Journalism Takes Many Forms: Analysis of the Billy Baker Tweet Story

For me, Twitter has always been a place to browse the news, engage with friends, and scroll up and down my newsfeed to pass the time. It has never really been a place I saw suitable to telling stories. Yes, I often link to a variety of stories from Twitter, but Twitter itself never seemed like the appropriate medium for storytelling.

However, my mindset has completely changed after reading Billy Baker’s follow-up tweet story. The Boston Globe reporter told the story of two boys who took advantage of every opportunity they had despite growing up in a poverty-stricken area and losing their dad at a young age. By releasing his story in 140-word segments on Twitter, Baker captured the emotion of their story and demonstrated how stories truly can be told in non-traditional narrative ways.

Most importantly, what Baker’s story establishes is the fact that the format and structure of news stories is changing. In “The Genuine Article,” Kira Goldenberg argues that the stories we create have to match with the platforms people are reading them on. She quotes Reuters social media editor, Anthony De Rosa:

I think we need to rethink that article formal and replace it with something that better resembles and takes advantage of the Web, not taking the print format and slapping it in a digital space.

This is exactly what Baker does. Instead of following the traditional inverted pyramid format which emphasizes starting with the newest, most important information, Baker begins his story with a single sentence: “I’m going to tell you a story.” This prompts him to add details in small, chronological segments, engaging followers along the way. The real-time release of his tweets adds a unique factor to the story that gives it a personal touch long-form narratives don’t have.

Baker’s tactic may be non-traditional, but it is most definitely still journalism. In the article “From Blog to Narrative: Josh Benton Throws Us a Curve,” Roy Peter Clark discusses Benton’s research that distinguishes “natural journalism” from “processed journalism.” Processed journalism refers to the traditional long-form narrative journalism, whereas natural journalism emphasizes real-time reporting while the reporter is experiencing the story. He claims:

Natural journalism results from the timeliness and enthusiasm of eyewitness reporting, where interesting events come to the reader with immediacy and a clear point of view.

This type of journalism is in a sense more real. Readers hear from the reporters themselves as the story is unfolding and can feel the emotion in a whole new way.

Finally, even if people didn’t follow the live updates on Baker’s twitter, they were able to read the curated version on Storify. This curation-oriented storytelling approach offers readers a new way to engage with the news and consume stories. In “The Lego approach to storytelling,” Amy Gahran talks about how these tools can make creating stories similar to playing with legos: adding additional content when new stories surface and moving pieces of content around based on you audience. The idea is that reporters have the opportunity to gain even more visibility and interaction by constructing their story in new ways. She claims:

Better packaging tools would help journalists tell extended, engaging stories in ways that are use friendly both for audiences and for content creators.

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

With these curation tools, readers were able to experience the tweets from start to finish, which also included the original story written by Baker as well as the video by Lauren Frohne. The bottom line is storytelling is changing and with new mediums and the ability to curate information, there is no single definition of what constitutes journalism. As Billy Baker showed the world, you can tell an inspiring and captivating story anywhere.

How One Giant Chalkboard Went Viral Worldwide

We’ve seen the power of social media and the speed at which messages can originate, spread…and well, spread some more. A perfect example of this is when Brian Morrissey’s photo taken in the peak of Hurricane Sandy was shared all over the world in less than 24 hours. From Instagram to Twitter to news outlets like CNN, The Huffington Post, and The New Yorker–the image went from a simple photo created by one user to, as Morrissey describes, “the iconic image from the storm.”

He goes on to explain that the combination of the unique shot with the timing of the storm is what caused the photo to instantly go viral. Brian may be a more extreme example of this, but the truth is, no one really knows what will happen to story (or a simple photo) once it is released.


Courtesy of Google Images

This brings me to the viral news story I chose to analyze: The Giant Chalkboard. Created by ad agency DraftFCB as a campaign for Dow, the story begins against a wall in New York’s SoHo District. This unique billboard first appeared in the district completely blank–sparking conversation among bystanders, locals, and bloggers about what it could be. Turns out, it was a teaser for their campaign, which would include the evolution of a detailed equation combining math and a variety of historical events. Parts of the equation would be added throughout the week, allowing people to engage and guess their significance as well as speculate the final answer.

One aspect of this campaign that contributed to it’s success was their inclusion of other social platforms. The campaign was integrated on Twitter and Tumblr, creating even more buzz for a billboard that started in one street corner in New York. Ginny Sosky specifically suggests this tactic in her article “5 Ways to Make Your Content Instantly More Shareable.” She claims

At the end of the day, you want your visitors sharing your content with their social networks so that you can reach even more people…Your social sharing buttons are like a call to action.

The fact that the contents of a single billboard were able to transform into shareable online content exemplifies the power of these networks. The billboard itself was the call to action–prompting users to discuss with each other the possible meanings of the equation and share pictures as the equation developed. The puzzle went viral and people from all over the world found ways to relate to it.

But the question is, can companies really predict whether an advertisement will go viral? My answer is no. A message becomes viral when it is passed on through multiple platforms and reaches people the company may never have been able to reach on their own. In his book Unmarketing, Scott Stratten explains how the sharing of a message is truly in the hands of the audience, not the creator.

Company reps are scared to use social media in this manner, though, because they’ve always had the misconception that they can control the message….They have to realize something very quickly: They never controlled the message, because it’s in the receiver’s hands to absorb, experience, and spread their own experience with you message in their eyes.

This is the exact reason videos like “Call Me Maybe” and “What Does the Fox Say” became the unexpected viral sensations that they did. The receivers saw something unique and created exposure for the content it never would have had on its own.

So what does all this mean? In a sense, anything can go viral. The speed at which information travels from platform to platform opens the door to new types of content that will excite and intrigue people. Without the online integration of this campaign, the billboard would likely have just been the talk of the town. Instead, it was the talk of the world.

And in case you were wondering, the answer to the equation was 7 billion: the population our planet reached the week of the campaign. Pretty cool, huh?

The Super Bowl in a Networked World: How Do You Stand Out?

Capturing the attention of an audience during the Super Bowl presents new challenges in this increasingly social world. As one of the most-watched events of the year, the Super Bowl attracts not only sports fans, but a diverse audience of people tuning in for the half time show, the commercials, or merely for something to do on a Sunday evening.

The Super Bowl has never been just about the football game, but this is even more the case as our networks and social connections extend and strengthen. As Oreo demonstrated in the Super Bowl Blackout last year, companies have the opportunity to seize the moment and stand out among hundreds of other companies trying to achieve the same goal. Oreo set a precedent for the future of marketing and the Super Bowl. As Sebastian Joseph described in his article in Marketing Week:

This year’s Super Bowl was billed as the battle of the real-time marketers as brands looked for their own Oreo “Dunk in the Dunk” moment.

One of the most talked about social media stunts this year was the release of senseless tweets from J.C. Penney, generating a discussion that the social media intern was drunk or the account was hacked. Turns out it was a planned effort to promote their #tweetingwithmittens campaign. Regardless of your opinion of this tactic, they successfully created quite the buzz.

This movement to real-time marketing may be a result of the fact that consumers are just not that impressed with ads anymore. In his article in Network World, Yoni Heisler describes how this era focused on Super Bowl ads may be coming to an end.

From Facebook to Buzzfeed to Reddit to any number of viral videos or pictures, people today don’t suffer from a lack of creative content hitting their respective news streams…I say that to say that Super Bowl commercials are underwhelming because we’re getting our creativity fix across a diverse set of media on a daily basis. In other words, there are so many more avenues these days for companies to get their message and brand identity out into the universe.

It takes even more effort, creativity, and probably money for a company to create a Super Bowl ad that really stands out and resonates with viewers. The influx of platforms (many of them free) have given companies plenty of other options. As a result, some of the most talked about brands leading up to, during, and after the Super Bowl opted out of spending money for a commercial spot.

The result of this shift from a sole medium to an integrated (and longer lasting) campaign has to do with the increased connections and networks people have online. In his book, Networked, Barry Wellman discusses how the consumption of information and the way we communicate has drastically changed due to the rise of networks. He claims:

The role of experts and information gatekeepers can be radically altered as empowered amateurs and dissidents find new ways to raise their voices and challenge authority.


Courtesy of Google Images

This is exactly what brands were looking to do during the Super Bowl. Standing out is about doing something out of the ordinary (whether planned or not) and creating buzz. It’s not necessarily about who spends the most money on an extravagant ad–buzz can result from a single tweet. For example, the previously mentioned tweet from J.C. Penney prompted real-time responses from other brands and average tweeters–bringing attention to both the content creator and the conversation participants.

If the content is memorable, people will pass information on to their networks who will pass it on to their networks. As Anderson, Bell and Shirky explain:

All journalists carry with them a network and always have, whether it is a network of sources and contacts, or a network of those with similar professional knowledge, or a network of a community that follows and helps them.

Not only do journalists have networks, but everyone has a variety of networks that make them unique. It is through these networks that Super Bowl marketers hope their content becomes a part of, regardless of the medium they use to get their name out there.

Social Media and the News Revolution: Who Can We Trust?

The moment I see something intriguing on Twitter, I turn to whoever is nearby and share what I read. Whether it be breaking news of a tragic shooting, Miley Cyrus’s newly released music video, or a funny quote from a friend; the impulsive desire to share content drives our consumption of news. What I often fail to think about, however, is how credible the information is that I not only just consumed, but passed along.

In the connected world we live in today, it’s fascinating to observe how quickly a story can become the most popular buzz on a variety of social media platforms. But the troubling side of this is how naive and over-trusting consumers have become, myself included.

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

I’m not saying the media is not to be trusted. I am an avid consumer of the news and constantly share articles and videos with my friends and family. However, I have begun to change my habits on social media, viewing news with a new sense of scrutiny. Since we are bombarded with more information than ever before, shouldn’t it be the duty of both creators and consumers of content to spend that much more time ensuring their validity?

In his article “The Year We Broke the Internet,” Luke O-Neil addresses the idea that share-ability and traffic may have become more important to some companies than telling the complete truth. He says:

The mistakes, and the falsehoods, and the hoaxes are a big part of a business plan driven by the belief that big traffic absolves all sins, that success is a primary virtue.”

We are so concerned with the number of likes, favorites, shares and retweets we receive, but how far are we willing to go for this activity? Steve Fox highlights this issue in “My Tweet-off with CNN’s Jake Tapper,” where he displays his exchange with a reporter during the LAX shooting.

His point is clear: regardless of the type of news you are reporting, sourcing your information is essential. The aspiration to be the first news outlet to report on a story cannot surpass the duty to report the truth and back up your facts.

It is important to recognize that journalists will make mistakes. No one is perfect, but Jeff Jarvis discusses how journalists must own up to their mistakes in his piece “Product v. process journalism: The myth of perfection v. beta culture.” He claims:

We who publish must learn how to say what we don’t know at least as well as we say what we know.

In a world of information overload, the ability to admit that we don’t know everything is not failure. In my mind, that is what sets a trustworthy journalist apart from the rest.