Saturday, March 7, 2009

Rounding up the 2009 Digital News Affairs conference

AT this years Digital News Affairs conference, debates have ranged from the merits of the online aggregation business model to questioning who made Barack Obama President, and speakers have come from new online-only start-ups and established print publications alike. The two-day Brussels based event has been covered in detail by, and has been live blogged by dedicated Twitter users both in the audience and on the podium.
Before proceedings began, associate editor of Wired UK and co-host of DNA 2009 Ben Hammersley spoke with about how news organisations use social media and new technology online. Hammersley feels that many "have embraced an awful lot of stuff because it's fashionable or they feel they should", but that some hastily started projects are "not just a waste of time, they're a waste of creative resource and money". He believes that social media experiments are fine for bloggers, but that for mainstream media such action "needs to be assessed very strongly and thoroughly". He also says that news organisations need to be more ruthless and Google-esque in their attitudes to cancelling projects which aren't working - online "the key metric is which online companies kill the rubbish stuff the fastest".
However this particular event whole-heartedly embraced new media, dedicating an entire session to Twitter - "Twittering. Can you tell the news in 140 characters or less?" Throughout the conference, Twitter users have been reporting and commenting on events using "hashtags", which are key words searchable on to find all relevant Tweets. The Twitter session had its own #dna140 hashtag, separate from the #dna09 which covered all the other panels. The idea was to stream Tweets about the Twitter discussion on a big screen behind the panel, although there were (somewhat ironically) technical problems which meant this didn't go entirely to plan.
The group were very much pro-Twitter, with Katharina Borchert of WAZ Media saying that Twitter is the perfect tool for local newspapers and describing methods of sourcing stories through it. Speaking over a video link, Jeff Jarvis agreed with the assertion that Twitter is a fad - but then added that life itself is a fad. Jarvis also rejected any thought that Twitter lacks influence as it only has 1 million members, pointing out that only 1% of Wikipedia users actually write its content.
Barack Obama's victory and the role of social media in it came under scrutiny, with press lead for the Obama Campaign Jodi Williams explaining that the Internet and social networks were used to connect people "who otherwise wouldn't have been connected". Michael Rosenblum spoke on his vision of the future for journalists, following up on an interview he gave a few weeks ago. Online aggregators came up for dissection - a particularly hot topic at the moment given Google's recent addition of advertising to Google News, and there were also sessions on future technology such as e-readers, and how live streaming and the use of video helps online news sites.


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