Friday, 11 September 2009

Why do people blog and tweet?

What's this blog for? Why do people blog and Tweet? I've just read journalism professor Mindy McAdams' post on her advice to journalism students when they write blogs or use Twitter. She tells them to ask themselves who they're writing for and why they're writing. In other words, the same advice journalism lecturers give their students at the beginning of every academic year.

But blogs are different from news stories, people argue. They're more of a comment, more personal. Yes, but you still need to know your audience and in this age of interactivity and instant response, even the most reader-phobic journalists have no excuse for writing in a self-imposed vacuum.

If I agree with McAdams (which I do), what is my blog for? I started it for a number of reasons: 1) that it would be a useful way of identifying some of the main themes coming out of my reading and research 2) that it could be an interesting exercise to start documenting the actual process of doing PhD research and looking at this process from the point of view of someone whose background is as a practising journalist, not as an academic and that 3), others engaged in the sometimes lonely process of PhD research may find it comforting to read that I'm stuck/bored/frustrated like they are.

There's also a 4), slightly less noble, which is that having blog is becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity for professional credibility, especially for academics whose research touches on social media, as mine does. I still know of plenty of colleagues who don't blog and it doesn't seem to have done them any harm but equally, for people whose job is communication, a blog is a good way to get yourself out there.

As a lecturer in multi-media journalism, I also believe it's important to practise what you preach to the students. If you're teaching them how journalists use social media, you need to demonstrate that you're blogging and tweeting and keeping an eye on the trend topics.

Who is the potential audience for my blog? Hopefully, it's colleagues, students, other academics, people interested in journalism and journalism research and anyone engaged with more general new media and journalistic issues like the future of journalism and whether anonymous bloggers should be unmasked.

McAdams reports that some of her journalism students say they don't "get" Twitter. I don't think anyone does until they're signed up and using it regularly. It's then that you realise how important it's becoming as a source of information and interviewees for journalists, how they use it to collaborate and file eye witness reports, and watch stories emerge from some of the inconsequential chat.

So far, I've used Twitter as many other people do, to share interesting links about journalism-related topics, to link to my own posts, to see what the big topics are, to find people I haven't seen for a while and generally to be sociable. I've discovered from experience that you should choose who you follow carefully so that you don't get too many totally irrelevant tweets. Feel free to ignore people who ask to follow you if you're not interested. Choose relevant topics and save them to your searches so that you can quickly get to the debates you want to join. In short, take control and Twitter is an exciting journalistic tool.

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