Thailand-Based Journalists Talk Social Media
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Thailand-Based Journalists Talk Social Media

It is becoming almost a cliche to write that social media is changing the process of news, but it really is, particularly in a country like Thailand where adoption has only recently reached anything like critical mass (for Facebook and social media in general).

Steadily rising memberships have led social networks’ popularity and in turn changed news in many ways: how we consume it, how we share it, how it is delivered, how it is broken, how/what types are reported and more.

So, what better way to evaluate the state of social networking in Thailand’s news than from the media itself.

I’ve carefully picked a handful of journalists – all of whom actively use new media already – who each kindly provided their thoughts below.

Note: I had hoped for responses from more Thai journalist but, for a number of reasons it wasn’t to be. It was also disappointing to see The Nation’s two social media specialists fail to respond to my request. Perhaps someone can tell them social media is more than just tweeting.

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Newley Purnell

Journalist — ABC News Radio, BNA, Inc., Channel NewsAsia. Newley has contributed to AFP, ABCNews.com, CNN.com, CNNGo.com and more while his work has also appeared in the New York Times and Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia.

Click here for Newley’s blog

Click here for Newley’s Twitter profile

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Q1 – First off, what technology (hardware) you use for work – e.g. mobile phone, smartphone, laptop, etc?

At home, I use a laptop. When on the road, I use a netbook — I am proud owner of the very first model of the Asus EEE PC. My girlfriend also has a newer version of the EEE; it runs Windows and thus I can tether my mobile phone to it for GPRS access when WiFi isn’t available.

My phone is the Nokia E71. I’ve had it for about a year and a half. Despite having a QWERTY keypad that’s simply too small for my fingers, it’s a great phone: the call quality is excellent, it’s extremely durable, and — take this, iPhone fans — its batteries just go and go, and I never have to worry about running out of juice.

I use the mobile version of Twitter on this phone (just the site; no Twitter client), and use Twitpic to upload images on the fly. The E71’s video capacity and camera are decent. Here’s a review I wrote about the phone a while back.

For radio stories, I have — and love, love, love — the Sony PCM D50 audio recorder. It’s not cheap, but it records broadcast-quality audio and is a joy to use. I have an external Sony mic.

At various times, I have used several different apps for mixing sound. I like Sound Studio, a Mac-only app, but it unceremoniously died on me not long ago. Now I go with Audacity, which is an open source app — it’s not as sophisticated as other software, but being open source, I can use it at home, on my laptop, or even in the field, on my netbook. And because it’s so lightweight (and free), I can even download it onto another machine if I’m ever stuck anywhere.

Q2 – What social network services* do you actively use, in and out of work?

I use Twitter, though not so much for its social functions; I use it to gather and share information. It’s extremely helpful. Of course, there’s a social element, as well, but I think of it more in terms of news and info.

I use Facebook for keeping in touch with close friends and family, particularly my younger siblings.

I have used Flickr for images for many years. I primarily use it to post images I want to share with the public, and I use it to host photos for my blog.

Q3 – Do you use any of these networks in the course of your work as a journalist? If so please explain how and why (are they of benefit to you).

I have occasionally used Facebook to ask for help in researching stories or soliciting opinions. Same with Twitter. But mostly I view Facebook as being friends/family only, while I use Twitter for information/work.

Twitter is fantastic when it comes to breaking news, as it’s possible to connect not only with individuals who might be close to events, but also to have a feed of news sources, commentators, etc. all in one place.

For example, during the red shirt protests, I was able to be on the scene and observe things first hand and interview people, but I could also step back and use Twitter to monitor flashes from wire services, stories from local newspapers, international media coverage, and even eyewitness accounts from those in the vicinity or nearby. Twitter is indispensable in this regard.

Q4 – In your opinion is there any caution/danger to be wary of as a journalist using social media?

It’s important to remember to apply the standards of journalism to Twitter and other social media/real-time web outlets. That is, if someone tweets, “gun shots on Main Street!!”, it’s obviously important to view this critically — who or what is their source? Are they saying they saw someone fire a gun? Did someone tell them there were gun shots, and they’re relaying this info as if it were a fact? Can this person confirm that it was gunfire? What if the sound was merely firecrackers?

Because Twitter (and Facebook) allows for real-time sharing and the dissemination of views, rumors can fly around quickly; readers of tweets and Twitterers themselves should exercise caution. As they say, report only what you know. Don’t speculate.

Q5 – How would you sum up the influence of social media on journalism in one sentence?

Social media and the real-time Web means more information, more sharing, more readily available opinions — and consequently, more need for filters, judgement, and restraint.

Q6 – If you could have any gadget in the world to help you work what would it be and why?

I can’t think of any particular gadget; I think I’m in pretty good shape!

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Andrew Marshall

Andrew is a British author and journalist based in Bangkok. Since 1993 he has explored Asia’s remotest regions for magazines and newspapers worldwide, including TIME, The Sunday Times Magazine, National Geographic, Esquire, and many others.

His book The Trouser People (Penguin, 2003), about football and dictatorship in Burma, was a New York Times Notable Book and was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. He is also co-author of The Cult at the End of the World (Random House, 1996), a prescient account of Japan’s homicidal Aum cult and the rise of high-tech terrorism.

Click here for Andrew’s blog

Click here for Andrew’s Twitter profile

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Q1 – First off, what technology (hardware) you use for work – e.g. mobile phone, smartphone, laptop, etc?

Two Macs (crappy old one for travel, newer one for home and design stuff), two E63 Nokias (for travel: one with local SIM, the other with my roaming SIM); a Canon G9 camera, which is bulky and rubbish; and an Edirol digital recorder.

Q2 – What social network services* do you actively use, in and out of work?

Twitter and Facebook.

Q3 – Do you use any of these networks in the course of your work as a journalist? If so please explain how and why (are they of benefit to you).

Twitter. Great for keeping up with and reporting fast-breaking local events.

Q4 – In your opinion is there any caution/danger to be wary of as a journalist using social media?

Yes, privacy issues. Proceed under the assumption that everything is public. If Facebook had the power, it would break into your house and pull your pants down [Ed: what an amazing quote that is…!]

Q5 – How would you sum up the influence of social media on journalism in one sentence?

How about one word: revolutionary.

Q6 – If you could have any gadget in the world to help you work what would it be and why?

A small, light, tough, cheap computer with incredible battery life, great screen and always-on high-speed internet . . . which is not a PC. (Most computers are made to survive the perilous journey from converted loft to Starbucks; nobody designs computers for hard-traveling digital nomads.) Also, a mini-version of CERN’s atom-smasher, for those long car journeys.

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Thanyarat Doksone

Associated Press Reporter

Click here for Thanyarat’s blog

Click here for Thanyarat’s Twitter profile

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Q1 – First off, what technology (hardware) you use for work – e.g. mobile phone, smartphone, laptop, etc?

I use a smartphone, with a mobile phone as a backup. I also use a desktop computer in the office and, sometimes, a laptop when I’m out in the field.

Q2 – What social network services* do you actively use, in and out of work?

I’ve become less and less active on Facebook, now that my network has grown too large and a lot of my Facebook friends have filled up my newsfeed with their gaming activities.

Twitter, on the other hand, is a venue I’m more comfortable with. I check my Twitter friends’ updates around the clock and tweet regularly.

Q3 – Do you use any of these networks in the course of your work as a journalist? If so please explain how and why (are they of benefit to you).

I use Twitter to follow breaking news and updates posted by fellow journalists and the public. Although tweets cannot be used as news sources, they work efficiently as tip-offs and alerts.

Q4 – In your opinion is there any caution/danger to be wary of as a journalist using social media?

Twitter is basically a microcosm of the world we live in. Journalists have to cut through the noise, bias and inaccurate information to make the best use of facts available. Thanks to the technology, whatever you post on social media sites can get picked up immediately.

Facebook is a different kind of animal, at least for me. People tend to be more casual and personal on Facebook, but journalists should not when it comes to political viewpoints.

Q5 – How would you sum up the influence of social media on journalism in one sentence?

Social media open a new venue for journalists to play and at the same time force them to work harder.

Q6 – If you could have any gadget in the world to help you work what would it be and why?

Standing desk ;)

Do you have anything else to add on the subject of social media and technology for journalists?

Social media and technology are simply a tool for communications. At the end of the day, it’s good storytelling and quality of content that counts. [Ed: absolutely, content is king as the saying goes.]

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Richard Barrow

Richard is the managing director of Paknam Web Co., Ltd. and also works as a reporter for Paknam Post, a local newspaper in Samut Prakan.

Click here for Richard’s blog

Click here for Richard’s Twitter profile

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Q1 – First off, what technology (hardware) you use for work – e.g. mobile phone, smartphone, laptop, etc?

In the office I am obviously using a computer. But, out in the field I use DSLR, smartphone and sometimes a laptop depending on where I am going.

Q2 – What social network services* do you actively use, in and out of work?

We are mainly using Twitter and Youtube. We might go into Facebook/Hi5 as well but we need to fully research it first.

Q3 – Do you use any of these networks in the course of your work as a journalist? If so please explain how and why (are they of benefit to you).

Twitter is useful in research and for breaking news. We can learn about events or places that might be of interest to our readers.  We have also found that Twitter is good for introducing people to our work. So, it goes both ways.

Q4 – In your opinion is there any caution/danger to be wary of as a journalist using social media?

With social media, you have to check your sources. With experience, you learn who is more reliable. At the same time, we have to be careful of news that we send out. Twitter is made for “breaking news” and news people have a responsibility of checking their story before they post it.

Q5 – How would you sum up the influence of social media on journalism in one sentence?

Social media has opened up journalism to a wider range of “citizen reporters” so that anyone with a smartphone can submit breaking news from their community.

Q6 – If you could have any gadget in the world to help you work what would it be and why?

I think any gadget that is connected to the Internet that we can use in the field to communicate with our audience is invaluable. It opens up a whole new world for us.

For more of Richard’s views on the subject see An iPhone, Twitter and the Red Shirt Rally, a post he recently wrote on the use of social media for news reporting and consumption.

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Patrick Winn

Patrick is Thailand correspondent for the Global Post foreign news service and a contributor to the Los Angeles Times.

That said…personally I’m a big fan of his Twitter bio which says it all in a nutshell “Journalist. Bangkok Junkie. Gentleman Explorer.”

Click here for Patrick’s blog

Click here for Patrick’s Twitter Profile

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Q1 – First off, what technology (hardware) you use for work – e.g. mobile phone, smartphone, laptop, etc?

The essential items in my toolbox include: laptop (MacBook Pro), an Edirol R-10 (for recording professional quality sound), a Canon G10 (for shooting amateurish Web-quality video) and a totally unremarkable Nokia cell phone (can’t really access Web and unsuitable for any photography/sound recording).

Q2 – What social network services* do you actively use, in and out of work?

Q3 – Do you use any of these networks in the course of your work as a journalist? If so please explain how and why (are they of benefit to you).

I post blog-style updates through my news agency, Global Post, and have recently become enamored of Twitter. Of course, I’m paid to blog at Global Post. Those entries are meant to offer engaging material on Thailand for a Western audience. They’re written with voice, but they’re not about my life per se — only my observations and some light analysis.

As for Twitter, I’m somewhat more likely to write something personal because it’s unpaid. Still, I refrain from Tweeting anything overly personal or something that might compromise my integrity. I use Twitter for three reasons: to catch developments in Thailand before they hit the wire services, to boost my profile as a journalist and to read/write pithy comments — because it’s a blast.

I do maintain a personal profile on another extremely popular social network site, but I try to distance it as much as possible from my career life. In fact, if I’m asked to link up with anyone using the site primarily to push a political agenda, I won’t accept their request. This is a safe haven where I can write quips to college friends and share silly photos with relatives. I’d like to keep it that way. [Ed: I think many will agree with Patrick’s differing usage of Facebook vs Twitter.]

Q4 – In your opinion is there any caution/danger to be wary of as a journalist using social media?

Absolutely. The nature of these sites is fast and loose and reporters are liable to write something — on purpose or by accident — that suggests a political bias. We can all name journalists in Bangkok who are commonly thought to be “in the tank” for one side or another. Hardliners will always try to shove you into that box if you’ve written something that irks them. But if a majority of news consumers think a reporter is biased, it’s probably that reporter’s own doing.

That said, there’s a way to tread the middle path and still be engaging — and that’s what journalists should aspire to. I’m thinking of Twitter in particular. Reporters that only surface on Twitter to link readers to their latest story are missing the point. Users want immediacy and they want some back-and-forth with journalists. A dash of personality doesn’t hurt either.

Q5 – How would you sum up the influence of social media on journalism in one sentence?

Social media is an opportunity for journalists to lend more immediacy and life to their reporting, so long as they’re smart enough to use them correctly.

Q6 – If you could have any gadget in the world to help you work what would it be and why?

This pen-slash-recording device. I was first exposed to this device by Newley Purnell. Both of us want one but, so far, neither of us has one.

Do you have anything else to add on the subject of social media and technology for journalists?

Having talked with loads of Western reporters about Twitter, I can assure that nearly all of them are relying on the service to follow the ongoing street unrest in Bangkok. It is the foreign correspondents’ bar talk du jour. As one journalist explained, it’s like having tipsters all over town. Of course, many of the Tweets are full of biased, hysterical and untrue details. But professional journalists can at least make some calls or head to the scene to sort the fact from the fiction.

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Karla Cripps

City Editor, CNNGo Bangkok

Click here for the CNN Go Bangkok website

Click here for Karla’s profile on Twitter

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Q1 – First off, what technology (hardware) you use for work – e.g. mobile phone, smartphone, laptop, etc?

The only two work gadgets I use daily are a MacBook and a BlackBerry, though I have a Nikon D5000 I use on the rare chance I get to go out and cover something.

Q2 – What social network services* do you actively use, in and out of work?

The main social network services I use on a daily – ok, hourly – basis are Twitter and Facebook. I’m also a big fan of Foursquare as it often gives me ideas for new places to eat and shop though it hasn’t proven to be as useful as I had hoped it would be when I signed up as people here seem to view it as a competition to become the mayor of every expressway and ATM booth in the city.

Between work and my two toddlers I am too busy to blog, though now that BlackBerry has a Tumbler app I might give it a try.

Q3 – Do you use any of these networks in the course of your work as a journalist? If so please explain how and why (are they of benefit to you).

The aim of CNNGo is to offer readers new insights and showcase the best of the cities we cover so as an editor I find Twitter and Facebook are incredibly helpful. Both keep me updated on the latest events taking place in Bangkok, as well as interesting new articles, blog posts and videos I can link to and share with CNNGo readers.

Occasionally, if there is a big story happening that everyone is talking about I will pick a few of the interesting comments Bangkok-based Twitterers have made to include in an article, though I don’t like to do this unless it’s a pretty significant story (see below).

Also, I am constantly checking my Google reader to see what Bangkok’s bloggers are writing about as I find there are some great stories being covered out there. Often I will to reach out to them and request we feature them on our site when they’ve written about something that might be of interest to our readers, or offer them the opportunity to write for us.

Q4 – In your opinion is there any caution/danger to be wary of as a journalist using social media?

There are some definite risks to using social media, some minor, others not. For one, it’s easy for journalists who use Twitter to have a knee jerk reaction to rumors and race to tweet some tidbit without taking the time to research and substantiate the information. This is particularly dangerous when you’re dealing with issues like the ongoing political protests, as it allows rumors to spread faster than you can contain them. When you tweet something, it’s difficult to retract and that message may end up being repeatedly retweeted and taken as fact by many.

It’s also easy to get lazy. Rather than go out onto the street to talk to actual people face to face it’s much easier to grab a few twitter comments and call it a day. I often remind myself that Twitter users are not exactly representative of the whole population – especially in a city like Bangkok. For instance, very few of my friends or family are on Twitter and many of them have very different opinions and lifestyles from my friends I have met through Twitter.

Q5 – How would you sum up the influence of social media on journalism in one sentence?

Social media has transformed the way people share news and information, which I think is a wonderful thing as it can provide journalists with creative new ways to share their stories with the world.

Q6 – If you could have any gadget in the world to help you work what would it be and why?

To be honest I’m perfectly happy with my MacBook and BB and think any additional gadgets would just complicate my life, though a MacBook Pro would of course be a nice upgrade. Admittedly I’ve yet to lay my hands on an iPad but am sure when I do I will come up with a reason why I can’t live without it.

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Saksith Saiyasombut

Although technically not a journalist at this moment in time Saksith lives in Hamburg, Germany, where he is currently attending the University of Hamburg as a student of South-East Asia Studies.

However, I’ve include him as he has a lot of journalistic experience as a journalist having worked in Germany for Weser Kurier, Weser Report and in Thailand for Asia News Network and The Nation.

Click here for Saksith’s blog

Click here for Saksith’s profile on Twitter

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Q1 – First off, what technology (hardware) you use for work – e.g. mobile phone, smartphone, laptop, etc?

I almost exclusively use a laptop for my work, connected to a larger screen at my desk. Also, the (mobile) phone is occasionally used for calls. I also have a small camera or a DSLR on appointments.

Q2 – What social network services* do you actively use, in and out of work?

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, dozens of blogs.

Q3 – Do you use any of these networks in the course of your work as a journalist? If so please explain how and why (are they of benefit to you).

Yes. Next to newspapers and TV Channels, Twitter is for me an equal news source for current, breaking developments. Also, when people are live translating speeches etc. it’s my backup if I didn’t understand or missed something that was spoken in Thai.

Also, since I’m located in Germany and live streams are very unstable, YouTube has become a primary source for video footage, mostly captured from Thai and international TV. But also amateur footage videos are an essential addition since they give additional vantage points of incidents e.g. April 10 clashes or the Silom blasts.

Q4 – In your opinion is there any caution/danger to be wary of as a journalist using social media?

Especially in such a politically polarized atmosphere now in Thailand, the challenge is to cut the truth from the gossip, half-truths, rumors, propaganda or just straight-up nonsense. Especially with the emergence of social media, the speed of news being spread is breath-taking, so the so-called “wisdom of the crowd” can suddenly become the “stupidity of the horde” if people are not careful and just amplifying something they have read somewhere (or even worse just made up) and in the end does more harm than good – I fell for that a few times as well.

That’s why, when I do proper research, I tend to rely on just a few very trustworthy sources I either know personally or have shown their legitimate authority and expertise on certain topics. In that sense, it’s old-school journalism again! That can be done via email, Skype, phone, but also on Twitter (via DM).

Q5 – How would you sum up the influence of social media on journalism in one sentence?

I got two: “It’s checks and balances redefined!” and “When mainstream media fails to do it’s job, new media takes the helm – for free!”

Q6 – If you could have any gadget in the world to help you work what would it be and why?

A smartphone with a good camera and long battery life for on the scene reporting, (visual) note taking, and of  course tweeting! Additionally, a good DSLR with movie-record function. Any donors are welcome! :) [Ed: of course, I am forced to take a cut of any donations…but don’t let that stop you from getting in touch.]

Do you have anything else to add on the subject of social media and technology for journalists?

When I listen to tech podcasts like those of Leo Laporte or others mainly based in the US, they tend to question the usefulness of Twitter, reducing it to a simple promotion tool or similar. I say these are “First World Woes”, since in these countries the content on Twitter is more trivial and useless.

But in countries like Thailand, where the atmosphere is politically polarized and the state media’s reporting is unbalanced at best, alternative ways of mass media like Twitter are legitimate sources. And with a growing political consciousness of the people and growing propaganda of the government, people will venture out for alternative opinions and news sources.

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Thanks to all the journalists who took the time (often with deadlines looming) to provide their thoughts, it is much appreciated.

I’m interested, and I’m these interviewees are, to hear what others think of these responses, and of the role social media is playing in the media in Thailand.

Please feel free to leave comments below.