I got the chance to attend two panel discussions hosted by the Canadian Journalism Federation titled On the Hill, Online and In the Loop.

The first panel was mediated by Andrew Potter from the Ottawa Citizen and included the Citizen’s David Reevely and Glen McGregor, Kady O’Malley from CBC, Joanna Smith from the Toronto Star and Nick Taylor-Vaisey from Maclean’s.

The second panel was mediated by Christopher Waddell from the Carleton School of Journalism and included the NDP’s Megan Leslie, Liberal Marc Garneau and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

Both discussion were about social media (mainly Twitter) and how the world of politics and political reporting is changing as we all become more connected.

One thing that stood out for me during the journalists’ discussion was the idea of using sources from Twitter.

Nick Taylor-Vaisey opened the discussion saying that he may find someone through Twitter, but will always do some quick research before reaching out to them – to find out if they may be connected to a party or an issue in a certain way. After he researches, he said he will reach out in some other way than Twitter, finding an email address or phone number.

Joanna Smith said that it is alright to use a quote from Twitter as a source, especially in a case where that’s the only place a politician talks about an issue. Kady O’Malley used the example of Rona Ambrose on the sex-selective abortion issue. I didn’t realize this, but apparently the only place she explained her vote on the Stephen Woodworth motion on abortion was on Twitter, as O’Malley said “…that was the record.”

Smith said “It’s public and it’s valid” when politicians make a comment on Twitter, but also said she will always call the office to try and get more.

In terms of coverage, the panel seemed to agree that Twitter has hurt serious coverage. Reevely said it’s been good for humanizing politicians and reporters, as well as helping reporters establish credibility on the topics they cover, but “Twitter rewards zingers and that is very dangerous,” but the panel agreed that Twitter has provided more transparency for people following. O’Malley pointed out that readers can see the conversations between journalists and politicians and come to their own conclusions.

The second panel was made up of three elected officials who all admitted to enjoying connecting through Twitter. The conversation touched on Facebook (and Megan Leslie noted that she’s on LinkedIn but doesn’t remember her password). All three said that their Twitter accounts are run primarily by them – 90 to 95 per cent. While Megan Leslie said the NDP sends suggestions for tweets they have no control over her account (and cited Pat Martin as proof of this fact), Marc Garneau said that as a member of a caucus you can’t just freelance. For his part Jim Watson said that at the local level there are no parties, so you can say what you like but you have to live with the consequences.

All three politicians agreed that Twitter can make things difficult. Leslie said that during the campaign it was difficult to keep up, and she has also received a number of sexist comments. Watson said Twitter breeds an expectation of immediate response, which is unrealistic. The character limit also makes it difficult to discuss complex issues.

Both panels seemed to agree that Twitter is changing things, but no one was sure if it was for better or worse.

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