The #Spill Effect: Twitter Hashtag Upends Australian Political Journalism

Australia is gearing up for a national election in 2010 and a core group of influential political journalists in the elite Canberra Press Gallery are tweeting their way along the campaign trail -- and bringing an engaged public along for the ride.

Press Gallery journalists are among the most active Australian reporters on Twitter, which entrenched itself Down Under as a mainstream media reporting platform in the context of breaking news early in 2009.

As part of my ongoing research into the impact of Twitter on journalism, I've been investigating the role and experience of Australian political reporters on the platform. I'm currently preparing a case study on Twitter coverage of one of the biggest crises to afflict Australian conservative politics: The Liberal Party leadership collapse that was immortalised by the trending topic #spill in the last days of the 2009 parliament. (I will present a snapshot of this research in a peer-reviewed academic paper at the World Journalism Education Congress in South Africa this July)

I'm in the process of analyzing the thousands of tweets generated when the story unfolded, moment by moment, on Twitter. But more interesting are the experiences of political journalists who used the platform to augment their coverage of the leadership spill as it played out in late November/early December last year.

In the immediate aftermath of the story, I surveyed eight prominent tweeting Press Gallery journalists about their experiences. Their responses, and my ongoing assessment of the Twitter coverage, have strengthened my hypothesis that Twitter is having a transformative impact on journalism. this is taking place against a backdrop of institutional upheaval and audience demands for increased engagement with both journalists and the stories they report. This became clearer to me as I observed and actively participated in the #spill coverage as a content curator and commentator

Key Findings

My key preliminary findings are:
Twitter is becoming a vehicle for participatory democracy in Australia thanks to its ability to create unmediated interaction between political journalists, engaged citizens and politicians.

In the race to tweet, journalists are knocking down the walls that have in the past segregated media outlets within the Press Gallery. This is happening via content-sharing and cross-pollination between fiercely competitive commercial and public broadcast networks, newspapers and wire services.

Collegiality is being fostered between tweeting political journalists.

Conversely, competitiveness has a new, sharper edge.

Tweeting renders political reporting processes more transparent.

Twitter is a new dissemination point for breaking political news.

Twitter has broken through barriers that have historically isolated political journalists from media consumers.

While journalists continue to re-examine professional fundamentals as they negotiate their way through the Twitterverse, they, in general, view the benefits of the platform as outweighing the risks.

The upcoming Federal Election will be Twitterised

I'll elaborate on these findings in my next post for MediaShift. For now, here's a look back at the #spill story, and what it means for Twitter and journalism.

parliament house.jpg

The Press Gallery Joins Twitter

Last June, Canberra Press Gallery journalists successfully campaigned for the right to take mobile devices and laptops onto the floor of the parliament to enable live-tweeting of Question Time, the daily slanging match between the government and opposition parties. This followed the development of a significant following for the journalist-led Twitter discussion around Question Time, aggregated by the hashtag #QT, which effectively engaged an active online citizenry. This change brought about an end to a decades-long ban on communication devices within the parliamentary chambers. And, as a result, politicians began joining the #QT chat from their leather benches.

Highlighting the traction Twitter has gained within Australian politics as a recognised political reporting platform, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd cited the tweets of Sky TV News political editor, David Speers, while taunting the opposition on the floor of the House of Representatives last August.

"Twitter is a welcome addition to the political landscape in my view," Speers told me. "It's encouraging journalists to be faster, wittier and more collegiate."

The Story of #Spill

The flow of Press Gallery journalists onto Twitter accelerated during a leadership crisis that ultimately cost the opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, his job. Turnbull's attempts to offer bi-partisan support for a controversial emissions trading scheme resulted in an historic schism within the party and an ugly leadership meltdown that ultimately shifted Australian conservative politics further to the right. It was a riveting story.

sam maiden tweet jp.jpg

But what made this political crisis even more spectacular was the way it played out on Twitter. Press Gallery journalists poured onto the platform, and political watchers were glued to journalists' Twitter streams. A politically engaged Twitter electorate was taken directly into the eye of the storm by journalists live-tweeting every twist and turn within the halls of power. They also interacted with their followers. Prominent political players in the crisis, including the deposed leader and one of his key challengers, also used Twitter to engage directly with voters and canvas public opinion.

The Australian's chief online correspondent, Samantha Maiden,) later told me that she felt politicians were generally slower on the Twitter up-take.

"I think it's a bit of a myth that politicians were tweeting in great numbers during the spill, but I certainly know they were keeping their eye on what was emerging on twitter," she said.

Radio 2UE's Latika Bourke said that many politicians were obsessive about tracking the updates form journalists. "Some MPs I know were glued to the coverage, although they'll never admit it publicly," she told me.

Other journalists mentioned the fact that scores of political staffers were closely watching the feeds and phoning reporters, asking them to elaborate on tweets. The staffers also forwarded tweets to the politicians themselves. This confirms the legitimacy Twitter obtained during the #spill as a political reporting platform.

The journalists used Twitter for a wide range of activities. these included:
Tweeting breaking news

Live-tweeting from media conferences

Posting pictures to illustrate the atmospherics

Offering opinions

Monitoring key political players' Twitter feeds

Linking to long-form stories on their outlets' websites and, critically, to those of their competitors

Discussing story updates and journalistic processes with their colleagues, competitors and followers

Interacting with the public

Posing questions to politicians, or passing comments directed at them via the medium

J-Tweeting the Spill

How significant was the role of Twitter in the reporting of 'the #spill'? Within 24 hours of the story breaking, Crikey's Bernard Keane reflected on the impact it had already made.

"Now it's a vast combination of news outlet, rumour mill and commentary chamber, and it's virtually instant. Media in its purest form, with all the flaws and benefits of media similarly magnified," he wrote.

According to Latika Bourke, a commercial radio journalist with the nationally distributed Sydney talk station 2UE, Twitter was at the heart of the coverage.

"I can't tell you how many times I heard journos admit they 'better get into this Twitter thing,' that fortnight ... It was the only service providing minute-by-minute updates of the very fluid situation," Bourke said.

The journalists I surveyed spoke of colleagues overcoming their apprehensions about the time-sapping effect of Twitter as the story unfolded.

ABC Radio chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis made efficient use of her Twitter account during the week-long crisis. "I used Twitter mainly as a content aggregator -- I didn't have time to monitor Sky [TV], other radios or the newspaper websites because I was constantly on the phone or on the air," she said. "So Twitter was my RSS feed."

Sandra O'Malley, an experienced political correspondent with the main Australian wire service, Australian Associated Press, said she found timely tweeting difficult given the significant deadline pressure involved in reporting for a news wire.

"Twitter was a secondary consideration for me in such a frantic environment," she said "Interesting, however, how competitive it can be. [I] found myself quite put out when I broke a story on the wire but only managed to get it to Twitter late, or not at all, and saw others getting it out there first."

The ABC's Chief Online political writer, Annabel Crabb was one of the first Press Gallery journalists to begin tweeting, and she has a large following at her dedicated Question Time Twitter feed.

"(The #Spill) was an event quite well-suited to Twitter, in that it was fast-moving, anarchic, and constantly changing," Crabb said.

She outlined how the story highlighted the real-time news value of Twitter and its capacity to offer a more detailed picture over time: "A story filed for a newspaper at the end of the day would, of necessity, be obliged to edit out some of the stranger twists and turns that occurred during the day; the deals that fell over, the partnerships that formed and disintegrated all within the space of an orthodox news cycle."

While some said Twitter was the star of the #spill story, Keane, said it was actually part of the bigger (and more permanent) story "of the demolition of the old media model of media outlets and their journalists and editors acting as filters on what information is passed on to consumers."

The collaborative reporting facilitated by Twitter - the "wisdom of crowds effect" - will be explored in part two of this report, along with the impact on political reporting of engagement between tweeting journalists, 'punters' and political pundits. The breakdown of historical divides between journalistic camps, which challenges traditional notions of competitiveness - and raises concerns about further eroding mainstream audiences by driving 'followers' to the websites of competing media outlets - will also be examined, along with the associated emergence of a heightened collegiality between tweeting Australian political journalists.

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4A’s Roundup: Yahoo’s Bartz Talks Data; Huffington Beyond The Paywall

Carol Bartz

Marketers and agency execs began gathering for the 4A’s Transformation 2010 conference in San Francisco to go over the current challenges to the traditional way of doing business. On day two, topics included the use of consumer data and who’s got control of it, the growth of consumer control over media and when digital dollars will reach parity with analog ad spending.

»  Bartz on science and scale: In her keynote, Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz presented Yahoo’s pitch to marketers, which rests on 600 million users and its wide array of content offerings, from women’s content to Olympics coverage to finance. She also conceded that Yahoo has had poor customer relations that made the sales process more difficult and promised to smooth out those problems. Bartz: “We know we have to be more responsive. We have to work the friction out of our system.” (Mediaweek)

»  The consumer is the content: All this talk about meters and paywalls going on these days is beside the point, Arriana Huffington told the crowd. “In every survey you read, you have about 80 percent of consumers who say that they don’t want to pay for news and opinion, unless it’s very specialized news and information.”

With the rise of sites like HuffingtonPost, users are showing that they’re more interested in what other users have to produce—and so far, many of them are still willing to do it for free. Huffington: “The content provider is no longer at the center of the universe. At the center of the universe is now the news consumer.” (Adweek)

»  Waiting for digital parity: Optimism is hard to find in ad circles these days, but eMarker CEO Geoff Ramsey tried to provide some. The good news is that the day when ad revenues could make up 50 percent is practically in sight. Or at least it will be, at some point. But the bad news came from Quantcast CMO Adam Gerber, who complained that publishers don’t want to give marketers the data they want. PHD USA CEO Scott Hagedorn picked up that ball and ran with it noting that, there’s a surfeit of digital data and most of it is practically worthless. (Mediapost)

Google Buys Photo-Editing Site Picnik

Jonathan Sposato

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has bought up online photo-editing service Picnik—the latest in its string of recent acquisitions. In a blog post, Picnik says that nothing will change immediately at its popular site and that its staffers will continue to work on Picnik from Google’s offices in Seattle.

One obvious result, however, could be that Google will ultimately add some of Picnik’s online photo editing features to its own Picasa photo editing and organization service, which remains principally desktop-based—a disparity among Google’s mostly cloud-based products (The online version of Picasa, for instance, glaringly does not include any built-in photo editing).

Financial details are not being released. Picnik, which has been profitable for more than a year now, was entirely funded by its three founders, including Jonathan Sposato, who sold the previous company he started, Phatbits, to Google four years ago.

When we last caught up with Sposato in October, he told us that several suitors had approached the company about a possible sale and that he wouldn’t rule one out. “Not every single one of those opportunities was necessarily the right one for Picnik,” he said.

Sposato said then that the company was considering expanding into online photo storage but didn’t need to raise outside funds to do so since the efforts would be subsidized by paying members.

For those keeping track, this is Google’s ninth acquisition since August.


The Career Site Funding Spree: BraveNewTalent Gets Its Round

Help Wanted

BraveNewTalent, a British social recruiting site which has its sites on an overseas expansion, has raised £350,000 (roughly $560,000) in a funding round from nine angel investors. The site—which mixes social networking with job searching—promises to let students and graduates “find, follow and build a relationship with employers of choice.”

Sounds familiar? That’s because there are several other VC-backed career sites betting that young job seekers want alternatives to mainstream job and professional sites. So far this year, (which lets job candidates answer hip questions like “why I’m unique”), Brazen Careerist (a LinkedIn for Gen Yers with no qualms about being designed solely to help young people move up in their professions), and Doostang (which pitches itself as being for “elite” young professionals from top schools) have all raised million-dollar plus rounds.

BraveNewTalent says it will use its cash to “invest further in sales and marketing to attract more subscribing employers and users.” The company says it also plans to expand to the U.S., India, Australia and South Africa this year.

It had previously received £102,000 in a loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland as part of that government’s Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme to stimulate growth among mall and medium sized businesses last April. More in the release.


Simon Fuller Aims For Social Networking TV Reality Hit

Simon Fuller

By Sarah Hughes: It seems all too familiar: five young people move into a house together in a series that follows them as they shoot for stardom in Hollywood. But while If I Can Dream, the new show from the pop and TV impresario Simon Fuller, may sound like a cross between Big Brother, The Real World and Pop Idol, it’s altogether more ambitious.

For a start, the five aspiring stars have agreed to allow the cameras to track them 24/7. And in addition to the weekly episodes, which will be shown on from tomorrow, there will be a live streaming feed at and, in the show’s most audacious move, a chance for new hopefuls to win a place in it via a public vote and an open worldwide audition.

That global audition is all part of If I Can Dream’s push to be the first reality TV hit of the social networking era. The hope is that it will become a blogging mainstay, disseminated through Twitter and uploaded on mobile phones.

“I am determined to continue pushing the boundaries of mainstream entertainment,” Fuller has said. “The next frontier is the video world of authentic real-time interaction. It is time the public got to see the truth behind what it takes to launch the careers of young artists.”

The man behind Pop Idol, So You Think You Can Dance? and the Spice Girls is rarely wrong about trends and if this latest idea takes off it will change the way in which we watch television, paving the way for other producers to cut TV networks out of the loop altogether.

But how likely is Fuller’s vision of a real-life Truman Show in which the curtain concealing the factory that makes stars is torn down Wizard of Oz-style?

Cynics will question whether in an age of scripted reality shows such as The Hills or MTV’s latest hit, Jersey Shore, it is possible to show “the truth”; and it’s hard not to wonder if the soon-to-be-famous five realise what they’re getting into. “We don’t want to be reality stars, we want to be star stars,” one of them, Amanda Phillips, said. “Our show’s not about sticking a bunch of short-fused people in a small space with a lot of alcohol and seeing what happens. If it was, none of us would be here.”

But is that the reality? Only the show’s God, Fuller, really knows.

Baidu Makes It Official: Providence Equity Backs Video JV With $50 Million Investment


Chinese search giant Baidu (NSDQ: BIDU) says it has received a $50 million investment from Providence Equity Partners to start an online video subsidiary. Rafat was able to confirm reports that a deal for a Hulu-like service was in the final stages early last month. At the time, Baidu was said to be investing $10 million of its own money in project. The company eventually announced its intention to create an online video company venture but it did not officially identify Providence as its partner. Baidu will hold a majority stake in the venture, but it didn’t outline the specifics of the split between it and Providence.

In its release today, the company didn’t say too much more about its plans for the video site, except that it would be ad-supported and feature licensed premium content. The Chinese-language site’s name is registered as As China’s leading search provider, Baidu is in a perfect position to jump start what’s expected to be rapid growth in online video ad spending. The choice of Providence as Baidu’s partner certainly makes sense as well, given that the PE firm helped Hulu raise its $100 million in start-up backing. Release.


IOC Loosens Citizen Photog Restrictions, Launches Flickr Group

At the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, social media was in its infancy. But in Vancouver, it sometimes seems to overshadow the accredited media.

As expected, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics are the first Games to truly be impacted by social media. As a result, one question leading up to the Games was whether the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would continue to exercise its restrictive policies regarding media coverage and copyright. Would these policies change when bloggers, amateur photographers and other members of the citizen media brigade made their voices heard in Vancouver? Or would the IOC clamp down and seek to silence the voice of the crowd?


It seems the IOC is ready for a bit of change: It recently announced a Flickr Fan group. Slowly, the Olympics are changing to meet the new media world.

This is the second photo essay by Vancouver photographer Kris Krüg (view the first one here; read our Olympics coverage here). This time, he examines how social media is changing the Olympic Games.

Womens Hockey - Canada vs Slovakia - Canada Place - Vancouver
Winter Olympics

Only accredited photographers are allowed to shoot from the media sections inside the Olympic venues. Here, you see an accredited sports photographer, who has to abide by the IOC rules, with a Flickr sticker on his lens. It's great to see old school mixing with new school.

Go to Photo 2 ->

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