COP15, Treks
05 January, 2010

Twitter meets climate change

Wandering across the corridors formed by the long tables in the Bella Center’s Media Center, I could see that most of the journalists there were using Twitter.

Sergio Abranches

If 2009 was the Year  of Twitter, it was also the year Twitter has become a solid journalistic tool to cover climate change, and a widely used resource for climate change advocacy and militancy, pro and con.

As Alfred Hermida observes (@Hermida)

there has been a rapid uptake of Twitter by journalists, provoking somewhat of a Twitter frenzy in some quarters of the media.

He also notes that

Twitter has been quickly adopted in newsrooms as a mechanism to distribute breaking news quickly and concisely or as a tool to solicit story ideas, sources and facts.

I saw that happen in the Media Center. Tweets were used to break news everyone knew would become updated in a matter of hours, if not minutes; to socialize sites and Twitter accounts that were good sources of info; to opine about events; to comment on the experience and ambience of COP15 coverage. It as like a TwitterBabel, a multi-language ongoing dialogue and information sharing experience.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy spread his own impressions, infos, and ideas through a Twitter account specifically setup for COP15: @ElyseeCop15. UK Prime minister Gordon Brown used the regular @10DowningStreet account to tell about his impressions. They both became very useful sources.

A typical tweet representing Sarkozy’s views would be

PR : “les difficultés de cette conférence, c’est la preuve d’un système onusien à bout de souffle”, about 13 hours ago from Seesmic. (“The difficulties of this Conference are proof that the UN system is exhausted”.)

A typical tweet reflecting Gordon Browns’s views would be

PM: Negotiations fraught, but determined to get this done. Leaders must put cards on table. 8:12 AM Dec 17th from web

When I look back at the hectic days in the Media Center, during COP15, one of the sharpest images I get is of thousands of journalists frantically looking for information, checking and verifying what they get by all means possible, a large number compelled to report real time.

The intermediation of Twitter turned this rather common situation, into one which best expresses the new emerging forms of what Hermida has called ambient journalism.

(A)mbient journalism – an awareness system that offers diverse means to collect, communicate, share and display news and information, serving diverse purposes. The system is always-on but also works on different levels of engagement in terms of awareness.

COP15 was the first COP in which Twitter was an integral part of media coverage. I guess it was also the height of blog climate journalism. I can’t show any evidence of that, but I can tell about my own experience: I got info from more blogs than online conventional news sites, except for Reuters and The Guardian. Sure, I’m counting blogs hosted by newspapers sites, such as @Revkin’s Dot Earth, or The Guardian’s Environment Blog .

Twitter was also a crucial resource for climate policy advocates, militants, and NGO’s. They served advocacy or militant purposes, but they were also good sources of information. I found Adopt a Negotiator’s use of blogging, facebooking and tweeting particularly interesting. It was probably educational to the participants, and was also a source for journos.

Twitter is today the single most important source for information about climate militants still detained by the Danish police.

And Twitter has become an unavoidable tool for research and journalism.

In fact, Twitter can be a serious aid in reporting. It can be a living, breathing tip sheet for facts, new sources and story ideas. It can provide instantaneous access to hard-to-reach newsmakers, given that there’s no PR person standing between a reporter and a tweet to a government official or corporate executive. It can also be a blunt instrument for crowdsourcing. (Paul Farhi – The Twitter Explosion, AJR)

Hashtags were widely used, but the dominant ones became #COP15, #Copenhagen, and #climate.

Hashtags are just one of the tools that bring coherence to what can seem like Twitter’s tower of Babel. (Paul Farhi – The Twitter Explosion, AJR)

The flow of tweets under #COP15 continues unabated and remains as a good source for journos, policy advocates and militants. The number of silly tweets has increased, it is true, but the meaningful and interesting outnumber the useless. My guess is that #COP15 will continue full of life and content until it transforms itself seamlessly into #COP16.

There are several interfaces between journalists, climate policy advocates and green militants. One of them is certainly Twitter. While policy advocates and militants can be sources for journalists, they are also among the most frequent visitors of news site and news blogs, looking for aggregate information and analytical opinion.

All of which means that Twitter attracts the sort of people that media people should love — those who are interested in, and engaged with, the news. (Paul Farhi – The Twitter Explosion, AJR)

Those who are still debating whether Twitter will replace blogs or other social networking resources, even some news sites, are missing the point. What we are looking at is a closer integration among them all. Each performing the function it is best suited to perform.

The change that made me see real value in Twitter came about a year ago, when the people I had learnt to know and appreciate from their writings in blogs started to have conversations on Twitter. At that time, I had been a frequent blogger for a couple of years and had been conversating with other bloggers via my own blog and via the comments on their blogs. Gradually I noticed that the conversations which previously were held on blogs and blog comments were moving to Twitter. So I started following the people whose blogs I subscribed to on Twitter. I hadn’t search for them before on Twitter, but now most of them exposed their Twitter name on their blogs. (Oscar Berg – “Why 2009 was the Year of Twitter”, The Content Economy)

For some purposes, Twitter works better than RSS Feeds. As blogger Oscar Berg says, blogs are personal, while Twitter is  collective platform, a sort of commons. Twitter, blogs, and social networking will be central to the continuation of the processes of aggregation, segmentation and specialization in the Websphere as well as in the media world.

Where no other resource still competes with Twitter is on what Cloud9Media has aptly called Realtime Magic. Be it real time search, or breaking real time news, or getting real time reactions or fulfilling any other real time info or social communication need one can imagine, Twitter works better and more economically than any other available tool.

Twitter is amazing as its the most efficient mechanism I have ever seen to allow me to peruse the thoughtstreams of others who live all over the world. (Vivek Wadhwa – “Twitter and Me! Why It’s The Only Social Media Tool I Use”, TechCrunch)

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