Over the last week a debate has been raging in Cardiff’s blogging community after a member of the Conservative party allegedly contacted a Cardiff Tory supporter to ask him to apologise for calling an X Factor contestant a “pikey” on Twitter.
Benny Austwick, also known as Cardiff Blogger, said: “I had a call from a person rather high up in the Conservative Party, who I wish to remain nameless, saying that there had been a complaint addressed to David Cameron that needed sorting out. He advised me to write a grovelling apology on Twitter and he would put the mistake down to inexperience.” Benny said that he thought the term “pikey”, a derogatory term used to describe travellers, just meant scruffy. He still supports the Conservative party but in order to exercise his freedom of speech he now blogs as an independent.
For me, the Conservative’s action was a clear infringement on freedom of speech; although you may not agree with Benny’s comments, no party has the right to tell its supports what to say. But this issue does draw attention to how careful you have to be when you use online media both socially and professionally. This week Cardiff School of Journalism was criticised on Twitter for the content of their blogs and their inaccuracy. This had me scurrying off desperately searching for typos.
Once you’ve overcome the fear of putting your unedited copy into the blogosphere for the world to read and judge, you realise what a vital tool social media is and how it can transform your journalism. But after becoming part of the social media bubble you often forget that a huge proportion of the population aren’t involved in it and probably never will be. For example hundreds of people who sign up to Twitter follow a few celebrity-types for a while, feel slightly embarrassed for unleashing their inner stalker and come away thinking, “I just don’t get it.”
But for those who want to get involved in Twitter here are some top tips from Dr Claire Wardle, who works at the BBC in their social media department. Two really useful websites she suggested were www.tweepml.org and www.twittergrader.com.
On tweepml.org you can mass select people in certain professions, allowing you to easily follow people who will have something to say about topics that interest you. At twittergrader.com you can discover what the top tweeters are in your area, which is a great source of local information.
In Britain’s news bubble London and Westminster are the centre of the world, so twitter and blogs give a voice to people who are under represented in mainstream journalism. (See: www.pinknews.co.uk and www.muslimmatters.org). If journalists can engage positively with social media they will be able to produce work that better reflects the diversity of the population.
If you don’t believe me, and let’s face it why would you, here’s Claire:
“Social media helps journalists tell better more varied stories, develop stronger relationships with existing audiences, as well as reaching and connecting with new audiences.”
Yet Twitter is not just a mere tool for journalists; it has become part of how stories are told. Twitter is continuously the first to break news; during the Iranian elections, with other forms of communication blocked, the people shared their story with the world through Twitter.
This, however, wasn’t really down to awesome power of Twitter. Iran’s authoritarian leaders were just a bit slow on the up-take. It does go to show though that authorities and organisations, including the media, have been desperately slow to realise the significance of social media and to react to it.
Click on the following links to follow the blogging debate surrounding Cardiff Blogger’s Twitter trouble: