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How Andy Carvin uses Twitter to report on the Middle East

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Andy Carvin at the Knight-Batten Awards and Symposium. IJNet photo by Mohammad Al abdallah

As he was honored at the Newseum in Washington September 7, National Public Radio's Andy Carvin explained how he started following tweets from Tunisia to Egypt as revolutions erupted across the Middle East this year.

Carvin received a Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism at the Newseum in Washington for his pioneering use of Twitter as a tool for newsgathering. Most of this year's awards went to data-driven, open-source and social media projects. View the complete list of winners here. (The awards are administered by J-Lab and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which also helps support IJNet.)

IJNet attended the 2011 Knight-Batten Awards and Symposium for Innovations in Journalism, "New Gateways To News," and chatted with Carvin after his speech.

IJNet: You work in radio, so how do you use the information that you gather from Twitter?

AC: I provide information to our reporters in the field who want to cover the topic, and they send me videos and pictures they get from field so I can verify them using crowd-sourcing from the huge network of followers worldwide. Besides that, we use some of the information [on air and on the NPR website] and we say that we got it via social media.

IJNet: But there are a lot of people. How can you trust the information that they send you?

AC: When I start building a network in a country, I follow people and activists I know from real life. I watch their Twitter pages and then see whom they are following, and I send them direct messages from time to time asking about certain users and if they think they could be a credible source.

IJNet: Social media contains right and wrong information. Besides verifying the source of the information, what helps you to decide to or not to use the information?

AC: From monitoring the tweets of most of the Arab revolution activists I found out that most of the wrong information is basically over-exaggerated information; very few were total lies. That’s why I don’t re-tweet anyone that I don’t know, and I keep it on the context of “Can anyone confirm …?”

IJNet: Which of the Arab countries was harder to cover in terms of getting contradictory information?

AC: I won’t say it was contradictory information; it was more two versions of stories. Most of the Arab countries had a very limited number of pro-government social media activists, Bahrain has the most, as 90 percent of Internet users there have a broadband internet connection. In the case of Bahrain, I got tweets saying one thing and other tweets saying totally the opposite thing. With other countries like Egypt the mainstream tweets were from protesters.

Using Twitter for News Gathering

The blend of the new and traditional media in Andy Carvin's innovation is a refreshing tact that indicates that the practices of Journalism and Public Relations, and their subsequent publics, can benefit from the creative use of the best of both media, in this age when radio and print media especially seems to being relegated to the archives. In Carvin's innovation, we see how radio, a 'one-to-many' communication tool feeding from Twitter, a many-to-many communication tool, with both building a symbiotic energy that supports and accelerates accurate and speedy information access. Like Shirky Clay writes in his book, Here Comes Everybody: How change happens when people come together, 'revolution doesn't happen when society adopts new technology, it happens when society adopts behaviour.' Carvin's is a case of adopting a creative use for twitter to benefit radio listeners.

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