Tag Archives: Internet-connected computer

The New Newswire: a Dutch Student Called Michael

Twitter is now a news service in its own right. ReadWrite Web, an excellent website dedicated to Web 2.0 stuff, points out that the recent earthquake in England–not that unusual in itself, apparently, but rarely actually strong enough to be felt by humans—was reported first by Twitterers and by a Twitter-only news service called BreakingNewsOn (www.twitter.com/BreakingNewsOn): 

This story broke over Twitter in the past half hour, and nothing is up yet on the BBC sites, the Guardian, or the Telegraph. This story is breaking live on Twitter.

Looking at the situation a few hours later, it’s certainly true that mainstream websites have been a bit slow with the story. From what I can gather, the timeline is something like this (all times are in GMT):

Quake hits south of Grimsby 00:56  
First tweets 00:57  
BreakingNewsOn 00:59 (“Unconfirmed reports of earthquake in London”)
BreakingNewsOn 01:01 (“Reports of earthquake, working to confirm”, followed by lots of tweets)
BreakingNewsOn 01:10 (confirmation from European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre)
Dow Jones Newswires 01:29 (quotes BBC report)
Associated Press 01:30 (garbled alert)
Reuters 01:36 (“Quake shakes Britain, no casualties reported”)
AFP 01:45 (“Moderate quake shakes Britain”)
BBC twitter feed 01:56 (“Tremors felt across England”)

There may be some holes in here: I don’t have the exact time when the BBC website first carried the story, but I’m guessing it’s a few minutes before the wires. And this is not the first BreakingNewsOn has been ahead: It was, according to some reports, first on the Benazir Bhutto assassination, although I’ve not been able to confirm that. 

So who or what is BreakingNewsOn, and how does it scoop the big guys on their own turf? The service is actually pretty much one guy, a 20-year old Dutch student called Michael van Poppel, according to this interview by Shashi Bellamkonda. He is a news junkie, and makes money from it too, doing something called web-trawling—searching the net for stuff he can sell to the big players. (He was the guy who last September dug up a videotape of Osama bin Laden, which he then sold to Reuters.) 

Van Poppel works with a couple of other people and is clearly experienced and voracious in hoovering up web content. But it’s also about citizen journalism, crowd sourcing, whatever you want to call it: in the case of the UK quake, the first alerts actually came from witnesses, who twittered about the jolts they felt; it was BreakingNewsOn’s skill in harvesting that information, and staying sufficiently close to its readers for them to think to share their experience, that led to the fast turnaround. 

Of course, there’s much about this that is new. Everyone is now a reporter, if they find themselves in the middle of news. And everyone can be a media publisher: In this case it’s one 20-year old student with a twitter feed and an Internet-connected computer. And, finally, everyone can now subscribe to that once holiest-of-holies: a newswire service that updates in real time. Only now it’s not called a Reuters terminal or a Bloomberg but Twitter. 

But behind that, not much has changed. I’ve covered a few quakes in my time, and it’s all about finding the stuff out quickly by getting it out quickly. Nothing much has changed. No one was injured or killed, and it sounds like there was no falling masonry or damage to buildings. But that’s no excuse: earthquakes are news, and especially if they’re the strongest in the country for more than two decades

Twitter is perfectly suited for breaking news, because it’s all about short pithy sentences and updates. As ReadWrite Web points out, during the California wildfires last year, Twitter and other citizen journalism tools were used by people on the ground, scooping the mainstream press. And all this offers some lessons for the mainstream press that it would be wise to absorb: 

  • Mainstream media cannot afford to be slow off the mark on stories like this, since their value to high-paying subscribers is intimately tied to their speed;
  • Alert streams are no longer the province of market traders;
  • Traditional media needs to find a way to work with these new sources of news, or else find a way to add value that such services cannot. In this case it could have been finding a way to reflect in the headlines the unusual nature of this event;
  • Traditional media has to both monitor these new sources of news–the tweets from ordinary folk surprised to be shaken awake by a tremor—and work with them to ensure that they, too, benefit.

Some might say that what van Poppel does isn’t news. I’d contest that. He did everything right in reporting the story: it’s big enough an event to merit an “unconfirmed” snap, a quick follow-up which contains what we old newshounds would call an advisory letting subscribers know what he’s doing and to expect more. When he got confirmation he put out, all within 10 minutes. That’s a time-tested, old-fashioned and reasonable news approach. He leveraged the new media, but he showed an understanding of news values and what his readers needed. 

Kudos to him. We all could learn a lesson.

(An extended version of this post is available for publication to newsprint media as part of the Loose Wire Service. More details here, or email Jeremy Wagstaff directly.)

The Future of News

This is the latest despatch from Loose Wire Service, a sister service to this blog that provides newspapers and other print publications with a weekly column by yours truly. Rates are reasonable: Email me if you’re interested.

Jeremy Wagstaff discusses how the Internet has redefined journalism and the emergence of “hyperlocal” news

The Jakarta Post
Sunday, September 30, 2007

By Jeremy Wagstaff

I was asked the other day to address a room full of media types about changes in consumer behavior; where, they wanted to know, are people looking for news in this new digital world?

It’s always a bad idea to get me to talk in public, especially on this subject, since I think it’s the wrong one. Or at least, the wrong way of looking at the subject. I gave them two reasons:

First, there are no consumers of news anymore. In fact, you’ve probably heard this said a lot, here and elsewhere that, in the era of MySpace, Wikipedia, OhmyNews and citizen journalism, everyone is a journalist, and therefore a producer, of news. No one is just a consumer.

Second, there is no news. Or at least there is no longer a traditional, established and establishment definition of what is news. Instead we have information. Some of it moving very fast, so it looks like news. But still information.

A commuter taking a photo of a policeman extracting bribes from drivers and then posting the picture on his blog? It’s not news, but it’s not just information either. It could be news to the policeman, and if he’s busted because of it could be good news to drivers in that town.

We journalists have been schooled in a kind of journalism that goes back to the days when a German called Paul Julius Reuter was delivering it by pigeon. His problem was a simple one: getting new information quickly from A to B. It could be stock prices; it could be the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

*****

That definition of news has remained with us until today.

A lot of the time it remains a good one. When terrorists hit, we’d rather know sooner than later. If stocks in our portfolio are losing their value in a crash, we’d prefer to get that information now.

When Buddhist monks hit the streets of towns in Myanmar we look to AFP, Reuters and AP to get the news out.

But the Internet has changed a lot of this. First off, everyone is connected. By connected I mean they can look up anything they like so long as they’re near an Internet-connected computer. Which for a lot of people now means a 3G phone.

Even if you don’t have one, the chances are you’ll be in spitting range of a computer that is connected to the Internet. Or you could get you information by SMS — from news sites, from colleagues, from family members. It’s not that we’re not far from a gadget. We’re not far from information.

This has a critical impact on the idea of news.

*****

Because we’re informed, news doesn’t hit us in the same way it used to when we didn’t.

True, if someone hits a tall building with an airliner, that’s news to all of us. The U.S. invades or leaves Iraq; that’s news.

But the rest of the time, news is a slippery beast that means different things to different people.

That’s because there’s another kind of news we’re all interested in. It’s hyperlocal news. It’s what is around us. In our neighborhood. Since moving house I’m much less interested in gubernatorial elections and much more in anything that anybody says about en bloc sales and house prices.

That is hyperlocal news, and it’s where most people spend their day. No nuclear weapons being fired? No terrorist attacks? No meltdown in the financial markets? OK, so tell me more about en bloc sales. Actually, this is just part of hyperlocal news.

If you’ve used Facebook, you’ll know there’s another kind of addictive local news: your friends’ status updates. A status update, for those of you who haven’t tried Facebook, is basically a short message that accompanies your profile indicating what you’re up to at that point.

I think of it a wire feed by real people. Of course it’s not news as we’d think of it, but news as in an answer to the questions “What’s up?” “What’s new?””What’s happening?” “What’s new with you?”

In that sense it’s news. I call it hyper-hyperlocal news. Even though those people are spread all over the world, they’re all part of my friends network, and that means for me they’re local.

So news isn’t always what we think of as news. News has always meant something slightly different to the nonmedia person; our obsession with prioritizing stories in a summary, the most important item first (How many dead? What color was their skin? Any Americans involved?) has been exposed as something only we tend to obsess over.

Don’t believe me? Look at the BBC website. While the editors were putting up stories about Musharraf, North Korea and Japan, the users were swapping stories about Britney Spears splitting with her manager, the dangers of spotty face, and the admittedly important news that the Sex Pistols might be getting back together.

Of course, I’m not saying journalists are from Mars and readers are from Venus. It just looks that way.

What we’re really seeing is that now that people have access to information, they are showing us what they’re interested in. Unsurprisingly, they’re interested in different stuff. What we call audience fragmentation — niche audiences for specialized interests — is actually what things have always been about.

If we’re a geek we go for our news to Slashdot. We want gossip? We go to Gawker. We want to change the world? We go to WorldChangingOnline.org The Internet makes the Long Tail of all those niche audiences and interests possible, and possibly profitable.

What we’re seeing with the Internet is not a revolution against the values of old media; a revolution against the notion that it’s only us who can dictate what is news.

What we’re seeing is that people get their news from whoever can help them answer the question they’re asking. We want the headlines, we go to CNN. But the rest of the time, “news” is for us just part of a much bigger search for information, to stay informed.

AsiaMedia :: Oh my! The future of news

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Software: Enter Your PC. Please.

Since spam from GoToMyPC ends up in my inbox all the time, I assume that being able to access your computer at home or work from anywhere is big business. Here’s another option, fresh out of the traps: the somewhat scarily named EnterMyPC, which allows you to access and work on your computer on the fly from any Internet-connected computer anywhere.

From what I can gather it’s exactly the same as GoTo but uses Java. I wasn’t impressed by the look and feel of their website (and there are several broken links), but maybe I’m picky. It’s also run out of Panama, so there may be some legal issues there for companies.