Do social media have anti-social consequences?

Has the rise of blogging, Twitter and other forms of social media contributed to ideological polarization and the decline of a shared culture? It’s an old debate.

Tonight at 11 p.m., Jon Keller of WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and I will talk about it following the release of a new report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism titled “New Media, Old Media.”

Privacy, Facebook and the future of social networking

In my latest for the Guardian, I wonder whether Facebook can survive the crisis created by its self-inflicted privacy fiasco. But I also wonder where Facebook users would go if they decide they’ve had enough.

From talking about it to just doing it


When I first started teaching a course called Reinventing the News a few years ago, I envisioned it mainly as a seminar. The idea was that we would look at some case studies of where the news business might be headed and blog about it.

I quickly realized that wasn’t good enough. The spark for me was a student who had just come back from her co-op job at the Patriot Ledger of Quincy. She had assumed the most complicated tool she’d have to use would be a notebook. Instead, she was tossed a point-and-shoot digital camera and told to teach herself how to capture and edit video. She liked it so much she ended up changing her career goals from print to video.

It was with some trepidation that I began adding three weeks of Web video to Reinventing a year and a half ago. First, I had to teach myself how to do it. And it required exposing some vulnerabilities. I knew some students would be starting from zero, but I also knew that others were already better at video journalism than I’d ever be. Nevertheless, it proved to be well worth it.

Last week we finished the most complex version of Reinventing I’ve offered, and my students had to pull together a variety of skills for their final project. The assignment was to use free online tools to create a multimedia story. The elements:

  • An 800- to 1,000-word story about a digital media project that had caught their eye, written up as a blog post with relevant links.
  • A slide show of six to 10 still photos, posted to Flickr and embedded in their blog.
  • A two- to five-minute video they shot and edited, posted to YouTube and also embedded in their blog.
  • An explanation of how they used social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to find sources and report their story.

At the end of it all, they were asked to note the location of their story on a Google map and link to their blog post. The result is the map I’ve embedded above. I invite you to explore. These young journalists did a terrific job, and I am very proud of them.

If you click on “View Reinventing the News: Final Projects in a larger map,” directly under the embedded map, you’ll find the list of students on the left-hand side. Click on a name to find his or her spot on the map, each one of which is linked directly to their project. Hmmm … Google could make this a little bit simpler, eh?

I’ll be teaching Reinventing again this fall, and I will continue to refine. My first thought is that I ought to dump the brief wiki exercise I offer and instead delve more deeply into how to handle comments. Any thoughts you have would be welcome.

(Not) tweeting from City Hall

OK, one quick one, then I’m out of here.

The Boston Herald today follows up its social-media story with more from Dave Wedge and Jessica Heslam and a column by Margery Eagan.

In order to bolster her argument that Amy Derjue, spokeswoman for Boston City Council president Mike Ross, is tweeting when she ought to be working, Eagan quotes something Derjue posted on Monday at 10:11 p.m.

I’m not here to defend Derjue, Mac Daniel or David Isberg, who have created something of an appearance problem for their bosses, even though I’ve seen no real evidence that they’ve been slacking off. (In fact, I think Heslam gets at the appearance problem nicely here.)

But quoting something a city employee posted at a time when she was clearly off-duty is out of bounds.

Tweeting from City Hall

Amy Derjue (from Twitter)
Amy Derjue (from Twitter)

Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub has some big-time fun with the Boston Herald’s story on city employees who use Facebook and Twitter during work hours. Gaffin reproduces a photo of the Herald reporters who wrote the story, Jessica Heslam and Dave Wedge, from — yes — Heslam’s Facebook account.

“What are they using them for?” asks Gaffin. “What are they hiding? Ooh, insinuation is fun!”

Kidding aside, you have to admit that there’s an appearance problem with the way some city employees are using social media. Heslam and Wedge focus on Amy Derjue, a former Boston Magazine blogger who was hired earlier this year to serve as City Council president Mike Ross’ $39,000-a-year spokeswoman.

Derjue is something of a young-woman-about-town, and I follow her on both Facebook and Twitter. (If you page through her 340 Facebook friends, you’ll see a wide array of local media and political folks, including Gaffin, me — and Wedge.) Some of her posts make me cringe, and Heslam and Wedge dutifully provide some cringe-worthy examples. But I’ve never heard anyone suggest she wasn’t smart, hard-working and energetic. For what it’s worth, she has complained to me on behalf of her boss, which suggests dedication to her job.

More to the point, most of us — and you can be sure Derjue falls into this category — are never fully off work. If we’re expected to tend to business when we’re off-duty, then we have to be allowed some fun during the formal workday as well. And, as Gaffin writes, “Why, it takes sheer seconds to post something to Facebook or Twitter.”

An aside that may help illustrate my point. Yesterday John Robinson, editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., tweeted that he was being yelled at by a “legislator who resigned in disgrace.” When I responded at how impressed I was with his multi-tasking, he replied, “Yes, tweeting while yelling. What else am I supposed to do? Listen?” This was not a private conversation — it was seen by all 1,196 of Robinson’s followers and all 2,019 of mine. Welcome to 2009.

Ross tells the Herald that he hired Derjue in part for her social-networking expertise. And, indeed, Ross has a pretty lively Twitter feed and Facebook account. For Derjue to post to her personal sites while working on her boss’ would, as Gaffin says, take “sheer seconds.” You can question her judgment, but her social-media activities are not evidence of dereliction.

Derjue seems to have partly disabled her Facebook account (I could be wrong; Facebook mystifies and annoys me), and she hasn’t posted to Twitter since last night. No doubt she’s licking her wounds at the moment. I’m interested to see how she’ll respond.