News - A New Beginning


Kieron Seth# TV-Bay Magazine
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by Kieron Seth
Issue 96 - December 2014

As voting ended, political analysts eagerly awaited the result from the Rochester and Stroud by-election. Commentators expected a dramatic shift in the Westminster landscape and with it the overturning of the political status quo stretching back 100 years.

Yet the headlines that evening were nothing to do with the main contenders in the election. A Twitter row stole the show, a single photo uploaded with a few bland words made it to the top of the news on TV and radio and made the front pages the next morning. A little known and relatively unimportant politician’s career was curtailed while the long-awaited result of a critical by-election, which should have been the focus of journalists’ attention, was side-lined.

Why did this happen? Because a Twitter trend indicated what audiences were most interested in and the news media reacted.

Out with the Old

Traditional models of how the news media selects and gives importance to particular stories seem to have broken down. Journalists and editors used to be guided by perceived economic impact, the global significance, the extent to which the protagonists are publicly known and the geographical proximity of the story to the audience in question. On the face of it, this story, involving an unknown shadow minister, a political party with no chance of success in the election and the uploading of a photo of a house, was hardly newsworthy.

This tale of MP Emily Thornberry started on Twitter, with Facebook coming to life soon after. For news organizations, it’s a disarming occurrence. Their own reporters, trusted sources, Westminster moles and regular news feeds could only look on as news, comment, discussion and debate broke out all round them, with Twitter users setting their own agenda.

Tracking Social Media

For news automation specialist, Octopus Newsroom, tracking trends on social media is now vital for news journalists.

“Twitter trends are an invaluable temperature gauge, a clear guide to what’s grabbing the public’s attention at any particular moment. With the analytical tools we build into our software, journalists can now monitor not just what are the hot issues, but how popular a particular subject is over time. A topic that’s not in the top ten trends, but is continually cropping up on Twitter clearly has lasting appeal and may still be newsworthy.” Notes Gabriel Janko Sales Director of Octopus Newsroom.

21st Century Sources The so-called vox populi is increasingly loud. The smartphone phenomena makes potential citizen journalists of us all. Horrors inflicted in civil wars, police brutality on urban streets, celebrity misdemeanours it’s all captured in video, shared in Tweets and posted online within seconds. These first hand reports, unverified and lacking authority in the traditional sense, are the authentic voice that now secures news airtime. Alarming though this may be to students of the art of objective, accurate and impartial news reporting, this undoubtedly opens up some exciting possibilities for news broadcasters.

The Great Leveller

Once, journalists were reliant on official spokesmen, trusted sources, correspondents in the field and news agencies for their content. As the cost of sending reporters to the location of every story is prohibitive, it has always been the judgment of the editor where to focus the channel’s finite resources. As a result, news channels have relied on the same sources for many of their stories: effectively news has been mirrored across different competing networks. Now, social media is the broadcasters’ chance to give a unique angle, to voice original viewpoints and allow new perspectives to be aired. There is a risk: how news broadcasters will adapt to the use of unverified sources is an open question. However, one thing is clear: there is no longer any excuse for me-too reporting.

The Commercial Battle
This has real implication in the TV news ratings battle. For many years, inter-channel rivalry has been intense: if audience figures fall, presenters are dropped; if a competitor gains the upper hand, it’s usually time for a graphics refresh. Whether it’s to hold the attention of viewers for the sake of delivering audiences for advertisers or to stop channel hoppers giving market share to a competitive channel, news programmes increasingly have to give people what they want. This may not always be what the news editor thinks audiences should want to hear.

Twitter analysis integrated into the newsroom system itself is the new phenomenon that is making a real difference in the battle for news supremacy. Using an advanced newsroom computer system, the news team can begin to interact with a number of leading social networks at the same time, centralizing trend analysis and co-ordinating the process of uploading Tweets, Google+ and Facebook posts. The news editor gains the ability to engage with the audience prior to, during and after a news slot. This interaction means that news can be shaped to take into consideration the viewpoint of the public.

As well as tracking viewer interest, the channel can build relationships with viewers that can help cement and even grow audience share. “Trailing an upcoming item, previewing an exclusive interview or announcing that viewers should tune in for breaking news this is what social media is especially good at. Because today’s audiences are so thirsty for news, we have now built into the Octopus system the ability for journalists to cut short video clips and post them to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter direct from our newsroom software. Broadcasters can reach out to their audience anytime, anywhere.” Concludes David Couto, the Octopus Marketing Manager.


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Contributing Author Kieron Seth#

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