Bitly what? Flickr who?
OK. Here's the deal (with apologies to the English language): Social networking and news gathering have mingled. Twitter is a micro-blogging program that lets users exchange brief text messages; Flickr allows photo sharing; and both are being used more and more often by professional journalists and citizens alike. Both have been incorporated into the Xpress Web site (mountainx.com).
Some say that Twitter reduces the news to 140-character tidbits like this one: "fobes: Main bldg of Richmond Hill Inn burned down last night, according to person at Richmond Hill Rest Home. #mxnow."
But Xpress Publisher Jeff Fobes insists it's all part of the dialogue between readers, viewers, citizens, journalists, political leaders -- in short, everyone who wants a place at the news-sharing table. "The mission of journalism is equal parts info management and community- and democracy-building," Fobes says. Like Xpress' online forums, Twitter and Flickr give readers a chance to contribute their own observations, tips, queries, links and photos, he explains. Xpress reporters and editors participate, too, responding to "tweets" (messages), following up on news/events tips, and sometimes building on the exchange to create a full-length article, Fobes adds.
Xpress Multimedia Editor Jason Sandford says, "We need and want readers' help." No newspaper, especially a small one like Xpress, has the staff to cover all the news, all the time, he continues. Adding Twitter and Flickr -- a photo-sharing service -- "signals our willingness to collaborate" with citizen journalists, Sandford adds.
Twitter started as a text-messaging trend that began with the question, "What are you doing now?" and gave participants 140 characters in which to respond. (Yes, that's individual characters, not word totals.) At one level, Twittering can be banal, as some users tweet about doing their laundry and such. But used in another way, it gives some of the fastest first-hand responses to news as it happens: Last November, for example, the first reports on the Mumbai massacre in India came from witnesses and victims who tweeted about it, sometimes adding photos with their text messages.
Xpress has run a few experimental efforts in tweeted news-gathering, such as the March 9 online article, "Burton Street Neighbors Consider I-26 Options: The Twitter Report." Minute-by-minute tweets by an Xpress reporter and a citizen formed the basis for that article. About a dozen citizens and reporters are pre-approved for directly submitting their tweets to the Xpress online Twitter feed (which readers can find on the home page); others are reviewed by staff and "re-tweeted" (denoted by "RT" in tweets), Fobes explains.
To submit tweets to Xpress, users need to set up a Twitter account (it's free at www.twitter.com). Although Twitter can be used from a cell phone, most users tweet from their computers. The key to routing tweets to Xpress is to add what's called a "hashtag" to the end of the message: #mxnow. There are also topic-specific hashtags for the Outdoors section (#mxout) and for The Dirt farming and gardening section (#mxag), and more are being added.
On the photo-sharing front, Xpress staff photographer Jonathan Welch directs users to www.flickr.com, where you can create an account and join the newspaper's group ("Mountain Xpress Group Community Pool"). Welch, who plans to feature the best reader-submitted photos on the Xpress site each week, says, "Hopefully, we can get people to have fun with it."
Together, these two online initiatives are part of "embracing this new technology in the hopes of joining forces with our readers," Sandford explains.