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03.03.10

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Oscar's All a'twitter

The Academy dips its toe into the 21st century

By Daedalus Howell

Come February of every year, scads of entertainment journalists engage in a ritual peculiar to their beat. They apply for press credentials to cover the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' annual Academy Awards.

An awards ceremony for motion pictures presented on television epitomizes traditional media. If the gold statuette was wrapped in newspaper like a fish, perhaps the event could be even more quaintly 20th century. Despite its antiquarian trappings, this year Oscar is poised at the nexus of traditional and social media.

In addition to the usual questions used to vet journos' credibility in the online credential application, a new query appears: "Tell us about how we can find you online—blogs, Twitter, Facebook, other social media platforms."

Social media like Twitter have been a boon for journalists, and not merely for those upgrading their bylines to brand names. (The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism cited the "personal branding" of journalists online as a major trend in its State of the News Media Report for 2009.) Social media tools have also enabled journalists laboring under repressive regimes to bypass censors and transmit reportage to the world, if only at 140 characters at a time.

For some media critics, freedom of the press coupled with free blogging services have resulted in either a free-for-all or a free fall. Consider the so-called citizen journalists, whose training consists of little more than glossing the "Terms of Service" agreement on a video-sharing site and who routinely break stories via social media. In an era when an anonymously posted YouTube video depicting the death of 26-year-old Iranian activist can put those who produced it in the company of New York Times and New Yorker reporters when winning journalism's prestigious George Polk Award, the redefining of what a journalist is must be under way.

In its own way, the Academy Communications Department, which dispenses Oscar credentials, has contributed to this process. In short, professional journalists are now expected to have a social media presence—just like the amateurs.

ABC, which will broadcast the Oscars this Sunday, has yet to reveal an official policy regarding tweeting at the Oscars, whether that be by journalists, attendees or even nominees (Up in the Air director Jason Reitman seems to be the only nominee with an active Twitter account). Rival network NBC, however, has had to contend with the social media factor head-on as some of its current XXI Olympic Winter Games broadcasts are released on taped delay; it is hopeless to prevent medal results from being tweeted to the world. There is, as yet, no such thing as a tweet-delay, though the Iranians are surely working on one.

The International Olympic Committee speaks to this, in part, with its "IOC Blogging Guidelines for Persons Accredited at the XXI Olympic Winter Games, Vancouver 2010," a four-page document intended to police the social media habits of accredited attendees.

"It is required that, when Accredited Persons at the Games post any Olympic Content, it be confined solely to their own personal Olympic-related experience," it states, suggesting that no news is good news, but writing of one's aspiration to appear on a box of Wheaties is acceptable.

Moreover, "the IOC considers blogging, in accordance with these guidelines, as a legitimate form of personal expression and not as a form of journalism." Micro-blogging, fittingly, was addressed via tweet on the Olympics' official Twitter account where athletes were encouraged to share the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat: "Athletes go ahead and tweet, as long as it's about your personal experience at the games."

As a live event, the Oscars have little fear of its winners being revealed prior to some celebrity saying, "The envelope, please." At worst, entertainment journalists will offer a deluge of online snark, which they will later recapitulate online, in print and wherever else news goes to die. If Oscar winners tweeted their acceptance speech la "You like me, you really like me. #Oscar," that might warrant a re-tweet or two.

DHowell.com/Oscars will have live, red carpet coverage of the Oscars.


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