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Social Media Brings The Audience To Sky News

Sky News made the headlines in March 2009 when it appointed a Twitter correspondent to scour the real-time platform ‘for stories’ and give Sky News a presence on the Twittersphere.  At the time Guardian writer Jemima Kiss said that she was “in two minds about the creation of a Twitter Correspondent.”

An internal Sky News memo obtained by Techcrunch at the time highlighted how the editorial team saw that news stories were breaking on Twitter thanks to users who eye-witnessed stories and then reported them to their followers.  Ruth Barnett, who today is the channel’s Online Politics Producer, was chosen as their Twitter correspondent.

I meet with Sky News Executive Editor Chris Birkett earlier this week, who confirmed that searching for news on Twitter and other social media platforms is now part of every journalist’s remit at Sky News.  I asked Chris about the impact that social media’s had on its newsgathering and content promotion operation.

Birkett said that their web and online team are responsible amongst other things for verifying content sent in to the newsroom through social media channels.  Birkett added that the number of users accessing Sky News online was being challenged by those who got the outlets news through their social media feeds.

Today the Sky News website has an audience reach of c.7.5 million unique users – 3.3 million in Europe and a further 4.2 million in other markets around the world.  Their iPhone app has been downloaded 2 million times, with Birkett confirming a “massive rise in users accessing the site through mobile devices,” something that is encouraging the news outlet to make it’s app available on other platforms, such Android, which recently announced it supported flash video.

Birkett noted that 18,000 people watched the Sky News Leader’s Debate from their smartphone.  We were also shown the development room where they were testing their forthcoming iPad app.

The one disappointment from a mobile aspect was that while the iPhone app has the facility for users to send in user generated content (ugc) the numbers have not yet excited editorial staff.  ‘Not yet’ being the watchword.

Asked if Sky News had benefited from The Times and Sunday Times paywall Birkett said that there didn’t appear to be a surge in traffic, which leaves one to question where Times Online users gone to?  Birkett did say though that Sky News has 650 staff – a lot less than the BBC, 500 of which are at the Sky News Centre and of which 150 are journalists.  The Times and Sunday Times meanwhile have dedicated 700 journalists, allowing the Wapping titles to provide the in-depth comment and analysis while Sky News focus on short video.

We are looking forward to another visit and further insight from Sky News.

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