Why I am so happy that I chose Flickr over Instagram for my photo of the day project

day 52.

Day 52. Hailey hanging out with her grandmother in the morning. I snapped this while drinking my morning cup of coffee. This was shot wide open on my Canon EOS M and 22mm lens combo. It was shot at f/2.0, a shutterspeed of 1/100 and 1600 ISO.

If you want to learn to be a better photographer, skip Instagram and head over to Flickr.

Forget the filters. Skip the smartphone.

If you want to become a better photographer, even when you use filters and smartphones, dedicate a week, a month or even a year to carrying around a dedicated camera everyday and capture everything interesting that you see. And promise yourself that you’ll never use filters as a crutch.

(Here are all of my photo of the day photos and here is my feed with them plus b-sides.)

A filter can give a photo a mood or a certain feeling (many, if not most, movies are color graded to give a movie a particular mood, but it’s much more subtle than your typical Instagram filter). When filters, however, are used as crutches to make poorly shot and conceived photos look more interesting, they do nothing to make you a better photographer.

I am about a fifth of the way through my photo of the day project. I have carried a dedicated camera with me almost everywhere. I am a much better photographer today than I was a few months ago. And I am someone who has taken photos professionally in a vaerity of situations (but not as a main job). There is a big difference, however, between covering a specific event and attempting to capture a photo worth sharing for 365 straight days.

A b-side photo that didn't quite make the photo of the day cut.

A b-side photo that didn’t quite make the photo of the day cut. I shot this with the Nikon D40 and the 35mm prime lens. It was shot at f2.8, a shutter speed of 1/320 and 200 ISO.

When I began to think about this project and the amount of time and energy I would spend on it, I wanted to focus on creating and sharing photos that would be worthy of printing and hanging on my apartment walls (I’m creating a collage with all 365 photos in order). I also wanted to create photos worth sharing on their photographic merits to strangers.  Some of my photos of the day may not have ultimately met this bar, and I have a few regrets, but by and large I’m sharing much better photos on Flickr than I was on Instagram.

I think there is a real possibility that many people will one day regret filtering all of their photos. A lot of Instagram filters intentionally make photos looked dated and aged. Are we going to look back a decade or two from now and wonder why everyone intentionally made their photos look old and aged? I hope people are keeping original copies of all of these photos they are sharing on Instagram.

One of the primary goals of a photo of the day project is to make one a better photographer. If that is your goal, you owe it to yourself to focus on online communities (DP Review is a great place to be too) that can help improve your photography. I also share my photos to Facebook, where I get the most feedback, but the compression and resizing that Facebook applies to photos makes it less than ideal as the only place for this project.

What makes Flickr so much better than Instagram for learning photography? It’s a site dedicated to the art and practice of photography and is filled with people who are good at photography that you can learn from. Following people and looking at their photos is a great way to learn to become a better photographer and to get impression for different kinds of shot to attempt. I have started following a bunch of new people on Flickr for inspiration, and one of the best features of Flickr is the ability to see a photo’s EXIF data (data embedded in every digital photo about how it was shot).

If you see a photo you like on Flickr, take a peak at the EXIF data and see which camera and lens it was shot with. Also look at the aperture and shutter speed. You might be wondering how someone was able to shoot a photo in such low light without a flash. A quick peak at a photos’s EXIF data might reveal that the photo was shot on a large DSLR sensor at an aperture of 1.8 (which lets a ton of light in for low-light shots).

Part of what makes a photo of the day project a strong learning tool is that if you force yourself to publish a photo each day, you’ll regret every bad photo you publish. And the only way I get a bad photo is if I don’t try to get a good one. Some days I’m tired and lazy or maybe just traveling a lot in the car, and those are usually the not-so-good photos of the day.

To make a photo pop on Flickr and get people to view it and share it, you need to focus on lighting, composition, depth of field and all those things that make  for good photography (and even simple things like a clean lens, which is an even bigger issue with smartphone photography).

I upgraded from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 5 for the better camera, thinking it would be good to have for this project. But early on I realized that if I wanted to improve all of my photography, I needed to concentrate on taking purposeful photos. The iPhone 5 and similar smartphones are good at capturing quick photos, and any camera is better than no camera. It is impossible to take a good photo of something that you don’t even take a photo of. But there is so little manual control on smartphones that you really limit the kinds of photos you can take.

Photos with shallow depth of field are difficult to do on mobile. Photos in low light are difficult to do on mobile. Photos where you intentionally want some motion blur are hard to do on mobile.

This project is making me a better mobile photographer, but it is also making me a better photographer with any camera. Your composition, lighting and shot selection (what to shoot and which ones to keep) will improve over the course of a photo of the day project.

There are other considerations to keep in mind with Flickr. It doesn’t compress your photos, and you can store full resolution versions on the site. Flickr is essentially a free photo backup solution that has social features and a community around it. Instagram shrinks and compresses photos. The same goes for Facebook, Twitter and many other social networks.

Because Flickr doesn’t compress photos and most users don’t use filters, a photo has to stand out as its naked truth on Flickr. My Flickr news feed is a sea of memorable photos from photographers all over the world. To stand out in that crowd, I need to have photos that are memorable too. Many of the photographers on Flickr are simply better than me and use more expensive equipment, but trying to capture photos that stand up against their work makes me work harder.

I've spent a lot of time trying to get better at low-light photography to more accurately capture moods. A flash in low light almost always kills the mood. This was shot with the Canon EOS M with the 22mm lens at f/2.0, a shutterspeed of 1/50 and 1600 ISO.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get better at low-light photography to more accurately capture moods. A flash in low light almost always kills the mood. This was shot with the Canon EOS M with the 22mm lens at f/2.0, a shutter speed of 1/50 and 1600 ISO.

This isn’t to denigrate Instagram, which has successfully brought photography to lots of new users. It has made mobile photography more popular and interesting, and I cannot deny that mobile photography will be the dominant form of photography moving forward.

But when I looked at the overly compressed photos with more care put into filter selection than composition, I began to be turned off by Instagram. A good photo is about capturing a moment, an experience, a feeling. Too many of the photos I see shared by my friends on Instagram (and then reshared on Facebook and Twitter) are about the filters and trying to make a photo into something it isn’t.

Some of the filters absolutely baffle me, seemingly serving no other purpose than to make a photo look bad. There even has been a backlash against filters on Instagram, with the #nofilter hashtag becoming popular. Part of that movement is that people are saying look at this photo on its merit and not on how it interacted with a filter.

I was an early Instagram user and was guilty of many of these transgressions. Over time I began to use less and less filters. When Instagram first came out, Flickr was dying. It wasn’t worth most people’s times.

But the Flickr of mid-2013 is worth your time. It too has a great mobile app. The new design for Flickr looks great, presents photos beautifully and creates memorable photostreams of users to get lost in. The ability to store 1 terabyte of uncompressed, full resolution images is incredibly valuable.

If you’re looking for a community of people sharing mobile photos, Instagram is a great place to be. If you want to embark on a journey to learn to be a stronger photographer, I highly suggest Flickr and a dedicated camera instead.

You can find all of my photos on Flickr, including the ones that didn’t make it into this project.

 

Where are my photos of the day? On social media

You may be wondering where my promised photos of the day are. I’ve been sharing them all along on Flickr, Facebook and Twitter.

I think posting every photo of the day here would overwhelm the blog, especially since I don’t write as much as I used to (I blame grad school while working full time for this). I will be posting my best photos here, but you can find the rest on social media. I recommend checking out the photos on Flickr, as they are uncompressed and look by far the best there.

I also post a lot of b-side photos to Flickr. I’d love to hear if you think I selected the right photo each day or if a b-side is better. The photos that I have selected as the photo of the day are in the set Photo 365.

I’ll be following up soon with a post on why I choose to share my photos on Flickr instead of Instagram and why none of my photos of the day have been taken with a smartphone.

Social media IS engaging in the political process

I have a voice. You have a voice. Everyone using the Internet to connect with people all over the world has a voice.

We deserve to be heard.

Social media is amplifying that voice, letting us reach people and institutions like never before. Smart companies and individuals have leveraged social media to connect with more people than ever before.

But this week I had a local politician tell me my voice didn’t matter. I didn’t show up for a public hearing, and thus what I have to say — while publicly — isn’t the same. But he wasn’t just talking to me. No, he was saying that anyone who engages him on his official Twitter and Facebook accounts isn’t really engaging in the political process.

I have to ask, why would you even be on social media then? The idea being social media is to engage people.

So, what was this hearing about and why wasn’t I there? For several years now, a small but vocal minority has been trying to get a pedestrian bridge built from a parking garage to a new library under construction in downtown Silver Spring. All pedetrian bridges were expressly forbidden by CBD Urban Renewal Plan and the proposal has been voted down before. But this vocal minority won’t rest, and thus we have more hearings.

The reason I — and almost everyone else who lives in Silver Spring — wasn’t at the meeting was that the meeting was in Rockville, Maryland, at least a 30 minute drive from the proposed spot of this bridge. Why would that be? Well, to officially engage in the official process one must travel to the official place of politics, which is Rockville, the county seat of Montgomery County, Maryland.

I don’t own a car, and many people who live in the area don’t either. Silver Spring has great public transportation and is increasingly becoming more walkable (that public transportation is much better to get between Silver Spring and DC, Arlington and Alexandria. Getting to Rockville isn’t quite as easy). This is one reason why so many people in the area are against a bridge that’s designed to serve car drivers from outside of the area at the expense of local residents.

You might understand then why I was a little bit upset when one of my local politicians wrote this:

“I agree that social media has its benefits but I don’t think it substitutes for actually engaging in the process.”

How is reaching out to an elected representative to personally — and publicly — engage in a dialogue about issues not engaging in the process? Why does showing up for “official hearings” the only way to engage in the process?

This is archaic and a great way to keep people disinterested in politics. Local politicians count on low turnout at “official” events to justify decisions. “If you were so against this bridge being built in your town, how come you didn’t show up to this other town while you were working to voice your opposition to it?” As polarscribe said on Twitter, “brilliant, nobody under 50 matters.”

It is true that the way politics are conducted — especially at the local level — the process is largely aimed at older constituents. There are formal hearings held at times that younger people are often working or trying to raise their families. The idea that social media isn’t a way to engage in the political process will only further keep younger voters disinterested in politics.

But social media is popular with older cohorts too. The Internet is popular with everyone. The only thing I see old about this is how many politicians act like it’s the 1980s still.

The Internet is a transformative technology. It’s one of the biggest inventions in human history. It has the power to make the political process more transparent, open and inviting.

Let it. Embrace the Internet. Embrace social media.

Social media can help liberate the Arab world, but it can’t help me reach my local politicians? Social media can’t help me explain to my politicians why I would be against a $1.5 million bridge to serve car drivers over those of us who live in the area, while the county has had to make huge cuts to close a $779 million budget gap? That’s ridiculous.

Before Silver Spring was redeveloped and given a walkable core, it was economically depressed. The urban renewal plan forbade pedestrian bridges (also know as skywalks) because they are precisely the kind of thing that leads to an urban area becoming blighted. These bridges are built to get people off the streets, which allows cars to move faster. These areas become opening hostile to people on foot and to ground-level business activity.

My hometown of Cleveland, Ohio has them and many depressed rust belt cities do too. These cities are hemoraging residents left and right because they are little more than places for suburban commuters to work in and watch sporting events in. To the immediate residents of downtown Silver Spring, building pedestrian bridges to serve commuters from elsewhere in the county is a great way to throw Silver Spring back into the economic depression it emerged from.

Bridge proponents are pushing for the bridge under the guise of accessibility for the disabled. The argument goes that disabled people that drive to the library can’t be expected to use crosswalks on the ground level, and thus we should build a pedestrian bridge to make it easier to cross. One person even suggested that this bridge needs to be built because this library houses materials for the visually impaired.

Obviously, this is a ruse, because no one wants to admit that they support this bridge because they don’t want to step foot on the sidewalks of Silver Spring. Yes, some disabled people do drive. I would submit that the visually impaired do not.

I have several disabled people in my condo building, and downtown Silver Spring has a lot of disabled people because it’s not car-dependent. There are ample sidewalks, ramps and curb cuts. Many of these people do not drive, but they are able to live full lives because they live in an area that makes it easy to get around without a car.

To recap: A local politician said that the only way to engage in the official political process about a bridge for the disabled in the city I live in was to somehow travel to another city to discuss it. And not being unable to make the meeting and instead sending him messages via social media does not count as engaging in the political process.

How accessible.

To every Montgomery County politician reading this blog, I am against the pedestrian bridge to the new Silver Spring library. The people who live in the immediate area largely agree. I’m going to send you tweets, Facebook messages, e-mails, phone calls.

This blog post is written in ink far more permanent than any faxed or mailed letter ever could be. It’s public and people have the power to share it and comment on it. If I wasn’t serious about this issue, I wouldn’t have written something so public, so permanent.

I may never make it to a hearing in Rockville, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a voice. Or a vote.

We have a voice

We will be heard.

Followers (or fans or friends) are not all created equal

It’s easy to get followers; it’s hard to get good followers. Be patient.

There are a bunch of tools to get people and organizations a mass of Twitter followers quickly. But raw numbers won’t help you. What your organization needs are followers that actually care about your product and want to interact with you.

That’s why I advocate slow, organic growth. Don’t go around mass following people (in the hopes that they will follow you back). Only follow people that you want to interact with and that would be interested in your organization or product.

Most importantly, create a quality experience on social media that will get people to interact with you, retweet you, link to you, talk about you and tell their friends about you. That’s the best way to get organic growth.

For instance, for our RarePlanet Twitter account, I only follow people and organizations who are involved with conservation or environmentalism or who are interested in them. We do not follow random people to artificially boost our follower account. We only follow people and organizations that we want to be social with and that would want to be social with us.

We’re also looking at ways to be as interactive as possible and be an experience that people find useful and that they look forward to. Our work on social media should be a positive for our followers/fans/friends or would-be followers/fans/friends.

We’ve had steady growth over the last few months, but what I’m more concerned about is our follower-to-listed ratio. There are people out there who have thousands of followers and are on very few lists. What this tells me is that the people following them back don’t know much about them and don’t care to know more either. When people put you on a list, they know enough about you to categorize what you do and they care enough about what you do to go through the process of categorizing you.

That’s big. Our follower-to-listed ratio is somewhere around 9 followers for every list we are on (it has been even stronger in the past). Many people and organizations that just randomly follow people have ratios north of 100-1. What does that say about the quality of the community that they are building?

Rare is a small organization that is only really known within the conservation community. We couldn’t just create a Twitter and Facebook account like a large organization and watch as followers and fans came in. We had to make our presence known, but I didn’t want to do it in a disingenuous or spammy way.

My plan (and it’s a plan that I think would work well for other small, less-known non-profits) is to provide a quality experience every day on Twitter and Facebook that isn’t just about the work that we do. We want to talk about what the larger conservation and environmental communities are up to, and we want to be a part of those communities on social media.

I also look through lists of people that I trust in the conversation and environmental space and find people to follow that I think we should connect with. I’m trying to following my 10-5 rule, which is that for every 10 posts that are talking at people (links to cool stories, videos, photos, blog posts from around the Web or work that we are doing) or asking people questions, we should have at least five tweets that are @replies to people we are following.

Do you have any tips to share about connecting with people on social media?

Beware of that crazy Internet (and bad advice from professors)

“When I was in college, a professor said, ‘Beware of the Internet.’ Everyone and anyone is a ‘journalist’ or ‘writer’ because of it. Six years later, I owe the Internet a big hug, because before my memoir Rattled! there was Storked! on glamour.com. But I do consider myself a real writer, and my stories are genuine.”

That quote comes from well-known blogger Christine Coppa. She has been making a living off of her blog and now has a book out based on her blog. She’s very fortunate that she didn’t listen to her professor.

I can’t help but wonder how many aspiring journalists received sage advice like that only a few years ago. Imagine how much that has impacted the journalism industry? Worse still, many journalism professors still don’t get the power of the Internet and openly believe it will be (or has been) the downfall of journalism.

That’s a shame. So what if everyone is a journalist because of the Internet? As we are seeing right now in Iran, the revolution will be tweeted.

Bloggers like Andrew Sullivan are helping to make sense of it all. In fact, the mainstream media has been woefully inadequate when it comes to covering Iran and the recent election. Thank God for Twitter, blogging and social media.

When everyone becomes a journalist, we’ll be a more active, engaged and informed citizenry. When everyone is a journalist, corruption will find it tough to incubate; tyranny will have no place to hide.

There is still a place for professional journalists. Citizens can help report what they experience in their lives, but journalists can still put together the trend and analysis pieces. Professionals can also curate citizen content.

The Internet is a win-win for everyone. Well, accept the corrupt, the despotic, the tyrannically, the unethical.

It’s clear, however, that students should avoid the Internet at their own peril.

Telecommuting can replace newsrooms

BeatBlogging.Org doesn’t have any offices.

There is no newsroom. Jay Rosen and I don’t even live in the same state. Oh, we do collaborate like mad.

We just don’t need to be face-to-face to do it. The NYU students who work on the project don’t need to be at NYU or even in the New York area to get work done. We can work from anywhere.

We use Google Docs, wikis and an internal blog. We have a modern e-mail Web app like GMAIL to send e-mails and IMs. We use Skype and Twitter.

We use Mevio for our audio files and WordPress for our site. We have Dropbox for backing up our files and could use it to share large files if we needed.

These Web tools have made us incredibly efficient and allow us to run extremely lean. We’re not wasting money on PC-based software or a physical location. Why should we?

In fact, I’d say working collaboratively and remotely makes us more efficient. I don’t have people stopping by my home-office (or a coffee house) bugging me, telling me random jokes or asking me if I want to go to lunch. And I can get work done wherever, whenever.

Sometimes inspiration strikes at 2:00 a.m. Because I’m set up to get work done remotely, I can capitalize on that inspiration.

This all brings me to my real point: What’s the point of a newsroom in today’s era of limited resources? What would you rather fire: content producers (and by extension money makers) or a physical building? For knowledge workers, I’d argue that physical buildings often make us less efficient and always cost a lot of money.

Workers > buildings

Michael Rosenblum and a client got rid of the newsroom. Why? It wasn’t worth the expense:

We had an office for the first station, but realized after a year, no one went there. There was no need for it.

All of our video journalists work from the field, cut on their own laptops, and set their own schedules. Coming into an office every day would only eat into their reporting time and serve no purpose. Not to mention the vast cost of a physical office – the building, the desks, the carpet, the lights.  All unnecessary.

So when we set out to design our second station, we eliminated the building and the office entirely.

Don’t need it.

Don’t want it.

Why do content producers need to be in a physical building? They don’t. Reporters should be out reporting and conducting office hours for the community.

If I’m an editor, I don’t want to see my reporters. If I am seeing them, they are not out being a part of the community. And I really don’t care where editors are located.

They certainly don’t need to be in the same building together. Heck, they don’t even need to all be in the same state or country. Same with Web developers, database journalists, etc. I just want people who are good at what they do and can work with collaborative Web tools.

Instead of laying off employees, news orgs should consider laying off their office buildings. Or at least downsizing them with the idea that workers would show up to this smaller, collaborative-focused newsroom less often.

In my experience, companies that require workers to come in every day to get work done aren’t utilizing collaborative tools that make them more efficient. If they were using Web apps like Google Apps/Docs, wikis, BaseCamp and Web-based e-mail, they wouldn’t need you to come in. With those tools, almost all meetings are obsolete.

Telecommuting is all about mindset. That’s all it is. Many mangers have only known showing up Monday-Friday, 8-5 in the office each week. They think that’s the only way to get work done.

They can’t envision a different way of working. They assume you’ll just slack off if they can’t walk over to your desk whenever they want. They think you won’t be in the loop and be able to collaborate.

You don’t want to work for these kinds of managers. They let fear override logic. They are stuck in the past, when the present and future offer a better way of doing things.

I’m here to tell you that those kinds of managers are wrong. In my previous jobs, I worked in an office. Now I telecommute full-time.

I no longer waste two hours of my day commuting into work. Instead, I can spend that time actually working. Now, if I want to get work done at 2:00 a.m., I can. Also, I can update our Google Site (a powerful wiki-like tool) whenever a good idea strikes me.

Nothing sapped my creative energy like being told that I had to think about work a certain part of the day and personal stuff another part of the day. Now, I can think about work whenever it makes sense to. I don’t work straight through my day and then go home.

No, I work in chunks and then do non-work stuff for other chunks. I’m much more flexible now, and I have to be because I follow journalists all over the world. You can find me doing work early in the morning and late in the evening.

And why not? It’s just more efficient to work when you have work to do, not just to show up for work when you are scheduled at the office.

I’m more efficient now, and I work more. I have more time to work, and I have less distractions. No longer do I feel drained from a long commute, and I don’t waste time traveling to work.

Rethink the office

There are times when it may make sense to meet in person, but we don’t need to meet everyday. In fact, I’d argue that meeting daily makes us less efficient, and a bonus of not having an office is that it cuts down on meetings. Of course, there are companies that will never really need to meet.

Want to collaborate? Use collaborative tools! Meetings are a time sink.

Get rid of the building, and the you’ll get rid of the endless, unproductive meetings.

Here are two options that should save money and make for a better product, while still keeping a physical office space when needed:

  1. Have a smaller space that workers can bring their laptops in for collaboration.
  2. Rent out a space just when you need it for in-person collaboration.

Option one is less radical, but it still saves money. If your workers work from home several days a week and don’t have set desks and offices, you don’t need anywhere near the same amount of space.

For instance, different teams could have different days of the week where they come in for collaboration. During these days, they would have access to the work space, which would be built around people bringing in laptops. There would be lots of white boards and spaces designed around serious collaboration (not around stupid, daily status meetings).

But it would be much smaller, and smaller means less money. Imagine if only 25 percent (or less) of your work force was scheduled to be in the office each day. Plus, you don’t have offices wasting space.

Option two is more radical, but it makes sense. Why not just rent out space once a week for collaboration or monthly or whenever you need it? Why buy or lease a building if you don’t need to?

Simply rent out space when you actually need to meet in person. If more businesses did this, there could be a sizable market for rent-an-offices. But these wouldn’t look like today’s cubicle-filled offices.

Again, they would be built around collaboration. They would be open and filled with white boards. They would have tons of wireless bandwidth, and they would have personality.

After all, if you’re going to have a physical office space, why not have it be something that people actually want to come into? Why not have something that is actually inspirational?

You can’t put a price on happiness

This is an often over-looked benefit of telecommuting. Employees will he happier. Many of us have to deal with huge commutes (especially those in markets like New York, Chicago, D.C., San Francisco, etc).

Trust me, no one likes spending his life in traffic, and American workers spend unconscionable amounts of time in traffic. So, why not get rid of one of the most stressful and least productive parts of your employees’ day? They’ll be happier if you allow them to skip that commute.

Employees will call out sick less. Heck, they’ll get sick less because A) they won’t be in the office with other sick workers and B) they’ll have less stress in their lives.

Which reminds me, I’ve never been sick since I started telecommuting. I used to get sick a few times a year when I had to make a commute each day (on the metro), be exposed to germs and sick people and then show up in the office and be exposed to people who refuse to take sick days. My health has improved, and I am just plain happier.

Child care suddenly becomes a lot easier and no longer a hassle for employees. Parents can work and spend time with their young children. If their school-age children get sick, it’s not an issue to find child care that day.

If the only reason you require workers to show up daily to an office is because, “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” you don’t get it. You don’t get how modern, Web-based collaborative tools can make your workers more productive and can save you money. And if you’re a manager, and you aren’t interested in making workers more productive and saving money, you’re doing it wrong.

And let’s be honest, doing things the way they have always been done has gotten news organizations into a lot of trouble. How about we make a new pact right here, right now: We’ll do things because they make sense, and that means being willing to rethink everything we do.

Citizen journalists will bring the what, while professionals bring the why

twitterpage

Citizen journalism is a gift to journalism, professional journalists and people all over the world.

It’s an army of active citizens who want to report about the world around them — for free. They can cover far more ground than professional journalists and can provide coverage of events as they happen in real time — not afterwards. 

As a reporter you can’t be everywhere, but billions of people are everywhere.

That’s the power of citizen journalism.

Citizen journalism won’t replace in-depth reporting anytime soon — if ever. You probably won’t see citizens uncovering government corruption, but citizen journalism offers the ability to cover breaking news better than professional journalists ever could. Faster, better, uncensored and in real-time.

Wherever news breaks, there are always people around, but there aren’t always journalists around. Increasingly, these people are armed with mobile devices with Internet access that can post text, photos and videos from anywhere.

twitpic

When you think about the power of citizen journalism, and how increasingly news stories will break first by everyday citizens instead of by professional journalists, one has to ask how much resources should news outlets dedicate to covering breaking news?Should professional journalists be belatedly duplicating the work of citizen journalists? Citizens can handle the what, while professional journalists can handle the why.

That’s the power of professional journalism.

Camera phones, smartphones, Web apps like Twitter and other technologies are helping make citizen journalism a reality. It’s just so easy today to report on the world around us, many people are asking, why not?

Why not snap a few photos with a cell phone and send them in to Twitpic? Why not send off 140-character bursts to Twitter and other micro-blogging services? Why not make a short blog post to WordPress or TypePad via their free mobile versions? Why not record real-time video and broadcast it to the world with Qik?

And this is just the beginning. A year from now more people will have more capable mobile devices, existing services like Twitter will be more robust with more users and many new Web apps will pop up. Imagine five years from now. 10 years from now?

I’m excited, and we are just in the nascent stages of citizen journalism. Combine citizen journalism with beat blogging, and I think we have a path forward that will allow news organizations to cover a lot more ground with a lot fewer resources. Better coverage with less. I like the sound of that.

Instead of fighting citizen journalism or debating whether or not an “ordinary” person can be a journalist, news organizations should be building platforms to aggregate this disparate content. The huge negative of citizen journalism is that it exists on a myriad of platforms and is produced by many, many people. We can build platforms that bring in quality citizen journalism to a central location.

We can build platforms that combines citizen journalism and professional journalism. There are millions upon millions of people armed with the tools necessary to perform citizen journalism. Professional journalists should concentrate on harnessing that resource instead of fighting it.

They’ll bring the what, we’ll bring the why, and journalism will be better than ever before. It’s not us versus them. It’s we. 

Here are some of major events that broke first on Twitter:

  • Hudson River plane crash — As you can see from the above photos, Twitter and Twitpic make it incredibly easily for anyone to report on the world around them. 
  • Mumbai terror attacks — Citizens captured the horror of terrorism in real time. #Mumbai became allowed for incredible insight into this event.
  • Earthquake in China — The press may not enjoy a lot of freedoms, but it’s hard to stop people in real time from reporting their experiences and thoughts. Twitter and other Web apps may usher in more freedoms for Chinese citizens and journalists. 

It’s not personal — it’s just Twitter

We don’t have to follow each other on Twitter, and it’s not poor form if I don’t follow you back or vice versa.

That’s the point of followers and followees and not friends. It’s not a connection like Facebook or LinkedIn. Just because I follow you doesn’t mean you are required to follow me back, nor do I feel snubbed if you don’t.

And if I don’t follow you back, take no personal offense, because I mean none. It’s just Twitter.

The power of Twitter is in having people create their own personal networks of people they follow. We each have different reasons why we follow people or we choose not to follow people. The main people I follow, for instance, are journalists, but they aren’t the only people I follow.

I also follow social media types, bloggers, podcasters, tech people and other people who interest me. The thing is, they might not be interested in my predominately journalism-centric tweets (often journalism + social media and new media). I get that.

Conversely, I get people following me who are interested in how I go about social media (which is distinct from my thoughts on social media) and the links I post about social media. What they tweet about, may have little interest to me and my goals. We all have different reasons for why we might want to follow someone.

I follow StarbucksZappos and other companies on Twitter. I don’t expect them to follow me back. I follow them not because I like their products, but because I want to see how they go about social networking. I can learn from what they do. 

So, while I don’t care what they tweet about, I am very interested in how they go about tweeting. Other people may follow these companies because they are interested in the content of the tweets themselves and their products.

I have two different twitter accounts that I work on — @jiconoclast and @beatblogging. There is some overlap in the people who follow those, but for the most part I have different followers on each. That make sense, because each account has a unique purpose. Understanding why people follow people on Twitter, will help you understand why it’s not personal, it’s just Twitter.

There are others reasons why I may not follow you back:

  • Not having a profile — If I don’t know who you are, and you don’t have a descriptive profile (with link to personal site), I’m probably not going to follow you. 
  • You haven’t updated yet — I don’t follow people who haven’t even taken the time to post one tweet or make a profile. Now, I might be interested in what you have to say, but I have nothing to go on. The first thing you should do when you join Twitter is make a profile, and the second thing you should do is start tweeting. Then start following people. Do not reverse this order!
  • Your updates are protected — If I know who you are this isn’t an issue, but if I have no idea who you are and your tweets are protected, why would I follow you? I wouldn’t. I need something — anything — to go on. A good way to give me something to go on is to tweet @ me in response to something I tweet. That gives me something.
  • Be a spammer — This should go without saying, but it must be said. Even if you aren’t a malicious spammer, I won’t follow you. You have to offer me something more than just marketing yourself. Some of the worst offenders are news organizations with their Twitter feeds filled with links to their own content — and nothing else. Um, hello, that’s what RSS is for. 

Social is the key part of social media

With more journalists jumping on the social media bandwagon, it’s good to remind people that the key word in social media is social and not media.

Traditional journalists are used to a one-to-many publishing approach. They are used to being arbiters of what information gets disseminated. They are used to pushing information to people but not accepting it.

That’s fine for a print world. Print is a one-way medium. Nothing wrong with that.

But social media is really about being social. It means interacting with people. It means two-way communication. And it means journalists no longer control what and how information is disseminated. 

Social media is not yet another place to push content onto. It’s not a repository for content from another medium. It’s its own medium.

It deserves — no demands — its own content. Social media can be a great way to connect with users. It can also be a great way to build a network of sources.

Beat blogging is all about using social media, blogs and other Web tools to build a larger network of sources. Beat blogging is a give and take. It requires journalists who are willing to interact with people and provide users with a service.

Social media can really help journalists report better. I think it can help make our jobs easier. But only if we are social on social media.

Being social comes down to interacting with people. It means not always using social media solely for work purposes. Now, I’m not sure if all editors and publishers are comfortable with this approach.

I think many newsroom managers want their reporters to get on social media to help disseminate existing content. I also think many newsroom managers are just jumping on the bandwagon to help save their careers (they hear people talking about Twitter and decree that their employees need to get on it). But journalists and journalism would greatly benefit from people understanding how to best use social media before attempting to use it.

News organizations need to have concrete plans for what they hope to accomplish with social media. Once that’s established, they can then look at which tools make sense for their organizations and individual employees (I’d never recommend the same tools for all employees). 

A news organization wouldn’t seriously get into blogging without a blogging editor to help journalists out. Nor should news organizations decree that employees get on social media without guidance and without at least one point person to guide them.

Some simple tips for news organizations who want to get on social media:

  • Form a concrete plan before attempting social media as a news organization. You have to be able to answer, “What do you hope to accomplish with social media?” If you can’t answer that, how will you know what to do with social media? You won’t. 
  • Under no circumstances should you encourage employees to experiment with social media for work purposes without giving them clear guidelines as to what is and is not appropriate. Somebody will mess up. 
  • Don’t force everyone onto social media. Not all employees will be good at it. It is what it is.
  • One size does not fit all. Twitter might make sense for one beat, while YouTube for another. Maybe Flickr would be great for your photo staff, but it may make a lot less sense for your cops reporter. This is where a plan comes in handy.
  • Ideally, you should have a social media editor (could be combined with the blog editor as both are social platforms). If you want social media to be an important part of what your news organization does, you should have someone in charge of your vision for social media. This person should observe what employees do, provide advice and be a go-to person for questions.
Here are two great podcasts about newsrooms conducting social media and beat blogging training

Twitter is a great learning tool

Twitter is a great place to learn.

Don’t believe me? Spend a few hours following knowledgeable people (creating a good network is the key to success on Twitter).

Ask a question. See the responses you get. I started a podcast at BeatBlogging.Org a few months ago, and before I started, I asked my Twitter followers for advice.

What’s the best way to cheaply interview people around the country? What’s good recording software? Where should I host my podcast?

I got lots of suggestions. Twitter allowed me to start my podcast in no time, and I got good advice on what to try and what to avoid. Because of this, BeatBlogging.Org hit the ground running with a great podcast.

No expensive consultants needed. Check out my latest post on Wired Journalists about how to quickly, easily and cheaply start a podcast. Thank my Twitter followers after you read it.

My Twitter community (everyone’s is different) is always helping me by answering questions and posting informative links. It makes my life and job so much easier.

The level of noise in your Twitter feed is directly related to who you choose to follow. It’s not personal. It’s Twitter.

And the caliber of responses you get back is directly related to the caliber of tweets you make. Want knowledgeable followers? Create value for your followers.

Tweet informative links. Start conversations on Twitter. Respond to people when they ask questions.

Twitter is ultimately all about community. The quality of your Twitter community depends on whether or not you really want to be a part of a community. If you only use Twitter for marketing of content that you create elsewhere, you’ll lose out on a lot of what Twitter is really all about.

I would encourage all journalists to get on Twitter. Trust me, you’ll learn a lot.