The fundamental methods journalists use to find stories and engage with sources is changing. On the cusp of the media revolution is National Public Radio senior strategist Andy Carvin and his use of social media and crowd sourcing to tell the story of turmoil in the Middle East ... from 5000 miles away.
Carvin used Twitter to build a network that now keeps him on top of the news that comes out of the Middle East and in doing so has shown the media industry a new way to be a reporter. The question becomes: is the future of the news industry tied to the technology or is technology an enabler to creating human networks that spread information?
There are two sides to this argument. Apple CEO Steve Jobs would probably say that technology is the driving force in media change. It is true. The Internet changed the way content is created and consumed. Yet, technology by itself is cold and lifeless. It is people who breath life into gadgets and into the Web. In his particular niche, Carvin gives life to a network of people whose stories need to be told.
"It is a collaborative news gathering network," Carvin said on stage at the ReadWriteWeb 2Way Summit at Columbia University in New York City.
Carvin considers himself a bit of a pseudo-reporter. He has been a content creator since 1994 and his official job title at NPR is "senior media strategist who runs the social media team." Yet, he has no background as an actual journalist outside of some advocacy journalism he did in the early 2000s. His growth into a "Twitter news anchor," as he calls himself, was very organic.
Carvin went on a trip to Tunisia and ended up learning the country by backpacking through it. He met and talked to bloggers in the country and when he came back to the states he kept in touch with them. When turmoil started in Tunisia in December 2010, he contacted his sources and started tweeting about it. His connections have grown as the uprisings have spread in Egypt, Yemen and Syria.
"I went from tweeting about Tunisia casually to being on Twitter for 17 to 18 hours a day for the last six months trying to keep up," Carvin said.
Carvin does not create packages for NPR.org. His Twitter stream, at his request, is not hosted on the NPR page due to the sometimes gruesome nature of pictures and videos that he links to. The primary "package" he creates is through his Storify account. Carvin uses Storify as an archival tool to construct the stories that he follows on a daily basis.
Carvin uses Twitter to build a network of people and tell an ongoing story. However, he has found that there are some tools the service does not have that would make his job easier. One of the reasons that Carvin uses Storify is to keep track of storylines he has reported before. If Twitter had a better archival service it would enable Carvin to more easily track topics he is researching. PostPo.st is a Twitter history search service that could help with that. He would also like to see social media monitoring that is not built around tracking brands but about networks and people and how those networks interact with each other.
The Changing Journalist
As a social media strategist, Carvin looks to ways that journalists can leverage new technologies to tell a better story.
"The tools are important for the human network they create," Carvin said.
He thinks that the next round of journalists being trained will be able to do what he does easier and better because they will be digital natives.
"They are going to need to be prepared to not only take really good journalistic practices and make sense of them and apply them online but also understand the strengths of social media," Carvin said.
Like many journalists, Carvin considers his work to be a public service. He is not a "one-man newswire" but rather a hub of intelligence that he filters and sorts and chases stories in the digital realm. His particular topic is news of strife in the Middle East but he envisions reporters creating networks in whatever niche they cover.