Category Archives: Media

Exploring the city, Twitter is an invaluable tool

Boloco located at 1080 Boylston St. Click image for more photos.

On a nice day Tom O’Keefe can be found taking a walk through Boston Common, grabbing a beer at Publick House, then closing out the night at the bars on Boylston Street. While enjoying his day out and about the city, he tweets about it.

O’Keefe founded Boston Tweet in order to bring attention to local businesses. With his iPhone in hand, O’Keefe ventures through the city broadcasting things he thinks Bostonians would enjoy.

“It’s really all about what I like to do and places I like to go,” he said. “It kind of is Boston according to me.”

From beer tastings to musical performances, O’Keefe tweets about it all. He also gives a voice to the people by allowing them to broadcast events and happenings on BostonTweet.com. Any tweet that includes @bostontweet automatically gets pulled onto the site.

O’Keefe said he is just an ordinary guy who likes to go out and explore the city. He has lived in Boston for approximately 20 years and graduated from Boston College with a degree in economics and politics. After a number of unsuccessful start-ups and the economy’s crash, O’Keefe started Boston Tweet in November 2008, and so far it has been the most recognizable thing he has done, he said.

O’Keefe said he really values things that students and 20-somethings would enjoy like cheap places to eat and free events. He does not get paid for doing this job.

“I don’t make a dime off this. It’s purely where I go,” he said. “Not being paid allows me to go wherever I want and not be worried to offend people. It makes it a lot easier.”

O’Keefe said that he does not plan on making money off Boston Tweet but in the future would consider expanding, possibly with an iPhone application. The reason he maintains Boston Tweet is because he loves this city. To pay the bills, O’Keefe also works for Groupon, a company that provides daily coupons for things to do and places to eat around Boston.

“I don’t make money off of my tweets, and prefer that, but I make a lot of connections,” he said. “I do it mainly because I love Boston, it opens a lot of doors for me and it creates a massive amount of exposure for me.”

O’Keefe has also not advertised Boston Tweet. Its popularity has picked up through word of mouth.

As of April 27, O’Keefe has 15,333 followers, and in the month of March, Boston Tweet had more than 17,000 unique visitors.

“It’s purely just the people enjoying the content and following me on Twitter,” he said.

O’Keefe said he has seen the popularity of Twitter expand in the last year and a half that he has been using it. He did not have a Twitter account before starting Boston Tweet.

“It definitely wasn’t as popular as it was today. The best quality of Twitter is that it’s mobile. I can tweet when I’m out and about. It’s easy and it’s free,” O’Keefe said

Other local businesses have turned to Twitter to enhance the conversation with their customers.

John Pepper, CEO of Boloco, the burrito restaurant with multiple locations including Boylston Street and Huntington Avenue, started using Twitter about the same time as O’Keefe did in order to create a dialogue with the restaurant’s customers.

“We don’t know what the return on investment is. There’s no proof it has increased sales or had any real effect on our business. All we know is that it’s allowed us to communicate better with our customers,” Pepper said. “For us, it’s not really about building the business, but rather giving more avenues to the customers.”

Pepper said that Twitter can be a slippery slope because any business that decides to use it must be prepared to be honest and transparent.

“If you’re comfortable being honest with customers and accepting the good and the bad comments, then it is an invaluable tool,” he said. “If you truly want to embrace customer feedback and build a business based on that, it’s an unbelievable resource.”

Kerry Israel, audience development manager for the American Repertory Theater, said Twitter is all about engagement, connecting with people and creating a stronger presence in the community.

“The beauty of social media is that you join a larger conversation,” Israel said. “People are always going to have something to say, so Twitter is a way to overhear that conversation.”

Steve Quigley, associate professor at the College of Communication at Boston University said he is amazed and awed like everybody else with the astronomical growth of Twitter.

According to Nielsen Online, Twitter’s unique visitors grew from 475,000 in February 2008 to seven million in February 2009.

“It’s the immediacy of it that’s just staggering,” he said. “For essentially no cost, anyone can publish and reach a large number of people who have given you permission to communicate with them. The permission thing is a huge deal. Anyone can get a megaphone and stand on the corner and shout at pedestrians, but if you think about it, Twitter is powerful because it works best when people have indicated that they want to keep an eye on you and are exposed to your thoughts.”

Israel made a note of the hard work that goes into maintaining a Twitter feed.

“It can get crazy monitoring Twitter, but it is always an exciting thing to do, especially when I’m having a crazy day,” she said.It’s great to see positive comments … and it also provides an opportunity for us to help out if things come up. That’s the beauty of it – instant, real-life communication.”

O’Keefe sympathizes. He said he is often out until 2 a.m. and that it is not something that can be easily done.

“I can’t keep up with this pace for many years to come,” O’Keefe said. “It is a hard job but it’s much better than sitting in a cubicle all day.”

Asked whether he considers himself a journalist, O’Keefe’s immediate response was, “No. Do you? Am I a journalist?”

Quigley would respond yes. In Quigley’s eyes, O’Keefe may not be practicing journalism, but he is definitely a citizen journalist.

Whether it is considered a form of journalism or not, the power of Twitter cannot be denied.

“Twitter is powered by its simplicity. People in awe of Facebook or even Google have been awed by Twitter’s simplicity. It is much more simple and some might say, more elegant than Facebook. I think Twitter is more powerful for real-time communication. The real-time immediacy of it is pretty remarkable,” Quigley said.

Simple is how O’Keefe views Boston Tweet as well.

“It really is a simple concept. Boston Tweet is all about going out, having fun, and tweeting about life in the city. That’s it. There’s not much more to it,” he said.

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Dan Gregory and his IDEA

Today in class, Dan Gregory, of Northeastern’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship, stopped by our classroom today to talk about, and encourage us to be our own entrepreneurs. Gregory works with masters students at Northeastern to help them build businesses. He doesn’t teach a traditional classroom and he doesn’t make his students purchase textbooks. He has a more hands-on, real life approach in guiding his students to build their own businesses.

He asked the class to think about our talents, and what skills we could offer a company. As a group of journalists we all agreed that our skills include: writing well, knowing how to gather information, working on deadline, using social media and multimedia, and knowing how to ask the right questions.

This is all great, but in many ways I think making your blog your business is easier said than done. Maybe I’m just being cynical since the job-searching I have done these past few weeks has been disappointing and disheartening, but I just think it takes a whole lot of luck, and the correct timing, to really make journalism your business. There’s no doubt about it that this classroom is full of talented writers and creative thinkers. Even so, I think it is extremely difficult to build your own business from the ground up.

Who said I’m not up for a challenge, though? I must say, I love this blog and I am having a lot of fun maintaining it (OK, OK, I haven’t been great at posting these past few days, but cut me some slack, it’s the last week of school). I plan on continuing this blog even after Reinventing the News is over and done with. Will it ever be a successful business? I don’t know. I cannot predict that. I do know that it will help me keep up with the skills I’ve learned so far.

Gregory told the class in terms of finding a job, we shouldn’t look at ourselves as applicants, but rather as people with a certain set of skills that are adaptable for the company. That’s an awfully optimistic way to look at things, but I like it. I think, as a number of us are getting ready to graduate, it is a great tip on how to keep our chins up.

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Sign your name, please

Today in class we talked a lot about comments lefts on news stories and blog posts. In many places on the Internet, you can post a comment online anonymously. From my own personal observations, I feel like most people don’t sign their name. I don’t understand this fear of truly representing yourself on the Internet. A lot of my friends know that this is a huge pet peeve of mine. I’m a columnist for The Huntington News, and week after week, there’s a long list of nasty comments left on the message boards. It’s gotten so bad, that out of pure principle, I don’t check them anymore.

I truly believe that if you have something to say, and you feel passionately enough about it that you need to leave a comment on the web, it is your responsibility to sign your name. Personally, I can’t take anonymous comments too seriously. They lose legitimacy when it’s signed by a pseudonym.

Click here to read an article posted on The New York Times website about how news sites are rethinking anonymous comments. Here’s an excerpt.

Anonymity is just the way things are done. It’s an accepted part of the Internet, but there’s no question that people hide behind anonymity to make vile or controversial comments,” said Arianna Huffington, a founder of The Huffington Post. “I feel that this is almost like an education process. As the rules of the road are changing and the Internet is growing up, the trend is away from anonymity.

With that said, I feel like people will always find a way signing their real name. Let’s be honest, it’s not too difficult to make up a name and a fake e-mail address. Who would go through all the trouble to do that, though, is an entirely different conversation I’ll leave for another time.

So, I ask of you, if you decide to leave a comment (and I encourage you to do so), please sign your name. Do it for me. Merci.

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NewsTrust

For a class assignment, I started checking out NewsTrust. About a week ago, I had never heard of the site, but after a few days of lurking around the site, I still hesitate to believe that it is an extremely useful tool for journalists.

NewsTrust is a non-profit organization that features news from difference sources including, newspapers and blogs. The site invites its users to review the stories they post and rate them based on facts, usefulness, fairness and originality.

I reviewed three stories. First, I posted a story from Yoga Journal. I always check in with Yoga Journal and see what’s going on in the Yoga world. It’s no secret that I total yoga junkie. Besides providing good information on yoga poses and tips, the site features great first-person accounts. The story I posted was about why yoga is dominated by females. When entering a yoga studio it’s pretty obvious that most people there are women, but I never knew why. This post, written by a man, explains why. A story about yoga and gender roles? This is my cup of tea.

The second story I reviewed was by the New York Times. My favorite section of the New York Times is the Health section. I think the stories in this section are the most interesting, and in many cases, provide the most useful information for our daily lives. The story I picked was about the Environemntal Protection Agency’s attempt to regulate the construction industry to help prevent cases of lead poisoning among children.

The third story I posted was a review of the film Date Night on WBUR.org. I love Tina Fey and Steve Carell, but watching the trailers of the film on television didn’t excite me all that much. The review pretty much said the exact same thing. While it’s always disappointing to read a negative review, it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Overall, I thin NewsTrust is an interesting tool, but not one I can see as being truly successful. I can’t imagine how people other than journalists would use this site. Maybe I’m just being cynical, but I do not think this is the type of site I can see myself using much in the future. At least it’s good to know the tools is out there.

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Map this

I keep a blog, so obviously I’m interested in new media and the future of journalism. To spice up online content, a lot of news sources have turned to using maps. Simply using photographs is not enough in the 21st century of journalism so news outlets are enhancing the way consumers get their news.

Take for example the following map put reflecting the 2008 presidential elections:

A map like this gives readers an illustrated version of what they are reading about. It’s nice to see statistics broken down visually. In the case of the presidential elections, which was the story of the year, I believe maps are necessary tools for news sites.

Ultimately, I think maps are useful when combining statistics. Take a look at this map which tracks the amount of money in US total for federal contracts, grants and loans as reported in the Recovery Act. When dealing with numbers, and especially money, maps can be an easy way to present the information in a user-friendly manner. The map used by Dismal Scientist to track the business cycle across US states and metropolitan areas for me is a little unnecessary. While it’s nice to have all the information compiled together, there are different ways of presenting it.

Therefore, I do not think that all stories require a map. Even a restaurant review, or a profile of a coffee shop or live music venue shouldn’t have a map. As long as an address is included in story, I think it’s safe to say that most people would know how to plug that in to Google maps or MapQuest.

So while maps can definitely enhance a story, I do not think they are an absolutely necessary tools for journalism. Personally, I find using MapMyRun.com, to track the distance and route of my runs, and MapQuest for directions much more useful in everyday life.

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Tweet Tweet

I’ve come to really appreciate all that Twitter has to offer. While there are a lot of people on it that use it to point useless, mundane statuses of their everyday lives, there are a lot of people who put it to good use. I really rely on it, especially in terms of finding new and exciting events worth posting on the this blog.

I want to share a few of these Twitter feeds with you, in case you want to follow them as well.

1) @BostonTweet: This guy knows Boston better than everyone combined. Tweets are updated multiple times a day. The updates provide us with things going around in the city. The tweets cover it all – everything from cover charges at bars on St. Patrick’s day, to what restaurants will be serving. For the past 24 hours or so, the updates have been very St. Patrick’s Day heavy. I can’t blame him, this is Boston, after all.

2) @WeeklyDig: Boston’s snarkiest news organization posts about upcoming events, as well as content from their recent issue. It’s something worth following because often they’ll run contests and give away free concert tickets, put you on guest lists, or at the very least, provide you with a good laugh.

3) @bostoncalendar: This is the Twitter of the Things to Do section of Boston.com. They have all the daily happenings at some of Boston’s most popular venues, like The Middle East and the House of Blues. If you’re looking for a focus on Cambridge, check out @bostoncalendar2.

4) @plrgvintage: Poor Little Rich Girl is a local vintage store with locations in Davis Square, in Cambridge, and on Newbury St. They often tweet about discounts at their store, but occasionally post cool events they know about.

5) @BostonDailyDeal: Again by Boston.com, and again about bargains in the city.

6) @thestylefyle: Put together by my good pal Megan Jicha, this feed will provide more fashion insight. Look out for the Daily Deal for opportunities to look good, but save money doing it.

7) @BackBayUpdate: This is another Twitter account by the folks at Boston.com. As the name suggests, this gives updates on the Back Bay area. BackBayUpdate differs from BostonCalendar as it promotes more sophisticated events. BostonCalendar will inform you about indie rock shows, while this Twitter feed gives you all the info on art galleries, symphonies, and jazz clubs.

8 ) @OddBostonEvents: Another great Twitter account by Johnny Monsarrat. As you can assume by the name, Monsarrat provides us with all the quirky happenings around Boston. Like what, you ask? Check this from earlier this week: “TONIGHT: Boston Massacre re-enactment in Boston. TOMORROW: Train Show and Oscar-watching events.”

9) @bostonist: All Bostonians should follow Bostonist (and read the blog). This will keep you all up-to-date on everything you need to know about this fine city. From a comedy review of Norm MacDonald at the Wilbur Theatre to pot-hole updates, Bostonist will keep you in the loop.

10) @GameOnFenway: I follow quite a few Boston bars, but I think Game On does a great job. Get updates on happenings at the bar and look out for ticket give-aways. Follow them for a chance to win tickets for the sold-out Dropkick Murphy show tomorrow night.

Now, with all this said, follow Boston is a Playground on Twitter. I just started it up, so look up for upcoming tweets!

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A field trip to GlobalPost HQ

Charles Sennott, executive director or GlobalPost

Last week my Reinventing the News class ventured to the North End to visit the GlobalPost headquarters. GlobalPost is carving a new path for the future of journalism, especially in terms of foreign  reporting. While traditional newspapers are closing down their foreign bureaus, GlobalPost has found a way to excel in foreign correspondence.

I’m somewhat new to GlobalPost. I usually turn to the New York TimesBBC, and NPR for my international news.  What’s really cool about GlobalPost is that all the reporters are on the scene. The office in the North End is pretty small; only a few people work there. Everyone else is scattered around the world. I really like the topic of the stories because you can really tell that this is reported from someone on the scene, rather than from a thousand miles away via phone calls. I particularly like the stories A big step for woman, and for Indian democracy, and Yves Saint Laurent takes Paris – again. I like that these are more feature stories, something I don’t come across too often when getting my daily international news.

While GlobalPost offers some great stories, I don’t think it will turn into my sole source of international news. I see it more as a supplement. I think other sources like the New York Times and BBC are a little better in terms of following up with stories and providing consistent updates. With that said, GlobalPost has only been around for one year, so only time will tell what the site will be like in the future.

Charles Sennott and Seamus Murphy visited Afghanistan and Pakistan and put together an excellent piece of journalism called Life, Death and the Taliban. It is very obvious a lot of work was put in to this package. The video story One family, one secret is a great story, and I recommend everyone checks it out. The one thing about this package is that it is a little overwhelming. Sennott and Murphy clearly have a lot of material, which I am sure was very difficult to sort through it all. Even so, when I opened up the page, I didn’t know where to begin, which story to read first or which video to watch first.

GlobalPost also has a very interesting Study Abroad section produced by college students. It’s really cool to read stories from the perspective of someone my own age. It must be really difficult to report in a foreign country in which you do not speak the native country. I asked my roommate if this would be something she would have done while she was in Beijing. Her response was that she would love to but it would be “totally impossible,” because of the language barrier. Even so, it’s a cool idea and it’s great to see college kids engaged in this project. It’s easy to fall into the loop of just having too much fun while abroad, so it’s nice to see students getting something more out of their experience.

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