"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

August 23, 2007

Citizen Journalism Tools. (Or Why Twitter Should Recognize More Than One Mobile Number Per Account)

Northamptonist recently signed up for Twitter, so we could send live reports while out in the field. For those of you who do not know what Twitter is, Twitter is an online service you can sign up for free, which will you enable you to publish any SMS, (text from your mobile phone) or IM's you send, to your Twitter page online. Additionally, your twitters can be received via IM or SMS to anyone who is 'following' your page. And in turn, you can receive twitters from anyone who uses the service that you have chosen to 'follow'. If your friend uses Twitter, and you want to receive his twitters, you can 'follow' his page, and opt to receive his twitters via your mobile phone, IM, or you can access them directly at their page online.

This is a great tool available to enable people to broadcast news as you see or hear it, in real time, and has tremendous potential in the citizen journalism field. As Northamptonist spends a lot of our time out and about in our community, we get to witness and hear about all manner of public interest news. Now, via Twitter, as soon as we see a fire breaking out, the police responding to a crime, or an 18 wheeler smashing into the overpass on Main St. for the umpteenth time, we can send a text to Twitter, and it will be instantly published online at our Twitter page. It's breaking news, fast, and as it happens.

A great example of these possible uses for Twitter in the public interest is The Los Angeles Fire Department using Twitter to publish all the calls they receive. Another Twitter user we like is the Cleveland Public Library, which utilizes Twitter to send tweets, as their called, about events and notices concerning the library. If anyone knows of other municipal departments using Twitter, please drop a note in the comments, and we will add it to our sidebar.

Unfortunately, when you sign up for Twitter, you can only provide a single mobile number that Twitter will recognize when you send your tweets. Unfortunate because we had envisioned having many different people being able to send tweets to our Twitter page, all from their own phone while they were out in the field. We would have liked to have had multiple people whom we felt would contribute useful material, all twittering to Northamptonists' page from their own mobile phones. Creating an active and useful feed of constantly updated local news and information, straight from the public in the field, to be consumed by the local community. However, this is not a possibility with Twitter, yet.

Northamptonist thinks this is an option Twitter really needs to add to their service. The service journalism a local media outlet could provide this way would be invaluable. Could you imagine the breaking news reports a local newspaper could publish if they had the ability to let every reporter at their company publish to a central Twitter page, from their own mobile phone while out in the field? Though the larger media outlets are already taking advantage of Twitter, such as the NYTimes, they have a dedicated employee(s) doing so, and the tweets they send are not coming from the field, but rather are an outgrowth of news stories already published online at NYTimes.com, and which include a link back to their site where you can view the full story.

It is the media outlets in smaller communities, who's reporters tend to be more ingrained and active in the local community, who would really benefit from being able to publish tweets to a central page -from every local reporter they have in the field. Or what if a group of activists wanted all of the group to be able to publish twitters to their central page, and were able to do so as each individual witnessed newsworthy stories at their individual locations, wherever they may be. Individually reporting important news as soon as it is witnessed, and not having to first rout the news to a single person, who would then post it to Twitter.

The benefits of having multiple phone numbers on your Twitter account that Twitter would recognize as permissible to post from, are exciting. Entertaining even. What if a small community wanted to allow anyone to be able to publish to the same Twitter page, with one person having admin-like privileges, who could monitor the page for any material deemed inappropriate? A social art project of sorts, with every resident of 'small town' Nebraska, for instance, all having the ability to publish to their singular Twitter page. A constantly updated stream of comments, thoughts, and opinions of a wide variety, all posted to Twitter in real time. I imagine that I would find that Twitter page very intriguing, at least initially. A global community could have access to a frequently updated snapshot of sorts on the thoughts of one small town in America. The option of having more than one phone number added to your Twitter account really needs to happen.

I understand that doing so would add all sorts of problems for whoever was utilizing it that way. All manner of Twitters being posted that some find offensive, twitters posted that are libelous, malicious, etc...But those things can get worked out. And the folks at Twitter should work towards this change. Giving any individual with a mobile phone the ability to publish material online directly from their mobile phone was powerful. Giving that ability to a group of like-minded(or not) people who have agreed to operate as a group would be even more so. The potential has tremendous upswing for activism, citizen journalism, and the like. Just strictly from a PR perspective, could you imagine the amount of positive press for the Twitter brand that would follow when the first visionary town decides to utilize the service as a group as I described above? The press reports would originate from every corner of the globe. Everyone would be all atwitter over it.

The LAFD responds in the comments of this post, offering their suggestions on a service called twittermail, which they use to get around the single phone number issue.

LABELS: citizen journalism Twitter