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Exeter bomb blast: the social media afterthought

Now the dust’s settled both around Giraffe restaurant in Exeter and in the general world of breaking news, and yesterday’s events are becoming clearer, it’s interesting to see how the coverage of the event has also settled down both for traditional media and more Web 2.0 sources.

While yesterday the best sources for breaking news were the online Exeter City fans forum Exeweb, and Twitter, today things have settled down somewhat. The thread on Exeweb has slowed and hasn’t been updated in a while, while Tweets on the issue have been restricted to those from traditional media accounts like ITN and the Guardian [1].

Likewise, Technorati and have sporadic entries, but nothing traditional media hasn’t already told me.

[A quick aside here – partly to blow my own trumpet, but partly because it fits in well here – POLIS director Charlie Beckett followed up his very nice comment with a blog post praising what I wrote yesterday, which is as unexpected as it is flattering (and humbling). But where did Charlie find my piece? Via his colleague on QED.]

But where it gets really interesting is Digg. If you search upcoming stories for Exeter then the majority of articles ‘Dugg’ are from traditional sources: the BBC, the Telegraph, etc. [2].

Now, I’ll admit this has only been a cursory glance and any research I’ve done hasn’t been as thorough as yesterday but there’s still a few strands of hypothesis we can draw from this.

The main point being, when you have a breaking news story, traditional media is a lot slower than online sources and social media tool and, in many cases, less reliable. This also suggests that people are moving towards these tools rather than more traditional sources when they want to find out more information.

However, once the story moves beyond it’s initial ‘breaking’ stage (usually 24 hours, or an overnight gap), traditional media reasserts itself. The posters on Exeweb or Twitterers are likely to have the time or access to compete with media outlets, so at this stage the fastest, most reliable sources online will revert to the familiar brand names. They have the lines to the police, they eyewitnesses, and the politicians and now can be seen to be across the story.

The big loser in all this now is not social media, which can happily exist outside of the mainstream media and isn’t solely news-orientated, but the Express and Echo, Exeter’s local paper.

Yes, the Echo have continued to add updates to their site, but I still can’t read today’s coverage, which is maddening – the message to buy the paper for full information has been on the site since they posted a brief summary of their lead story, and they’re already telling us to buy Saturday’s paper for the update. Which would be great if I still lived in Devon, but I don’t.

Now, the Express and Echo may well have some of the best journalistic coverage on this topic, and today and tomorrow’s papers may well be ground-breaking award-winning stuff, but it’s really too late. Any smart reader, Exonian or otherwise, will have gone to somewhere like Google News, done a search for Exeter and read a lot of the pieces available there, most of which contain not just yesterday’s story but up-to-the-minute articles with today’s events (the Telegraph’s is particularly good). In the meantime, the Echo sits with none of this.

Taking this logically to its conclusion, why would I – the online reader – then need to buy tomorrow’s Express and Echo or visit it’s website when I know there is better information elsewhere? In looking to maximise the paper sales, the Echo could potentially lose out on readers both on and offline.

[By the way, if you want to contact me with any links or aspects of this online case study I may have missed, or anything that may be interesting or relevant to the blog or, for whatever reason, you don’t want to leave a comment, there’s a contact form on the About Me page.]

[1] Assuming you can actually get onto Twitter – it’s having another bit of downtime/crash. Honestly, it’s more tempramental than all of my ex-girlfriends morphed into one.

[2] Anti-fascist campaigners may want to note the amount of Diggs BNP links are getting (and on Technorati as well).


Exeter bomb blast: a case study in online coverage and social media

It terms of the unexpected, getting several tweets and rss notifications of a bomb blast of my home city of Exeter had to be pretty high on the list of things I never quite thought I’d see [1]. As, until just under eight months ago, it was also my reporting patch, it also gave the opportunity to follow the story from a variety of sources, analyse coverage, and see what, if any opportunities had been taken or missed online, and with social media.

It also made me a teeny bit jealous and nostalgic that I wasn’t down there reporting.

Breaking news: the sources

While the story was continually breaking I was hitting Twitter, Digg, technorati, Google and the local media’s online site, chiefly the Express and Echo and Gemini Radio. Anything that follows certainly isn’t a criticism of them (in terms of Gemini, my old employer, they sounded fantastic on-air from the hour I listened in on, and given how few people there were in the newsroom, they were stretched as hell. I’ve no idea on the echo, but I’d imagine they were also juggling plenty of balls with not enough hands).

How web 2.0 savvy were the journalists on the case? I have no idea, but through a cursory glance of various social media sites I dug up a few bits and pieces, which would have been a good addition to any story, and maybe worth storing for another angle or another good voice to the story.

Digg didn’t yield anything [2] while delicious didn’t immediately have anything either and technorati only really came alive between leaving work at six and logging on again at 10pm, although a lot of the posts were from the usual anti-Muslim brigade. It did, however, yield this lovely and rather sweet piece of user-generated content:

“I contacted Gemini radio to tell them about the Exeter City Council webcam, and they put the link on their website!”

The tool that really proved it’s worth, though, was Twitter. Not only was this the first place I heard about the story itself, but there were rich pickings, with a quick search within Twitter for ‘Exeter’ bringing several users Tweeting about their experiences, as well as a couple of interesting blog posts. John Hood, who was one of them, also noted Twitter’s worth:

“This afternoon, Twitter, yet again, proved its intrinsic value with regards ‘breaking news’, when a nail bomb exploded at Exeter’s Princesshay Shopping Centre! I had, literally, only driven by Princesshay minutes prior to the explosion. Wondering if Peter Lacey, an eye witness interviewed by the BBC at Princesshay, is the same Peter I knew at primary school? Small world if it is!”

And in more proof, if any were needed, of the high proportion of the social media enthusiasts on Twitter, the search also uncovered The Daily Ack’s brief unfolding timeline of his personal experiences, plus another piece of wood for the traditional media coffin [3] notes:

“I’d expect that over the next few hours, just like the 2005 blasts, I’ll also be getting most of my news from non-mainstream sources. However unlike the 2005 bombing this, unless it turns out that the initial information is very wrong, is a local story and that means that, unlike a story of national interest, any follow up by the main stream press will be sporadic at best. They’ll probably not just be the best news source, they might be the only news source available.”

But, perhaps surprisingly (or not – I wasn’t), the first place I looked was the best. Exeter City’s fan forum, Exeweb, has a very strong Exeter-based community and, to my mind, it was inevitable that somebody would start a thread about it.

Many of the posters worked nearby the city centre, and some were close to the main scene – the thread actually turned out to be the best way to follow the news, with any unsubstantianed rumours quickly quashed and the news hitting Exeweb before anywhere else, even Twitter.

Now, before you think I spent the whole afternoon scouring the web for sources, the above all took me just half an hour to set up. Once I’d found the right areas to look in, the rest was done with Google and Technorati alerts and refreshing the other pages when I got a spare moment. That, to me, is the exciting part. The web has moved journalism on to such a point that with just 30 minutes I felt as informed as if I’d been living in Exeter.

The traditional media, online

Now, putting aside social media for a moment and onto the local media, specifically the Express and Echo [4], the fascinating area was to see firstly how their website covered the event, and secondly, what opportunities could have been used to link into social media and enhance the user experience.

There was some good stuff too – regular half hour updates, and a gallery that was uploaded pretty quickly and continually added to. The video that was posted later tied all the ends together nicely and was one of the most informative pieces available anywhere on the web all day [5].

On a basic level, very good. As a user, I have a reason to visit their site throughout the day. However, there’s aspects that are far from perfect. The bitty nature of the articles is quite frustrating. Also, every piece is finished with a plug for tomorrow’s echo, where the full story will appear.

Now, as a regular user of the paper’s online service to keep up to date with events back home, I’m willing to bet tomorrow will see what the Echo do every day – a brief summary, followed by a quick line about full story in the paper, before the full piece is posted up a day later. As somebody who can’t get hold of the paper on that day, it drives me nuts [6] and is really poor practice, plus puts them 24 hours behind when it comes to social bookmarking, and that will lose them hits in the long term.

It’s easy to understand why they do this – to maximise print sales – but is a very Web 1.0 way of doing things and with no sharing buttons, it’s very frustrating to ‘do’ anything with the articles. It’s still possible to hold back the really good stuff for the paper while filling the the essentials in a good, non-bitty article online as it breaks. If they could open up and make all their articles available on the day, it would help web goodwill towards them no end.

Going Web 2.0 and combining traditional and new media

Now, let’s bring together a few strands from both here. The Echo’s online coverage was ok to good in places but could have enhanced the user experience far more. The most obvious idea here would be rather than posting the bitty updates, would be to have a reporter liveblogging and bringing all the strands together. The Guardian are particularly good at this, and its an easy and coherent read, and this could apply equally the Gemini’s site.

The same reporter would be able to scour the web for any decent links, blogs, or Tweets and link to them as appropriate, plus there would be the chance to work from any tip-offs that might arise in the comments [6]. The question will always arise here at what level do you credit blogs as sources, and how reliable are they, which is something Robin Hamman has written about many times [7].

It’s a toughie, but blogs do add and enhance, and are part of the liveblogging experience. Best practice would suggest that if, as a journalist, the information isn’t immediately verifiable, but worth linking too, then flag up this fact in the liveblog before you link. That should cover it all. Perhaps another option would be to save it to delicious and publish all the saved delicious links on the blog at the end of the day.

Local papers are usually the first, and best place, to turn to when there’s an event on their patch that’s of national interest, due to good local knowledge and contacts, and the really savvy local media (papers and radio) would already have a Twitter feed in place – it’s at times like this that Twitter really can release its potential (and generate more traffic for your site).

It goes without saying that any good reporter should be setting up technorati and Google alerts relevant to a story like this, while also checking for information on Facebook, and the more Web 2.0 of them will have thoughts about putting the videos on YouTube and working the links and tags on Digg and delicious, even if it means bookmarking the paper’s own liveblog as a start.

How much the newspaper or radio’s site wants to share with users, or keep for themselves, is another matter, but both visible or just used by the journalist, they all combine to enhance the user experience, without a great deal of effort from the person sat in front of the keyboard.


The more events like this occur, the more opportunities and tools your average reader will have to hunt down information. Twitter is becoming more useful as a journalistic tool by the day, and once again showed its worth here.

What this also shows, is that any traditional media that ignores these social media tools and neglects the user experience throughout breaking news, risks losing them elsewhere, possibly for good. After all, if there up to date information on forums and blogs that’s seemingly no less reliable than the mainstream media, why bother? But if the paper or radio in question starts bringing together these tools on their website – ah, now that’s a different story.

One place they could do a lot worse than take a lead from is the Birmingham Post (even if they do have one of my least favourite journalist-only words – slammed- in their front page headline), who’ve done some excellent work across the site (thanks, in no small part, I suspect, to Joanna Geary). I’d wager if the same event happened in Birmingham, the Post’s online coverage would exceed my suggestions.

The Echo haven’t done a bad job online, that’s for sure – with a little bit of tweaking they could really take their Web 1.5 site to Web 2.0. The same goes for Gemini, who do offer extras, but (and this is largely because all GCap sites are the same and not great for anything unique to one specific station) really need to add in lots more Web 2.0 features (hell, why not do a special news podcast?).

But the encouraging thing is they’re getting there. Even is social media is still hurtling forward at a faster pace.

UPDATE: And proof, if any were needed, about the importance of good tagging and titling. This post alone has seen nearly 200% more hits and counting than an average post on this blog. And this blog is now also on the front page of Google if you search for ‘Exeter bomb’. Now how many media organisations would love to see their coverage listed on the first set of results on Google?

UPDATE 2: With wonderful gallows humour the British do so well, there’s now a Facebook Group, I survived the 22/05/08 Exeter bombing.

[1] And even so, the general consensus from friends and online sources seems to be one nutter who’d probably have done more damage with a baseball bat than a bomb, and doesn’t seem to have affected people that much. But that’s by the by.

[2] And I’m still not really au fait with getting the best out of Digg so if anybody has found anything that I’ve missed feel free to tell me I’m rubbish.

[3] Ok, I’m not a total subscriber to the “I come not to praise newspapers but bury them” crowd but it does show that users are getting more savvy and much of traditional media needs to shake up PDQ.

[4] I’m going to put Gemini very much to one side here – partly because they would have been working towards regular on-air updates, and also I know what their online CMS is like – an absolute inflexible dog that doesn’t offer a great deal of scope for experimentation, and that’s really not their fault. There’s plenty of extra audio for you to get their teeth into though, which is good, and they’re updating regularly (in between me starting this post and writing this. I can guess which poor sod it is who won’t be sleeping tonight, and will buy him a pint when I’m next in Exeter).

[5] And I’ll even put aside my usual quibbles about editing and other TV techniques here as it was a very decent video and, given the time they had to do it in, well put together – certainly better in content than a lot of the sensationalist crap on the national bulletins.

[6] The Echo do have a note on their site that comments are disabled due to abuse, which is fair enough if they’re stretched – comment moderation takes up a bit of time and in events like this you do get a fair share of nutters leaving comments. I’ve no idea what caused them to switch it off though, as it was already disabled by the time I logged onto their site.

[7] If he’s reading this, Robin, I’d love to know your thoughts.

Want to know what I read on a daily basis?

I know I’ve been going on about how good Netvibes is lately but it’s not without merit. Anyway, I’ve finally got around publishing my friends, media, and football feeds to my public Netvibes profile. So if you’ve ever been curious as to just what blogs I subscribe to, well, there’s a taster.

As with most social networking Web 2.0 sites, once you start building up your network you’ll get a lot out of it. Currently in my network Nosemonkey is the only one who publishes his public RSS feeds, which means I’ve got no excuse for not getting up to speed on the EU.

Netvibes Ginger is the kind of site I hope takes off because, unlike a lot of Web 2.0 stuff that I’ve taken a while to get, I’ve automatically understood why it’s useful to your common or garden web user, and how to use it. Don’t underestimate simplicity. Used in conjunction with something like delicious, Digg, or Mixx (one for your RSS feeds, one for bookmarking – and Netvibes allows you to publish your delicious feed) and you’ve got one hell of a tool at your fingertips, plus the chance to discover some great blogs via your friends.It does tend to slow up in IE a bit, but Firefox and Safari have no such problems, which is just another reason to ditch IE, as if you needed one.

I’m so Web 2.0 it hurts*

I’ve finally sat myself down and signed up to Twitter and, as promised, revived my account. I’ve also upgraded to Netvibes Ginger.

Twitter feed is here, Netvibes Ginger Universe here, and links here.

Obviously it’s early days yet, but I’m well aware that with sites such as these, it’s the quality of your network and sharing that you get out of them, so feel free to subscribe to my assorted feeds/networks if that’s your kind of thing. And vice-versa, yadda ydda yadda.

Also, if you’re already on either of them and have got some good tips for getting the best out of them, feel free to share them.

I’m also going to get around, at some point, to publishing my daily links and Twitter feeds. Possibly. Maybe. When I get round to it. Right now I need to pack for the weekend, sort out what I’m doing this weekend, eat, go to the gym, and deal with my inbox. Sleep can wait.

Sadly Web 2.0 can’t help me pack a suitcase or stop me getting fat. Yet.

*This may be more due to the fact I played football last night without warming up properly. Bad Gary.

Time to revive the old account perhaps

I’ll be honest, when I first signed up for a couple of years ago, I didn’t last long. Mainly because what I really wanted was a netvibes type service as opposed to a social booking site.

Anyway, I’ve not used it for a while now, but after reading Robin Hamman’s list of essential daily web tools, I’m tempted to give it another spin and see how I get along with it now that I actually understand what it’s meant to do, as opposed to what I thought it could do.

I can be dim at times.

It’s nice to see that I’ve been employing the same technorati, Google blog alerts and RSS techniques (although I’ll confess that I’d never heard of icerocket before) as one of the experts in the field. Makes me feel I’m doing something right.

It’s also one of the pieces of advice I’d give to any journalist or PR starting out – learn how Web 2.0 tools work, and make use of whatever feeds you can, and you may just be able to pick up on a story your competitors have missed or get wind of an issue that’s lighting up the blogosphere before others. It’s a nice feeling having a story land in your inbox without you having to lift a finger to find it, and it also frees up time for other work.

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December 2022

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com