A social media spill: changing the face of breaking news

All the water cooler discussion in the office today has (unsurprisingly) been about last nights spill and Kevin Rudd retaking his former place as leader of the Labor party. Of course everyone has their opinion and I am sure people who aren’t Labor supporters have their thoughts on whether Julia or Kevin is the right choice or best choice or whatever. On listening in to and participating in this conversation today and reflecting on my own thoughts I think the most interesting thing for me was what happened in the social media space last night.

At home we watched the story unfold on channel nine as the station reran the footage of Julia Gillard walking the hall with her cohort and Kevin Rudd taking the same walk solo. Reporters and political commentators were engaged to provide information on the background and their thoughts on nuances ranging from what the actual result might be to what KRudd’s family might think. I found the media coverage fairly unhelpful (granted I was on a particular station, others might have been better) and it effectively served as a placeholder until the result appeared. I don’t have a wealth of political acumen so when the station wasn’t providing me with anything truly informative I leaned to social media for some insight.

While watching the TV coverage I monitored the activity on Facebook and Twitter, mostly Twitter. I flitted between my personal feed and a couple of the hashtags such as #auspoll and #auspill as well as the channel nine tag #youdecide9 which had caught my interest when watching the TV commentary. I noticed a couple of things during my observation of events unfolding on social media:

People’s opinions were much more interesting than the reportage

I observed the #youdecide9 feed and after having a few laughs about the numerous knitting jokes, and then raising a few eyebrows, wondered who was monitoring and approving this feed. I derived much more value by sifting through that feed and looking at varied opinions. At the same time that we were discussing it at home I was also discussing it with people in the twittersphere. Whether in it’s own right or in contrast to the TV coverage that I saw, the social media interactions were much more interesting and enabled me to pick up different viewpoints.

Social Media appeared to break the result first

Forty or so minutes before the official result was announced I saw a post of Facebook from news.com.au which announced that KRudd had won the ballot (see image below) and then I flicked back and forth trying to see if other news sources had confirmed while the TV presenter continued to maintain they were waiting for the result. It wasn’t until much later that the official announcement came. What I assumed, and what apparently happend, is that someone in the room has shared the outcome with media. For some interesting commentary on that check out the Sydney Morning Herald’s How Twitter broke the leadership spill.

News.com.au announces Kevin Rudd's return on Facebook 45 minutes before the official announcement
News.com.au announced KRudd’s return on Facebook well before the official announcement

The whole situation reminded me of a fabulous TED talk I watched recently from Markham Nolan on How to separate fact and fiction online. Mark discusses how social media has change traditional media and some truly clever ways that his team has approach fact checking to ensure that the integrity of the news isn’t damaged by the nature of social media.

It’s certainly not a new concept that social media is taking a stronger role than traditional media in breaking news. I think what was so compelling to me was that even after the first news broke (that the spill was happening) my personal preference was to follow social media rather than the the news. I think there is still a long way to go for traditional media to completely embrace and take advantage of social media when it comes to breaking news situations. The focus still seems to be (in most cases) that it is something to be handled or just an add on. Let’s take things beyond the twitter feed at the bottom of the screen and make the social media commentary part of the media message, not just a scrolling feed running parralell.

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