Turning Twitter into Work: Digital Reporting at SCMS 2013

March 14, 2013
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For the 2013 Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference, Cinema Journal established an official conference twitter account. @CJatSCMS was created as a way to report on and generate conversation at the conference and fits nicely with the CJ editorial team’s goals of extending the “dialogue sphere” around the print journal. I had assumed that tweeting under an “official” title would be similar to tweeting under my own name. But I actually found the experience to be quite different, and therefore, instructive. Below I discuss a few things I learned:

Responsible Tweeting

Tweet #1

In the past my approach to conference tweeting has been a mix of straightforward reportage, meta-commentary, and non-conference related conversations with fellow conference participants. But when tweeting under the @CJatSCMS handle, I took more time and care in composing each tweet, waiting until I found an effective and accurate way to summarize a point in 140 characters before hitting the enter key and keeping editorializing to a minimum. In other words, the pseudo anonymity of the @CJatSCMS account made me less concerned with my personal Twitter brand (i.e., snark) and more concerned with the transmission of information. Which is, I suppose, how it should always be when recounting the scholarship of others. Likewise, in the weeks leading up to the conference, everyone involved with the @CJatSCMS account agreed on a loose set of Best Practices (including requesting permission before tweeting panel/workshop content). Asking permission seemed to ease presenters’ minds about the prospect of having their work reported to a broader audience.

Less Tweeting

Tweet # 2

When live tweeting a TV event like the Oscars I generally aim for speed, volume, and humor. If you don’t move fast, your voice gets lost in the furious river of tweets moving past your screen. In the past my conference tweeting followed a similar speed/volume model. However this time around I discovered that fewer tweets packed with more information (i.e., “thick tweets”) are ultimately more useful in the conference setting since most people reading the Twitter stream are searching the conference hashtag (#scms13) for information, not a play-by-play. Indeed, the very conditions of the shared account forced me to lower my own tweet volume. On Thursday afternoon, when all five @CJatSCMS “reporters” were tweeting at full capacity (thus exceeding Twitter’s 100 tweets per hour limit), we found ourselves locked out of the account (the dreaded “Twitter jail”). This meant that we all had to tweet more sparingly the next day, thinking even more carefully about what and when we would share information.

The Labor of Digital Reporting

Tweet #3

As Suzanne Scott notes in a recent blog post about experiencing SCMS remotely: “SCMS is a space to test our new ideas, and learn from old ones, and it makes sense to develop a corresponding digital space that evokes those same principles that we embrace for 5 days a year in perpetuity.” This year, more than any other, the digital space of the conference came to life for me. The official Twitter feed was a conduit for valuable scholarly exchanges, providing access to the conference to those not physically present, and then relaying their thoughts and questions back into the spaces of the conference. In many ways, I felt like I was part of an actual news team, with the attendant desire/responsibility to report on what was happening at each panel. Indeed, numerous panels and workshops at this year’s conference (including “Publishing on Digital Platforms” [B21], “Digital Humanities and Film and Media Studies” [J23], and “Gender, Networking, Social Media, and Collegiality” [E23], to name just a few) were examining these questions of academic labor: what do we count as labor in the world of digital and social media, what is the “value” of that labor, and how do we document it? To me, live tweeting the conference felt like labor in the same way that serving as secretary for a university committee feels like labor.

Tweet # 4

Ultimately, the experience of tweeting as a “CJ Reporter” has led me to reconsider the delicate work of tweeting about the scholarship of others, the necessity of establishing clear guidelines and best practices for conference tweeting, and the value of digital labor. I look forward to SCMS 2014, when hopefully even more groups — representing various academic journals, blogs, special interest groups, or even individual departments — will establish their own reporting teams. A proliferation of these group Twitter accounts at future conferences could encourage more rigorous online conversations about the scholarship being presented, generate twitter feeds that can tackle a more diverse range of panels and workshops, and, hopefully, further justify the value of the labor performed within the actual, and virtual, spaces of the conference (as well as our home institutions).


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9 Responses to “ Turning Twitter into Work: Digital Reporting at SCMS 2013 ”

  1. Jennifer Lynn Jones on March 14, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    Amanda, thanks for your summary! It seems like this pilot experience was a great success, and I appreciate the attempt to archive the conference experience under specific Twitter accounts through different tweeters. I was also wondering if there was a way to share the “best practices” list the group developed? This might be something we try with the Women’s Caucus at related conferences in the future, and having a template for those would help. Thanks again for sharing your insight!

  2. Anthony Bleach on March 14, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    Thanks for this, Amanda. I would love to see more reporters (perhaps, as you suggest, from SIGs, blogs, or journals) engage in the kind of reportage you and your cohort broughtened.

    On a side note, I feel like this kind of meta-commentary is building a case, slowly and surely, for junior colleagues to claim digital work as tenure-worthy work.

  3. Amanda Ann Klein on March 14, 2013 at 11:42 AM

    Hi Jennifer,
    Thanks for commenting! When I said a “loose set of Best Practices,” I meant it! We only came up with a few:

    1. We agreed to send out an email to all SCMS members, alerting them that we would be live tweeting panels/workshops.

    2. Whenever possible, we tried to arrive at the panel/workshop a few minutes early and ask the participants if you have their permission to tweet about their scholarship. Unfortunately, due to the terrible elevator situation at the Drake, I ended up arriving at 2-3 panels/workshops a few minutes late and didn’t have the chance to formally ask permission. In those cases, I tweeted (when possible) members of the panel to alert them that I was in the room and live tweeting their work. Ideally, in the future, people who feel strongly about not having their work made public on social media will state so at the beginning of their talk.

    3. we attempted, when possible, to spread ourselves out. We agreed that no one should have to miss a panel/workshop that she really wanted to see, but we made an effort to be in different places. Again, this did not always work out since there were only 5 of us and several of us have overlapping research interests. This is why it would be great if some of the SIGs/caucuses had their own twitter accounts next year and teams which pledged to cover a certain amount of sponsored panels/workshops. As a Twitter user, you know that some panels and workshops get A LOT of attention while others get none. It would be great to see a conference twitter stream that is more reflective of the diversity of the conference.

    4. include the initials of the tweet’s author in individual tweets so that there is some accountability.

    One more thing I would add to this list is to make it clear when the author of the tweet is editorializing rather than simply paraphrasing the scholarship. This seems to be a big fear–that people’s ideas will be misrepresented. For example, one of my tweets about a workshop generated responses from a few people who were not there and I had to clarify that I was editorializing. I tried to be more careful after that.

    • Anne Helen Petersen on March 14, 2013 at 11:52 AM

      On Saturday, I attended an excellent panel on stars and performance. Three senior scholars, none of whom use Twitter. I arrived on time but they were having serious technical difficulties and didn’t want to be the annoying person asking question and exacerbating the situation. But I just didn’t feel comfortable Tweeting — I just had an overwhelming feeling that it wasn’t appropriate. No one else in the room was on their devices, I hadn’t asked, the panelists may or may not have been familiar with the practice. I was fascinated by my own disinclination to Tweet. Maybe I was embarrassed, didn’t think it was appropriate — but I do think it’s a moment worth considering. This was, after all, one of the best panels I had attended at the conference. And I do think I got more out of it, simply because I wasn’t in “reporting” mode.

      I wish I had something more provocative or concrete to offer in terms of takeaway, but am mostly hoping that others can use this as a jumping off point for discussion about whether these “pockets” of unTweetability will persist, whether they have use and, as an extension, whether we should try to preserve or even create them…..

      • Amanda Ann Klein on March 14, 2013 at 2:10 PM

        I must admit to feeling weird and bad about tweeting at those few panels where I could not get permission ahead of time. Oddly enough, at previous conferences I never had official permission (and I don’t recall anyone asking others for it either). But this year I felt that need for permission more strongly.

        However, I will say that every single person I asked either said “of course!” (like I was crazy for asking) or some version of “Twitter? Are you going to be nice? Then Ok.”(still giving me the crazy look). So I am going to go out on a limb here and say most people are okay with having their work tweeted (unless they explicitly say not to, and I know there were panels this year that made such announcements) as long as they know the folks doing the tweeting will treat their scholarship with care and respect.

        Aren’t the rules of Twitter just like the rules of life: “Whenever possible, don’t be a jerk”

        • Jennifer Lynn Jones on March 14, 2013 at 2:24 PM

          One would hope but you never know. I think it’s also interesting how this kind of tweeting points up the differences between editorial and reportorial uses: seems important to consider which version is employed when and why.

  4. Roxanne Samer on March 16, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    Thanks for this, Amanda! I had a similar experience of trying to figure out my voice when tweeting for the Queer Caucus. I had both the caucus account and my own personal account up and went through a minor identity crisis trying to figure out what to tweet with which and how I should phrase things as a group representative, rather than an individual. It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun!

  5. […] much more Twitter happening) helped her experience #SCMS13 remotely, and Amanda Ann Klein’s post Turning Twitter into Work: Digital Reporting at SCMS 2013, about how tweeting from an “official” account led her to think differently about how she […]

  6. Casey on March 24, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    Thanks for this post, Amanda! I was definitely struck by how different the task of live-tweeting felt with our involvement in the @CJatSCMS account. In my past experiences, I had always aimed for as many tweets as possible per panel—sort of a “play-by-play” approach. But I also quickly began to realize (especially after we did some time in jail) that “thick tweets” are much more effective.

    In terms of the “asking permission” experience, I really enjoyed seeing people’s reactions when I introduced myself before panels. I encountered little to no resistance/confusion, and most people seemed to feel kind of honoured to get coverage from the “official” account (which, likewise, made me feel like a badass). However, it was a shame when I arrived to a panel too late and had to deal with the question of whether or not I should tweet any content. On that note, I think it would be great to aim for some sort of announcement to all of SCMS next year that presenters should specify if they would like the content of their talks to remain off the record.

    And I very much agree that getting more SIG/Caucus-based “official” accounts up could really amplify the effectiveness of our mission to spread the SCMS experience to all!