First chirps: when politicians and journalists join the twittering class

First chirps: when politicians and journalists join the twittering class

As part of its eighth birthday celebrations, Twitter (yes… Twitter is eight!) promoted a tool which allows users to identify their first tweet. Mine was rather succint:


Party leaders

I figured it would be fun to find out what each federal party leader had to say the first time they clicked the big “Tweet” button. The results are sorted by the tweet date. It’s worth noting Prime Minister Harper was the first among the leaders to actually join Twitter (July 11, 2007) even if he waited a year and a half to issue his first tweet.

I’m sure a few people will jump on Justin Trudeau’s typo. There’s also a typos from Evan Solomon and Jim Karygiannis later in this post. It’s Twitter. Get over it. At least they didn’t offer Naheed Nenshi a pony.



But why stop there? What about some other MPs? I randomly selected a few and some were suggested by friends (also in order of tweet date). I’m thinking Candice Bergen’s “first tweet in a long time” is a reference to her starting a new Twitter account when she re-assumed her birth name. Bonus points if you can figure out which MP is referencing a song, which song, the band and the year the album it was on was released.

FirstTweet-nathancullenFirstTweet-carolyn_bennettFirstTweet-jamesmoore_orgFirstTweet-joeoliver1FirstTweet-tedhsuFirstTweet-wayneeasterFirstTweet-tonyclementcpcFirstTweet-bobzimmermpFirstTweet-cafreelandFirstTweet-andrewscheerFirstTweet-seancaseympFirstTweet-jimkarygiannisFirstTweet-fboivinnpd FirstTweet-re_brosseauFirstTweet-pauldewarFirstTweet-candicebergenmpFirstTweet-deanallisonmp


I ultimately ended up gathering a collection of first tweets from some of the more popular tweeting political journalists. David Akin and Paul Wells win bragging rights for offering something unique. Robert Fife wins bragging rights for setting the stage for a bigger story that he broke. Terry Milewski gets bragging rights for having the most retweets and favourites of a first tweet among everyone featured in this post.

FirstTweet-kadyFirstTweet-acoyneFirstTweet-davidakinFirstTweet-aaronwherryFirstTweet-susandelacourtFirstTweet-jenditchburnFirstTweet-rosiebarton FirstTweet-donmartinctvFirstTweet-inklesspwFirstTweet-evansolomoncbc FirstTweet-robertfife FirstTweet-cbcterry

A flesh wound delivered in the standoff between the PM and the media

A flesh wound delivered in the standoff between the PM and the media

There’s a standoff playing out between the Prime Minister and the media. Their delicate relationship has been well documented since Stephen Harper first became PM. The narrative shows no signs of slowing down.

The latest instalment in the standoff played out yesterday. Media were advised that only camera operators would be allowed in to record an address by the PM to his caucus to kick off the day of the Throne Speech. This did not sit well with the media who collectively decided if reporters would not be allowed in to cover the speech and ask questions of the PM after it was delivered, they would boycott the event. [UPDATE 11:25amET: Thank you to Bob Ledrew whose comment (below) links to a blog post by Sun Media’s national bureau chief David Akin in which he notes “…the PMO was looking to pick a fight with the Parliamentary Press Gallery to help with fundraising and to rally the Conservative base.“] Sun Media was the only organization to send a camera.

Not missing a beat, the PMO live-tweeted the speech — 39 tweets in all which drew a lot of criticism. This effort resulted in the PM’s second most active day on Twitter. His most active was July 15 when he issued 51 tweets announcing his cabinet appointments. His third most active day was January 28 when his office documented a “day in the life” of the PM in 28 tweets.

The PMO also published a video of yesterday’s caucus speech.

So who won?

Some might say the PMO scored a victory by short-circuiting the media and getting his remarks directly into the wild where Canadians would discover them through an emanation outward from the most active participants in the online chatter. There is definitely merit in that. However, the PM is not the most social guy within the norms of digital culture. That means most people who aren’t onside with him either ignore him or take the opportunities to fire salvos at him online. As of 7amET today, the video of the speech posted by the PMO had been viewed 7,201 times. I would argue that’s a little on the low side particularly since that same video wasn’t played by the media networks (save Sun).

Research my company conducted (see below for more information) in partnership with Abacus Data and MediaStyle reveals that online information and interaction has a significant, and likely growing, role in shaping Canadian opinions. In fact, 41% of Canadians indicate their opinion has been shaped by something they saw online.

Online has a greater reach than the 41% would indicate, though. Our research and experience also show that what happens within the political chatter online often ends up in the news coverage Canadians consume on television, in print and on the radio. Journalists who cover the political and public affairs beat watch the online chatter and frequently refer to it, draw on it or even get directed by it in their coverage of political issues. That means what happens online is, at the very least, helping to shape the story getting to Canadians.

There’s even more. Programs like CBC’s Power and Politics integrate online chatter into their programming. The PnP team follows the #cdnpoli hashtag and encourages their audience to tweet directly to Evan Solomon during the program and invite viewers to participate in a fresh poll conducted during each two-hour program.

There is some media coverage of the speech today filed under the heading Tories decry ‘new low’ for media after standoff over reporters’ access to Harper speech.

UPDATED 11:30amET… When I first published this post, I closed with “Personally, I think the PMO suffered a flesh wound in this battle.” However, David Akin’s aforementioned post describes what happened as a strategic fundraising move by the PMO which depended on the media playing in to their hand and boycotting the event. Which means, it would appear, the media absorbed the flesh wound.

How Canadian opinions are shaped by online information and interactions

You can download a copy of our Online Opinion Shaping Survey: How do Canadians engage politically with social media? and sign up for a half-day seminar during which David Colleto, Ian Capstick and I will expand on our findings and offer guidance on shaping Canadian opinions at

To pay or not to pay: can quality online news remain free?

To pay or not to pay: can quality online news remain free?

It’s no mystery media organizations, particularly newspapers, are in a state of turmoil right now. Like music and publishing, the news industry faces significant pressures. Digital has challenged every aspect of their traditional business model. This has led to the high-profile demise of some newspapers, and significant course correction by others.

Postmedia has undergone some significant changes. Among them, the end of Sunday print editions. Another recent decision is invoking a pay wall. That means readers must pay to access online content. Other newspapers have already gone that route to much criticism. The criticism stems from the argument news should be free. If it can be found for free online, the argument goes, why would anyone in their right mind pay for it?

It’s not that simple. That was obvious in a conversation I kicked off on Facebook yesterday after arriving at the end of my free access to news on It’s a nuanced discussion.

“I’m not saying newspapers are dead. They are just becoming less relevant for me personally.”
— Sue Murphy

A dominant theme had to do with quality of the contribution. The Ottawa Citizen, for example, has some top shelf investigative journalists. Among recent high-profile achievements, Glen McGregor and Steve Maher broke the story of Pierre Poutine and his voter-interfering Robocalls. Participants also praised David Reevely, Joanne Chianello, Neco Cockburn and Meghan Hurley noting that much of the so-called “free local news” we enjoy over Twitter is sourced from these journalists.

“…if you’ve got a paper that actually does do investigative journalism – my vote is to support it.”
— James McCann

Some participants took issue with the views of columnist David Warren. Andrew Jeanes and Bob Ledrew were clear they wouldn’t be paying for news if Warren was part of the package. That sentiment went out on Twitter where Ottawa Citizen journalist Dan Gardner assured the group Warren’s last column for the paper was on July 15. That information drew a few digital cheers. The dismissal of Anne Desbrisay cost the Ottawa Citizen at least one subscriber in the group.

Some participants noted home delivery includes full online access.

On Twitter, Jason Kownacki noted we either pay directly through subscriptions or indirectly through ads. The Ottawa Citizen has been known to present obnoxious flash animations in front of their main page. Even if I’m paying for my news, I will expect some advertising. That’s been a reality with print editions since the dawn of the industry. However, I won’t tolerate advertising getting in the way of the news I want to read.

“Somewhere along the line we will have to pay for quality, edited content on the web.”
— Helaine Becker

The fact is, there’s a lot of noise on the web and we can only filter so much noise ourselves. It’s not surprise we need (or will need) to rely on an organization (or two or three for comparison) which can dig, write, curate and present the local, national and international news.

That’s why I’m going to subscribe to the Ottawa Citizen.

Photo: Pay phone uploaded to Flickr by Rosh Sillars.

Two forms of public affairs storytelling

Two forms of public affairs storytelling

It’s a bit of a conundrum, really. News, real and manufactured, happens at an incredible rate these days. That puts a lot of pressure on mainstream journalists/producers and social media content creators (language by which both are comfortable being identified). To be seen as relevant, they must be attentive to online chatter and be able to tell stories to their audiences in short segments — digestible sizes with the most important-in-the-moment information. It’s the news equivalent of racing to dig your car out of a snowbank so you can get to the next destination. It solves a short term problem you’re likely to put behind you once you’re in traffic.

That’s one version of storytelling.

There’s at least one other version.

Steve Paikin knows how to dig into public affairs stories for their substance. His TVO program, The Agenda with Steve Paikin, examines events when they’re no longer news (in modern terms). Steve and his team look for the stories from which there’s more to understand and learn. By looking at stories after the fact, stories which can support a 30-40 minute exploration, the stakeholders and others who pay attention may identify actionable outcomes. It seems to me the equivalent of perpetually examining snow clearing operations for opportunities to improve and ways to prepare for the next snowfall.

How many of us follow events when they’re happening and make a note to come back later to look at what the outcomes were? It’s hard to take on post mortem analysis and also be on top of the latest developments, particularly when there are so many happening at once. There’s a lot of competition for our attention and only so much of it to go around. And, there’s value in understanding now and what can be taken and applied from previous experiences — ours and others’.

Perhaps that’s why I frequently turn off my social media streams and take some time to dig into an issue.

You can learn about Steve Paikin’s approach to storytelling in the latest edition of the IABC Ottawa podcast, The Voice: a conversation with TVO host Steve Paikin.

Photo: Shoveling out of two feet of snow uploaded to Flickr by robleto.

Analysis of the Brazeau-Ditchburn Twitter firestorm

Analysis of the Brazeau-Ditchburn Twitter firestorm

I received a request to publish some statistics on the firestorm ignited by Senator Patrick Brazeau’s now famous tweet.

Let’s start by noting a typical day involves only about 30 tweets from and referencing Senator Brazeau’s Twitter account, @TheBrazman. Yesterday was not a typical day. Yesterday, there were 5,074 tweets, including the 12 issued by the Senator.

It was a situation that came about from Twitter’s ability to facilitate rapid amplification. Nearly 60% of the traffic came from retweets. The original message was retweeted only 206 times. However, there was a cascading retweet effect and versions of the original message found their way in to 475 tweets. Commentary and outrage rounded out the chatter. Conversation accounted for only 21% of the traffic.

Engagement was typically low with 61% of participants coming and going in a single tweet. My analysis suggests there was an estimated 4.9 million impressions (opportunities for people to see the these tweets). However, the fact the story became prominent in print and broadcast media shows the role Twitter plays in making and breaking news. So, that impressions metric is essentially moot, now.

To paraphrase some tweets Josh Greenberg sent me.

An important distinction about the Twitter era is the hyper-visibility of transgressions and how they alter the dynamics of contention between/among politicians, journalists and the rest of us. The Senator isn’t the first politico to speak offensively to a Parliamentary reporter. But the degree to which the visibility of his comments became a political liability and PR problem for his government is new I think.

While I agree, I’m surprised the mounting number of examples of Twitter-borne crises hasn’t made an impact on people in the public eye. Indeed, it’s not just Twitter as I noted in a post earlier today. One need not look back more than a week to Jason Kenney’s biting criticism of Alberta’s deputy premier Tom Lukaszuk contained in an email that leaked to the media.

Josh also noted the speed of Senator Brazeau’s “apology” is telling. Others criticized the quality of the Senator’s two-part apology.

Mr. Brazeau issued the following earlier this morning.

Analysis performed using Sysomos MAP.

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