The T Word

Martin Cloake congratulates the NUJ for its use of new media (mostly twitter, with a frequently updated blog, all maintained by a team of student journalists) to cover their recent annual delegate meeting.

Well yes, except that most of the tweeters seem not to have set up accounts until days before the ADM began, the twitter feed was erratic (one of Eamonn McCann’s trademark passionate contributions was reduced to ‘Bugger me he’s loud, I think he’ll start saying ‘Feck’ and ‘Gin in a moment’) and outgoing president James Doherty referred dismissively in his opening speech to ‘blogging, facebooking, and dare I day it, twatting’.


Doherty’s comment though, is a perfect illustration of the power of twitter. Through retweets, a message originally seen by about 130 followers was eventually broadcast to a potential audience of over 6500.

It also led to some negative feedback, with references to the NUJ’s ‘head in the sand approach’. To another commentator, it was simply ‘unbelievable’.

Far as I can tell, no other bulletin from the three day event reached such a large audience.

Later, at a new media event, activists discussed how to recruit ‘web workers‘.

Perhaps not insulting potential members might be a start.

By Gerard Cunningham

Gerard Cunningham occupies his time working as a journalist, writer, sub-editor, blogger and podcaster, yet still finds himself underemployed.


  1. Gerard, I think you’re being a little unfair here. These were student journalists, which may explain why they only set up Twitter accounts days before the event. Most students do Facebook, but not Twitter. And so what if the accounts were new? That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Or have I missed the need for a long-service qualification before users of new media platforms can be taken seriously?

    The website and coverage was intended to be a learning experience for those involved. It never ceases to amaze me how hard people work to turn anything positive the NUJ does into a negative.

    In James Doherty’s opening speech, he talked about defending some of the traditional values of journalism in a new media age. This is a live debate within journalism and journalism education, and not something to be glibly dismissed as a “head in the sand” approach.

    You mention that “no other bulletin from the event reached such a large audience”. It seems that one particular old value – that of accentuating the negative – survives whatever the medium.

  2. Fair comments all round. I must admit I questioned the use of Twitter – and I was using it.

    Except my Twitter account has been in operation for quite a while.

    I quite liked the Father Ted humour linking to Eamonn – which was backed up by a further Tweet explaining how good the speech was.

    I’m sure it was Eamonn himself who actually found me in the conference and said: “Where’s Ashley?”
    I nervously raised the hand, expecting the worst.

    Then he laughed and said: “F*****g great comments, mate.”

  3. Are you saying that the NUJ was wrong to encourage students to start Twitter accounts to use it as a form of reporting?

    I am at a loss.

    We used Twitter to report that the President had described it as “Twatting”. I reported later that it was my most re-tweeted post ever.

    The President’s closing remarks were very different, very positive about the various ways we covered conference, including Twitter.

    I have heard that even some of what might be called the “old guard” had their views of social media turned on their heads by what we did.

    There is room for improvement and lessons to be learned, but surely it was a positive step?

  4. I tweet. I am an NUJ member and on the National Exec. I am also a web journalist.
    Can we not win? We get criticised for not using twitter and blogs and then when we use both for what was exciting, edgy and excellent coverage of out annual conference, we get slammed for doing it.
    Doherty’s comments were a dig at David Cameron, who described us as ‘twatters’ not at people who use twitter.
    We don’t ave a head in the sand approach. The union’s new vice-president works on a website, tweets and is head of its new media industrial council.
    Anyone wo actually cared to look at what the NUJ is doing, rather than just slagging it off for a 140 word Tweet has their head in the sand. Why don’t you read some more of the coverage here or ask the students whether they thought we had our heads in the sand.

  5. Sorry and they also used (in addition to twitter and a frequently updated blog) cover it, uploaded a couple of hundred pictures, did podcasts and videos

  6. This is one of the dangers of online reporting.

    James Doherty’s mention of Twatter was clearly meant in jest – a sly joke if you will, to lighten the atmosphere of what became a serious conference.

    As for the “feck and gin” tweet, I’m not too sure what the problem is in having a bit of sense of humour. There was clearly no disrespect involved – his immediate tweet afterwards was:

    “The Irish journalist is excellent. I didn’t catch name as he went straight in. Brilliant. Massive applause to reject motion.”

    Instead of criticising the students who injected a unique angle to what can be an arduous and drawn out process of stuffy debates, perhaps you should be looking at how impersonal ‘new media’ such as Twitter are constantly in danger of being misunderstood.

  7. I think the purpose of getting students to tweet is partly to prepare them for a job where there might be live blogging and partly to inform people not at ADM about the event. Could more be done? Yes, but let’s leave that for now.

    I think people overestimate how much students use Twitter – they are probably more familiar with Facebook, but the social life at union is so hectic surely you wouldn’t have time for tweeting all the time?

    In a recent Guardian forum for people wanting to become journalists, the panelists persuaded several students to sign up to Twitter. So I’m not surprised that the student tweeters at ADM needed to set up accounts.

    And as for James Doherty’s comments, surely the fact that they found its way out of the conference hall says something about the NUJ’s approach to new media at ADM?

    Whealie was at ADM, so were at least two or three other people I follow on Twitter. And there are probably many more delegates on Twitter who I don’t follow. I wasn’t there so had to follow it on Twitter and relied on my tweeting colleagues.

    Also, I don’t know whether James’s comments where said in jest or not. If he was being serious they were aimed at not just potential members, but me, Chris, Martin Cloake and many other tweeting NUJ members. I’m not offended by his comments. Should I be?

  8. Thanks, Michael, for backing me up here.

    While it was a school-boy error (possibly) to jump into insensitive stereotype humour, it was in jest. Also I really loved Eamonn’s speech. All was just a joke.

    And, as I outlined before, I was approached by Eamonn (I’m sure of it, on the Sunday morning – though fatigue may have suggested otherwise) and he said my tweets were great.

    Maybe next time I shall take a little more care, though. With that said the comment really did get people interested.

    As for the ‘Twatter’ thing, it was clearly a joke. In fact far mroe offensive things were reported over the conference which could’ve had massive effects (Jeremy’s “James Murdoch is a bastard”, for example).

  9. @MartinCloake: I don’t think it’s unfair. For Eng Lit students maybe, but journalism students really should be familiar with the technology. The effect of letting loose students unfamiliar with the medium was a twitter feed high on short fact bursts, but lacking in any atmosphere. In fairness, most of the debates were pretty arid anyway, but it was a bit disappointing that my question about a tweetup went unanswered.
    Perhaps the lesson from how widely @whelie’s tweet propagated is, choose your words carefully, something journalists should already know.

    @Ashley: I think that might have been me, not Eamonn. And if there was a character in Fr Ted I had to compare Eamonn to, it would be Fr Kevin.

    @Chris Wheal: No, I’m not saying the NUJ was wrong, I’m saying it could have been done better. By all means keep it up, though I suspect in 18 months time when conference rolls round again, twitter will be last year’s thing.

    @squeel: The head in the sand comment isn’t mine, but one of the retweet’s of @whealie’s original comment. The word he used is “attacks”, not “jibes”.
    And yes, I know Donnacha DeLong has a twitter account (as well as Facebook, LinkedIn, and for all I know, Second Life and Bebo). I plan to blog on the new media research presented at a side meeting as soon as I’ve digested the report.

    @Michael: I was there when Doherty made the crack, it came across as technophobia. But why not let everyone decide for themselves? I’m sure the speech – or the relevant section – could be uploaded to youtube. I know other extracts have been. Regarding McCann, I refer the honourable member to my previous answer. Mostly what struck me about it was how odd it was to encounter someone at ADM who didn’t know who Eamonn was.

    @RosieNiven: That the comments made it so far outside ADM was my point. The other point was that it wasn’t a positive message.
    There’s no obligation to take offence at the comment. But given the amount of talk we had about recruiting new media workers, did James even consider what they’d make of his words? Did @whealie?
    Regarding the Murdoch comment, fair comment is a good defence.

    Lots of responses to this post, so probably lots in turn I’ve left unanswered, but I hope I’ve addressed your main points. Thanks for reading.

  10. I think I still have a Second Life account, but I only used it once and didn’t get it. No Bebo account, but I do have an old Myspace account and a few more. Anyway, just wanted to make a point – at least one of the students set up a new Twitter account for the ADM work, @carolineNUJ has a regular account @carolinebeavon . Separating the professional from the private is pretty good practice.

  11. @ Gerard Thanks for a thoughtful response. It all raises some very interesting points. In my experience, Twitter is favoured by older media types who like to think we are up with the latest technology, while students use Facebook a hell of a lot – and in ways which have made me look at it again. You could say that journalism students “should” be signed up to lots of stuff – but the point is they are stuydents, they are learning, they are finding their way. Just like many of us. I only got a Twitter account about a year ago, and a web presence about 2 years ago, I don’t think it makes me a bad journalist.

    Choosing words – fair point, but there is a whole debate about forms of communication and what is appropriate where which would be interesting to go into in more detail.

    I had to laugh when you said you suspected in 18 months’ time Twitter would be last year’s thing. I hope that after being critical of people for being too slow on the uptake you don’t feel moved to criticise them for being behind the times. [That is intended as a bit of a humourous comment btw, as well as making a bit of a point.]

  12. Hi Gerard, I want to echo Martin’s response on the thoughtful reply.
    However, If a journalist repeats a libel that another publication made, they are also comitting a libel. So saying that the head in the sand comment was ‘someone elses comment’does not absolve you from blame in repeating it. In fact I think the response you havbe had here says we (the NUJ) no longer have our head in the sand (or up anywhere else for that matter).
    Your clarity on the original Tweet is a good point. Doherty wasn’t ‘attacking’, he was jibing. The original Tweet was misleading.
    I think the problem with 140 (or is it 180) characters is there is a tendancy to hurry what you say and often get it wrong. This is a problem I often have with Twitter, that people readingh my tweets get the wrong tone from them.
    But then perhaps having a blog where you only use 200 words is also problematic, because to get your point across you have now used 597 (according to MS Word)!
    Still, I dont’ want to put you off blogging or the NUJ!

  13. @Donnacha: I don’t think professional/personal separation is entirely possible, unless you set up a pseudonym for the personal, which kind of defeats the purpose. You have to accept anything you say is public.

    @Martin: Our experience differs, most of the journalists I follow are Irish, and I seem to be about the oldest of them. UK mileage obviously varies.
    I’m saying if you’re going to report an event using a particular technology, you should know a little about what you’re doing. #NUJADM felt like a last minute job. Sorry if that’s not the case and months of preparation went into it, but that’s how it felt.
    On the 18 month comment, I don’t think Twitter will go away, but it will no longer be the fad it is today. Remember two years ago, when everyone said podcasting was the Next Big Thing?

    @squeelaa: I have repeated no libel. Criticism is not defamation.
    Having been there at the time, I would argue that the original characterisation was accurate. In my view, it wasn’t merely a jibe. That said, I’ll repeat what I said earlier. Put the speech on youtube.
    On 200 words, my word count comes from Buried somewhere in this blog is an article on that very topic. Word count varies depending on whether I use MS Word, OpenOffice, or the WordPress native counter. Programs vary in how they deal with hyphenated words, numbers and acronyms. For consistency’s sake, I stick with OpenOffice.

  14. I’d like to pick up on the point about separating personal and professional issues on Twitter

    I’d agree to a point that both make up your personality and your contacts know that.

    The issue here, at the ADM, was the amount of tweets being sent out. We were told to cover the event, and this means frequently updated tweets throughout the event.

    Then comes a decision

    1. send a barrage of tweets to everyone who follows me, every motion update, standing order alteration etc, risking boring and annoying the majority of them (potentially several tweets a minute)

    2. set up a separate account and risk the wrath of people who then accuse us of being new to this media and not qualified to use it.

    I started the weekend doing the first option, and promptly lost 10 followers in the first day (plus a few messages from friends saying “is this going to stop soon”?)

    Then I set up a separate account, so that I could go the whole hog and cover the event, blow by blow in minute details.

    My Twitter followers appreciated it. I think for full blown event coverage, it is the only option.

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