Be gentle in this age of social expression

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[Thinking Out Loud]

'scream and shout' by Mindaugas Danys on Flickr
‘scream and shout’ by Mindaugas Danys on Flickr

There is a difference between who you are and what you do. A chasm between being and doing.

It can take a lifetime to learn who you are, but we learn this by being verb. We learn the ‘who-ness” by continually giving continual expression through doing. [And we learn this in pause and reflection.]

In drawing, writing, photographing, crafting, creating and through labour [‘arbeid’] we momentarily lose ourselves to find ourselves again. So we tweet, we draw, we write, we photograph and then we pause.

And we can come back and look on a body of action – a stream of Twitter, a month of Instagram, a year of Facebook and we can see with some detachment how we present ourselves to the world.

When we see ourselves in the rear view mirror – in reflection – can ask ourselves questions about how much closer or further we are to self. How much we’ve changed. How much more we want to change. What we’ve done, and who we want to be.

We can be the same. Or we can change. And if we want to change is social media expression useful? Transformation is movement, so perhaps it becomes easier to see the self in reflection – in the reflection of movements and cycles and seasons.

What’s useful about social media is that it can show these movements. Social offers a record of data over time. In that way social media can be useful for self-reflection, although it is merely an aspect of self, rather than one’s self.

Should we have rules or guides for social media?

1. The best part of life is boundless discovery. I think that this should apply to the social self. There should be no rules or guides for the social self. All we need to know, really, is the hinge of action and consequence. But it might be useful to know that social can be a loudhailer and a microscope, a place where we can be amplified and inspected.

2. If there are skills to be learned to become better at being social, surely these skills are play, curiosity and the tools of expression. We reveal our true nature in play. We find ourselves in curiosity. Play and curiosity are also very useful states for collaboration, sharing an discovery. So perhaps learning to be social is about creating states in which we can play and be curious.

3. If there are any guides [I prefer thinking about social guides, rather than rules], these should be the basic concepts for social interaction that toddlers are taught at play school:
– We listen carefully,
– We are polite and show respect,
– We don’t waste our own, or others time,
– We are gentle, we don’t hurt others.

[My thanks to Dave Duarte (@DaveDuarte) for our discussions on social media, and for his thinking on social media which, in part, gave rise to this piece.]

Gaza – war and bearing witness in real time

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Israeli Defense Force Paratroopers in Gaza.
Israeli Defense Force Paratroopers in Gaza.

“If Vietnam brought war into the living room, the last few weeks have put it at our fingertips. On our phones, news alerts full of body counts bubble into our inbox, Facebook feeds are populated by appeals for help or action on behalf of victims, while Twitter boils with up-to-the-second reporting, some by professionals and some by citizens, from scenes of disaster and chaos.”

David Carr on how media technology is changing the way war is reported on, and experienced in his excellent piece At Front Lines, Bearing Witness in Real Time in The New York Times.

Always wanted to write like Hemingway? Here’s how.

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ImageHere’s an app for everyone who dreams of writing clearly and boldly like Ernest Miller Hemingway. Called the HemingwayApp, the algorithm created by brothers Adam and Ben Long hunts through writing to find ‘unHemingway-like’ writing and highlights it for a rewrite. Sentences that are too long are accented, while words that could be simplified are earmarked for substitution. Hemingway hated adverbs – his writing was sparse yet authoritative – so words that modify verbs, like wonderful and quickly, are also highlighted for the chop.

“After spending our days writing, we realized a common mistake: sentences easily grow to the point that they became difficult to understand,” the Longs told Ian Crouch of The New Yorker. “The worst part is we didn’t realize we were doing it. Our text was more clear and persuasive when we kept it simple.”

Read The New Yorker’s interview with the Long Bros, in Ian Crouch’s story: Hemingway Takes The Hemingway Test.

Try out the HemingwayApp.

Social media tips from The Wall Street Journal

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5858249526_2298a25375_b1. Images, images, images
2. Post to engage a mobile audience
3. Design posts to be shared
4. The human touch matters
5. Be a Facebook ‘scientist’

Some great insights on how journalists can successfully ‘do’ social media in the interview Wall Street Journal’s Liz Heron. The WSJ’s Twitter account peaked at four million million at the beginning of February 2014. Its Facebook page is close on two million fans. Read the whole story here at

News insights from The Newsroom

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The_Newsroom_CarouselJon and I have just started watching The Newsroom, the compelling HBO series created by Academy and Emmy-award winning phenomenon, Aaron Sorkin [the brains behind A Few Good Men and The West Wing]. What makes this series electric – apart from the fast-paced dialogue, the wit, and the politics – is the intelligence. Everything about the series is clever.

The plot of last night’s episode, called News Night 2.0, centered on protagonists Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) rebooting their television news show [called News Night]. McAvoy and his old team had been playing it safe [think celebrity politics; pitting politicians against each other instead of focusing on policy and issues; as well as digging into predictable ratings boosters like human interest stories, sensationalist opinion and pop-culture fluff].

News Night 2.0 – the reboot – is all about not playing to the crowd, but getting back to the roots of journalism. Doing news that educates and informs voters instead of news that tries to grab ratings. The big difference between the two, of course, is dumbing down voters and making money instead of taking the road less traveled. The tougher way of doing news is supporting democracy by doing the hard stories that teach people about policy, the constitution and empower a thinking citizenry.

During the News Night 2.0 episode McHale unveils a white board with her ‘rules’ for reinventing the fictional news show:


These new rules for a TV news show that’s relevant to voters and to informing a democracy are:

1. Is this the information we need in the voting booth?

2. Is this the best possible form of the argument?

3. Is the story in historical context?

As South Africa moves to what is the most crucial election of our young democracy these ‘rules’ offer much in the way of guidelines for local journalists covering South African news that matters. When reporting perhaps we should ask ourselves whether the stories we cover offer our electorate what they need to know in the voting booth; if we offer historical context in our news; and whether the argument we’re putting forward is the best form of argument in terms of our democracy.

New emag created by Jo!Ma, featured in FM

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FMPUBLISHING company MarkLives and brand intelligence entity Ornico have launched a new publication called trendMark aimed at helping companies and marketers to align their brand campaigns with the latest technology changes and consumer-related trends.

TrendMark, which comes in an electronic magazine format, is a local trend resource which also covers trends in business, technology, reputation, retail and general trends in some parts of Africa.

It will be a resource for marketers and brands looking at re-evaluating their strategies to keep up with the fast-changing technology and the needs of consumers as influenced by the latest trends.

trendMark 2014TrendMark editor Mandy de Waal writes in the magazine that brands that understand that consumers are people and that people appreciate psychological visibility will thrive.

“The customer isn’t just king, he’s a fickle despot with a penchant for tantrums and voting with his feet.”

De Waal says big brands will need to earn their place in people’s hearts by embracing sustainability, authenticity, relevance and right pricing. “Tight times mean value will be scrutinised,” she says. Read the full story in Financial Mail.

SA Youth very keen on news

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Good news for news brands – young people are accessing news via social media, blowing apart notions that the many hours they spend every day on Facebook and Twitter are wasted only on trivialities.

Anton Harber cites research from Jos Kuper: “They don’t read papers or watch traditional TV, but they need quick and current news to keep up with their peer group. They just find and use it differently from the way their parents did. And South African youth, the research showed, are intensely involved with politics and discussing it a great deal. They check their cellphones often during the day and pick up snippets on social media, radio (still the most popular medium) or street news posters, and they Google it to learn more. They don’t trust a single source, knowing that the internet can feed them falsities, and so look at a number of reports, particularly those from branded sites, such as News24, CNN and BBC. Once they have verified the story, they share it — tweeting, posting it on Facebook or e-mailing a screen-print. If the story is particularly interesting, it may go viral — and then the mainstream media might report it.”

Read Anton Harber’s piece on BDlive.

Data Journalism – Resources

Posted on Updated on has a brilliant, speedy guide of data journalism tools and sources. Skip the first bit, which is very UK specific. About halfway down the page there’s listings on tools like:

  • Tabula, a tool for ” liberating data tables trapped inside PDF files”;
  •, which turns website information into data tables;
  • Google Charts – which is fairly useful for visualising and displaying live data on Websites;
  • and much, much more.
  • There’s also cool insights and thoughts about how to use these data journalism tools.\

Read more:

Sources and tools for data journalism at

10 key skills for digital journalists to hone in 2014 at