20 year Nine Network veteran Michael Usher

The return of 60 Minutes in 2011 offers more than just the usual dose of hard-hitting current affairs we’ve come to expect from it. There’s a new recruit in Allison Langdon, and an intentional attempt to connect with viewers more than ever before. The social media whirlwind that is Twitter has hit the newsroom, and it will likely help attract a new audience seeking to interact with the show & it’s reporters.

“It (Twitter) is connecting us much faster to feedback and each other. We’re pushing our twitter interaction on 60 Minutes a lot this year,” said Michael Usher when he spoke with MolksTVTalk earlier this week.

Journalists across the country and around the world are tentatively dipping their toes into Twitter. It’s still a relatively new medium for the “old media” establishment, however those that embrace social media are finding new sources, new information and new angles to the story much faster. “Its crucial. You’d be surprised how many leads and contacts have come from the traditional mailbag over the past 30 years, and twitter is the new mailbag.”

It’s a long way from working for the Golden West Network in Western Australia, for Usher where in 1990 as a cadet journalist he would “File 3 file stories a day, send them to Bunbury and they’d air the next day. Now you can twitter instantly,” he said. Not that Twitter, or any social media platform for that matter, is the saviour of news. The party line may have digitised but the information needs to be developed for broadcast in an honest and representative manner.

“It’s great for delivery,” offered Michael, “But it’s still about the story and the telling of it. The speed of info is good, but also dangerous. Facts will get lost. But then, as we’ve seen in Egypt, social media has been the source of news.”

Usher’s own use of Twitter as a relative newbie during the recent South-east Queensland floods proved to be invaluable of itself. He spent many hours in one of the three Nine News choppers stationed in Brisbane for the coverage, and would post TwitPics (pictures delivered via Twitter) with a brief caption as he entered or passed over a hot spot, such as Toowoomba or Grantham. Many people found the immediate access to information during a crisis like the Qld Floods compelling. Usher did. “It was very useful to hear where events were happening at that moment. You’ll find we followed some of those updates to steer coverage toward those areas.”

It’s from his time during and after the Qld Floods that Michael offers a story of absolute heartbreak on the first episode of 60 Minutes for 2011. Matthew & Stacey Keep of Grantham had their daughter Jessica literally ripped from Stacey’s arms by the torrential waters. A tragedy by any scale. One that affected family man Usher visibly during the interview.

“Of all the stories I’ve covered,” Michael said, “It’s one of the most emotional. This family we feature is incredible and I can’t put myself in their shoes. They’ve lost so much, but its also a story of survival and strength – and the future. I have great admiration for the people in the (Lockyer) Valley, and espcially Grantham. But this was a really hard interview which took a while for all of us.”

It’s a poignant start to a year punctuated by drama and natural disaster. As the ever-ticking stopwatch that is the logo for 60 Minutes reminds us, however – time waits for no man. The year will grind on. Healing will occur, and people will move on. New stories will emerge. Michael’s already hard at work, preparing to deliver another batch.

“I have some pieces from Afghanistan. A really fun wildlife story. A medical story about a major advance that suprised me – a mixed bag – you never quite know what you’re covering on 60 Minutes,” mused Usher.

As the interview was closing, the Senior Producers revealed their hand in that they are already watching Twitter – Michael confirmed the official hashtag for Twitter followers. “While we’ve been tweeterviewing the bosses here have confirmed (it as) #60Mins – so there you go, all suggestions taken on.”

What an interesting year for television 2011 will be, that already social media is playing a part.

(Extracts taken from tweeterview with Michael Usher & SteveMolk on 11/02/2011. View the full conversation here.)


60 Minutes – 7:30pm Sunday, Ch9
Image/Video sources – Ch9.