Al Jazeera TV reporter Alan Fisher defends use of social media as aid for journalists

Al Jazeera television reporter Alan Fisher has launched a staunch defence of social media as an aid for journalists.

In an article on current affairs website, Scottish Review, headed: ‘Good morning. My name is Alan, and I’m a Tweetaholic’, Fisher declares: “I like Twitter and use Facebook for work and fun. It is an invaluable tool for journalists, like a high-tech wire service.”

Fisher is currently the senior Washington correspondent for global news network, Al Jazeera English which he joined six years ago after 13 years at GMTV. He began his career on Moray Firth Radio, and also worked for NorthSound Radio, Grampian TV, STV and Radio Clyde.

He explains that he first heard about the Anders Behring Brevik attacks in Norway through Twitter, pointing out: “Automatically I switched on the TV to find out more but discovered that people in Norway were updating accurate information more regularly.

“So I spent the next hour or so in front of the TV, my computer on my lap. I discovered the shocking but not unexpected news about the death of Amy Winehouse through a friend's Facebook status update. I went off to find out more on established news sites.

“I've broken news on Twitter, had lengthy, and at times heated, conversations on it and had to block people for their language, views or just because they became too damn annoying. And I've used it to promote pieces I've done for my employer and even for the Scottish Review.

“During the Arab Spring, social media helped established facts on the ground where it was difficult for journalists to operate. People provided videos of what was happening in their localcommunities, some of it quite shocking.

“And even now in places like Bahrain and Syria, Twitter and other social media sites are providing access and information in places where journalists are banned. It was easy to verify a lot of what we were being told by sending it out again through social media.”

Fisher points out this creates what some call citizen journalists...” that is no more than a fancy name for people doing what they've always done: providing information to reporters who then put things into a clear narrative within a proper contextual framework.

“Journalism is about pulling together little bits of the picture from various sources to create something that can be presented to the audience. Social media helps create a much broader and deeper picture. It is a great way to engage with audiences and a significant source of information.

“So recently I was surprised to read the words of a Scottish sports journalist who clearly has no idea of the real value and depth of Twitter.

“Talking about the reaction to Celtic's manager using his personal account to complain about a referee's decision in a cup semi-final, he wrote: 'Twitter is something of a haven for show-offs, the pompous, people who know not a lot but think they have all the answers, and the deranged. Sorry, but what makes all these anonymous people think what's happening in their lives is of any interest to those who don't know them?'.

“Twitter can be educational, entertaining and insightful. I follow a number of very interesting academics, a handful of top journalists like Nick Kristoff, of the New York Times or Bill Neely, of ITN. I'm plugged in to many of the world's major news providers and even some comedians who make me laugh on a daily basis.

“It forces people to be concise, always a test of good writing, and it allows you to keep in touch with things that interest you. It also helps to find out what people are talking about and what they care about.

“I should say that I'm normally a fan of the journalist in question. I find him incisive and entertaining. However, he clearly has no understanding of how Twitter works or how to use it to get the best out of it. So he comes across like a slightly baffled and confused old man railing against new inventions like television or mobile phones.

“What he should grasp is that social media is changing the media landscape, and changing the world with it.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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