled to more than 2200 in a week), I don't think Twitter, or it's equivalent, will ever disappear," she said.

The last words in this MediaShift series belong to Keane, who wrote of the impact of Twitter on political reporting within 24 hours of the story breaking: "This is fundamental change in political journalism...Sometimes all that rubbish we go on with about media revolutions is actually true."

Julie Posetti is an award winning journalist and journalism academic who lectures in radio and television reporting at the University of Canberra, Australia. She's been a national political correspondent, a regional news editor, a TV documentary reporter and presenter on radio and television with the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC. Her academic research centers on talk radio, public broadcasting, political reporting and broadcast coverage of Muslims post-9/11. She blogs at J-Scribe and you can follow her on Twitter.

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4 Minute Roundup: A Primer on Facebook Privacy Issues

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition I focus on the recent privacy brouhaha at social networking giant Facebook. Why are prominent techies deleting their accounts and complaining? Mainly because Facebook keeps adding features that are "opt-out" instead of "opt-in" and its privacy policies are a complex mess. I talked with lawyer Michael McSunas to find out what's angering people, and learn how Facebook can turn things around.

Check it out:


>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with Michael McSunas:

mcsunas full.mp3

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Another Security Hole Found On Yelp, Facebook Data Once Again Put At Risk at TechCrunch

Facebook, MySpace Confront Privacy Loophole at WSJ

Facebook Needs to Find Its Voice on Privacy at GigaOm

Price of Facebook Privacy? Start Clicking at NY Times

Facebook Staff Meets to Discuss Privacy Policy as Backlash Gains Momentum at Daily Finance

Former FTC Chair Timothy Muris to Steer Facebook Through Washington at Fast Company

Facebook's Eroding Privacy Policy - A Timeline at EFF

The Big Game, Zuckerberg and Overplaying your Hand at

Facebook Backpedals on Privacy, Sort Of at ReadWriteWeb

Well, These New Zuckerberg IMs Won't Help Facebook's Privacy Problems at Business Insider

What backlash? Facebook is growing like mad at Fortune

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about what you think about your privacy on Facebook:

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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’48 Hour’ Births Crowdsourced, Print-on-Demand Mag in Public

The first issue of 48 Hour Magazine, though printed on old-fashioned paper, is one of the most technologically interesting magazine projects today.

The staff of 48 Hour Magazine sent off its finished "Issue Zero" to MagCloud, a print-on-demand service, at noon on May 9 after a harried two-day submission, editing and design process. Following weeks of building buzz about the project, primarily through Twitter, the editors announced the issue's theme, "Hustle," at noon on May 7. Contributors then had all of two days (hence the "48 Hour" title) to send in their writing, photos, art and infographics around that loosely defined concept.

Using not only social media, but also a custom-built content management system and a live video stream, the editors, all experienced writers and creative types, crafted a polished magazine through methods that re-imagined the standard magazine publication process from beginning to end. As they describe it, the magazine is "a raucous experiment in using new tools to erase media's old limits."

Making a magazine in two days clearly isn't for every publisher, but the 48 Hour Magazine project demonstrates that even this old medium can be reinvented with technical savvy and creativity.

A Social Media Strategy

The 48 Hour staff began by using their website to solicit the email addresses of people interested in contributing to the magazine. The result was over 5,000 responses. They chose to spread the word about the project primarily through Twitter, avoiding the use of Facebook for the project, partly due to the site's recent privacy changes.

"I love the connections Facebook enables, but it seems to have little to no respect for its users' privacy, or ownership of their own creations," said Mathew Honan, one of the magazine's editors. Honan said Facebook is increasingly developing a negative public image. "Because of that, the bottom line is that I don't want our brand associated with Facebook," he said. "I think Facebook diminishes our brand by association. There are better, less onerous ways to make social connections happen online."

The Twitter and word-of-mouth marketing strategy seems to have worked. Within that short 48-hour period, the editors received over 1,500 submissions. An intense editing process distilled these to just 70 pieces that fill 60 pages.

Technology on Deadline

Prior to the announcement of the theme, editor Sarah Rich said that managing the submission and editing process was her biggest concern about the project. "We have a workflow plan, but we have to be adaptable enough for it to break down and get rebuilt on the fly if the flood of submissions necessitates it," Rich said.

Sure enough, challenges arose. Some submissions didn't make it into the content management system due to technical difficulties. They required individual attention. "That sat like a time bomb until the end of the process, when our copyflow processes got very low-tech," said Alexis Madrigal, another editor on the project.

sarah-staff work.jpg

Anyone wanting to watch the live video stream of the magazine's editing processes probably found errors on the streaming site as well. One of the editors' tweets sent not long before the submission deadline read, "Sorry about the @Ustream feed going down. We're just scraping by, bandwidth-wise." But having a transparent, publicly visible editing process turned out to be not just a technical challenge.

"There is a very real tension between transparency and efficiency in these situations," Madrigal said. "In the editing process, you have to say negative things sometimes, and people are not comfortable saying them in front of a camera. In the future, we're going to have defined spaces for video and then 'black boxes' that are camera-free. We know that the magazine itself is only part of what we're doing."

Next, Issue One...and More?

The magazine part of the project, though, has been quite successful so far for a print-on-demand magazine. Over 1,400 copies at $10 each had been sold as of May 14, all via MagCloud. (One recent hiccup is that CBS, which airs a show called "48 Hours," sent a cease and desist letter to the magazine regarding its name.)

The profit from the small markup the staff added to MagCloud's printing charges will be divided among contributors, put away as savings for the next issue and used as a grant the magazine will administer. (A full explanation of the magazine's effort toward financial transparency, plus an amusing and "handy" pie chart, is on their blog.) The editors are also working on getting the magazine into bookstores in the U.S. and abroad.

mat-stack of mags.jpg

Madrigal also points to the "positive externalities" of the staff's work, including providing inspiration to the thousands of people who participated in the project. "I think that participatory global experiences that bring people together around the act of creation are conceptually beautiful," he said.

Another advantage of the magazine's print-on-demand publication process is the ability to revise and update content as needed. The edition of the magazine being sold through MagCloud as of this writing is actually version 0.1, in which some contributors' names have been corrected and added, and a couple of typos were fixed.

In addition to the magazine's print product, its staff is also posting some of the work from the magazine online. Some people who sent in submissions not selected for publication have suggested on the magazine's blog that their work could be posted on the magazine's website instead.

Madrigal said that probably won't happen, but that the staff is exploring other kinds of online opportunities for the next edition.

"I think we'd like to make our project broader: We'd like to be a high-speed experimental media lab. And that will extend far beyond just doing magazines in two days," he said.

In the hands of the 48 Hour crew and others willing to experiment and take risks, perhaps not only magazines will be re-imagined by "using new tools to erase media's old limits."

Photo of staff by Sarah Rich. Photo of magazines by Mathew Honan.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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CNN’s Zakaria Fails to Include Pakistani Viewpoint on GPS

An Open Letter to Fareed Zakaria

Dear Mr. Zakaria,

My name is Amra Tareen. I'm the founder and CEO of San Francisco-based global citizen news site I am a former venture capitalist, an Ivy League-educated electrical engineer, mother of two boys and a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen. I'm writing to provide the Pakistani voice you neglected to include in your recent CNN Global Public Square segment which aired on Sunday May 9 and Newsweek column of May 7 labeling Pakistan "Terrorism's Supermarket." Both your broadcast and column were stunning examples of bias, not to mention examples of how the old world of media often falls short in incorporating diversity and a broad range of opinion.

Your CNN program pitches itself as a "Global Public Square," yet it was severely lacking in any true global perspective. Rather than utilize social media, the Internet and other technologies that could have brought in a diversified perspective, you fell into the old media trap of sticking to a select number of voices that reinforced your beliefs. This was strange in light of the consistent use of Twitter, Facebook, iReport and other social media by CNN during its broadcasts.

Here's the video from the show:

Rather than the intelligent, well-researched and thoughtful examination of the day's issues we've come to expect from you, we witnessed instead the manipulation of two huge media platforms to promote a personal belief. Labeling Pakistan as the world's leading supplier of material and support to terrorism negatively brands all Pakistanis everywhere as terrorists, or supporters of terrorism and undermines the strategic importance of Pakistan to U.S. interests.

A Weak Larger Assumption

Either your inability or unwillingness (it's not clear which) to include a Pakistani point of view when making such a sweeping statement is irresponsible. Your argument falls short here in the U.S., which means your larger assumption -- that Pakistan is behind much of the rest of the world's terrorism -- is equally weak. Here's why:

  1. The 9/11 attacks were conducted by Muslims, none of which were from Pakistan.
  2. The recent attacks against the Unites States where not all carried out by people of Pakistani origin; Faisal Shahzad is the first. Your Newsweek column and CNN program seemed to suggest that Pakistan has been behind all plots.

Let's take a look at the people who have attempted or carried out terrorist attacks over the last couple of years on U.S. soil:

  • The Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Husan, was of Palestinian descent; he was not a Pakistani.
  • Abdul Mutallab, the Christmas airline terrorist, was from Nigeria, not Pakistan.

How many other U.S. citizens with Pakistani descent have been involved in terrorist activity in the U.S.? With one of three terrorist attackers coming from Pakistan, it's impossible to deduce that all educated Muslims from respectable families who are terrorists have a link to Pakistan.

Pakistan (as you rightly state in the Newsweek piece) is the only country that has lost over 30,000 people -- a huge toll on both its military and citizen population -- fighting a war on terror on its own soil. So how can Pakistan still be "terrorism's supermarket?"

Three guests on your CNN program made assumptions about Pakistan to support your "supermarket" theory:

  • Irshad Manji, a Muslim from Uganda/ Canada
  • Bernard Levy, a French author and philosopher
  • Fawaz Gerges, a man of Arab descent who is a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science

None of your guests were of Pakistani descent. How can you promote a "Global Public Square" discussion about Pakistan if you don't invite a Pakistani to take part in the discussion? To me, that removed any thread of relevancy. By neglecting these options and the online channel you've followed the top-down, broadcast-only path.

End of Single Voice Media

People are no longer interested in a singular voice when it comes to news -- especially not for terrorism news, and certainly not for analysis of terrorism news. I got the idea for Allvoices shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks when as a Muslim I experienced the same kind of broad-brush bias and suspicion you've recently been promoting with your arguments against Pakistan. Back then there were few media sites where anyone with a news story or opinion could circumvent the mainstream media to present their views. It was very scary to see everyone of my creed labeled as extremists, and I'd never wish that on anyone. This is why I opened the dialogue with Allvoices. You could too, given your position within two major mainstream media outlets.

Take a page from the rest of CNN's programming, Mr. Zakaria. Many of its shows throughout the day have embraced the online channel to provide detail, color and a "man on the street" perspective the mainstream media can't quite capture anymore. They use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to bring in additional voices and provide an element of exchange and conversation. So useful is this input that CNN now relies heavily on its citizen media portal, iReport, to augment its professional reporting. GPS could be a much more inclusive and accurate discussion if there were more voices in the square.

Your column and television show should come with a heavier burden of responsibility. Negating Pakistan's struggle against jihadists by calling it "terrorism's supermarket" is offensive to a superlative degree considering how many people have lost their lives fighting fundamentalism there. Yet you've spent an inordinate amount of time focusing on just Pakistan. What about other fundamentalist hotbeds like Saudi Arabia and Egypt? If only you would shift some of your energy into listening and participating in the real global public square online you'd find fewer reasons to label all Pakistanis as collaborators in Pakistan's national terrorism agenda.


Amra Tareen is founder and CEO of, a global people's media company where anyone can report news or their story from anywhere in the world via cell phone or PC. Launched in July of 2008, Allvoices is the fastest growing citizen media site with over 4.7 million unique users per month and 300,000+ citizen reporters from over 180 countries. Prior to Allvoices, Amra was a partner at the venture capital firm, Sevin Rosen Funds. Before joining Sevin Rosen, Amra was a product marketing director at Ascend Communications and Lucent Technologies. Amra has an MBA from Harvard University and a bachelors of electrical engineering and computer science from University of New South Wales, Australia. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two young boys.

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