Xpress is Flickrin’ and Twitterin’ now

News flash: Mountain Xpress adds Twitter feed, and Flickr isn’t far behind. Or, in Twitter-speak—News: Mtn X adds Twitr & Flikr. See http://bit.ly/HTFVR. #mxnow.

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).

Twittering the news: The MXNow Twitter feed of live local news; find it on the right side of our Web site, www.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.

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About Margaret Williams
Managing Editor Margaret Williams has been at Xpress since 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987.

One thought on “Xpress is Flickrin’ and Twitterin’ now

  1. Ex-Pat

    I’m sorry to see Xpress’s endorsement of this post modern debasement of journalism. I’m not all-out against Twitter and the like, it’s just an inherent embrace of relativism with little accountability. I just can’t bring myself to like the suggestion that the journalistic playing field should be leveled such that someone’s chicken scratch byte (such as my own here), more suitable for bathroom wall discourse, stands on even ground with a well-rounded piece of investigative journalism.

    Keeping up with the Jones’ media consumption habits such as they are is not inherently “cool,” however much the addition of “hip” new technology like this might seductively appear to give a news media company a “competitive” edge.

    It is nothing less than the reduction of important information-sharing to it’s crudest instrumental value -that of repackaging (rebranding, if you will) content to pander to dangerous consumer trends in which thorough and accurate reporting is dispensed with in favor of that which can often amount to nothing more than unsubstantiated rumor-mongering, placed in careless hands.

    The end result? Form beats function. Style trumps substance.

    Not good.

    PS: I’m not buying the “democratizing force” argument here. This logic is relativism at its worst. It’s sidestepping the necessary precautions and responsibilities good journalists take to ensure readers are supplied with accurate data. What would appear to be a “hands on” technological development is in fact a “hands off” posture.

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