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Moving with the times

If you were in any doubt as to the sheer force and immediacy of online media as an information source, check out these stats on Mashable about what was happening online during President Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday. The same site also did an interesting piece on how the new president might seek to apply his ‘social media influence’.

One of the most exciting aspects of social media is how it democratises news and information – everybody has a chance to report what is happening where they are in real time, possibly making it more ‘authentic’. Do tools like Twitter make the reporting more ‘real’? Does the absence of the editorial agenda attached to a newspaper or TV channel make it more transparent? For example, the TV and newspaper footage of the Hudson river plane crash was great and everything, but Twitter was the one that really came into its own. Traditional media have more skills and equipment to draw on, but for practical reasons they just can’t match Twitter in terms of immediacy. This was something picked up on by The Guardian and the LA Times (check out the photo):

The major media outlets in New York responded quickly and on the whole they did a good job of reporting the news of the so-called “miracle on the Hudson”.

By contrast, news was all over microblogging website Twitter within minutes. One of the early reports came from New Yorker Janis Krum who wrote: “There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.” Krum also uploaded this pic of the plane floating in the river. Krum was interviewed by MSNBC later yesterday and his pic had more than 100,000 views on TwitPic by this morning.

Yet the most immediate and compelling reports and images came from citizens. Even if you had the most rapid response system in the world, reporters were not able to teleport themselves to the scene – not to mention the fact that the on-the-ground location changed as the plane floated downstream.

If you go to Twitpic, you’ll see that the photo had 354129 views to date. Impressive.

Going back to Obama, this very same feature of social media offers the potential to bring greater transparency to politics and government. Note that within 1 minute of President Obama’s inauguration a new blog was set up on the White House website.  Go to our very own Number10.gov.uk, and look at how they’ve really pimped up their site with Flickr, YouTube and Twitter. Perhaps, in the post-inauguration euphoria, we can dare to dream that these tools will be utilised to the fullest, and that this ‘reaching out’ to the public will genuinely lead to greater transparency and public engagement in news and politics.

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  1. helkka

    January 23, 2009

    So much buzz about Obama!I hope he will be a good president for the USA

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January 23, 2009

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