Hi everyone, Andy Carvin here. For the last two years I've worked as a virtual news anchor covering the Arab Spring. Primarily through my Twitter account, @acarvin, I've covered more than half a dozen revolutions in the region, and have worked with my Twitter followers to debunk rumors, authenticate videos from citizen journalists, and cover battles/protests in real-time, all from 5000 miles away. I just wrote a book about the experience, called Distant Witness, which officially comes out today, the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.

Proof: https://twitter.com/acarvin/statuses/294851687536001024

Ask me anything!

UPDATED: Thanks for everyone who came to the AMA - I hope you enjoyed it!

Comments: 256 • Responses: 102  • Date: 

justindlong22 karma

How do you go about confirming or authenticating videos?

acarvin43 karma

The most import thing to do is look for context. Is there something visible in the background that can be IDed, like a building or other landmark? If people are speaking, what kind of accents do they have? If there are weapons involved, what kinds are they? Does the timestamp of the video match the weather forecast, or the location of the sun and shadows? Etc, etc. Fortunately, I have a lot of Twitter followers who love this type of detective work.

ewarrior18014 karma

I remember seeing you at a talk a few months ago and you said you could count on one hand the number of videos that were faked. Has this number increased? How many videos purporting to show violence are false?

acarvin23 karma

There still aren't many fakes out there. But there are tons of videos taken out of context - one claiming to be Syria when it's actually Libya; a government claiming atrocities by rebels when it was actually the other way around, or vice versa. But you still occasionally see videos, like faked executions, but they're greatly outnumbered by the real deal, unfortunately.

Papie10 karma

I would like to point you to a fact checker on twitter who largely covers weaponry used in the Syrian civil war. brown Moses. Check him out and what he is doing to clarify what little info is coming out of Syria.

acarvin8 karma

Thanks, I know him. He's done amazing work over the last year.

pudhead13 karma

Andy - You're twitter feed is invaluable for news. Why do you use the same feed for personal tweets? Why not another feed for your personal info?

acarvin50 karma

First of all, because my Twitter acct began as a personal one. My very first tweet was about eating pita and hummus - not exactly breaking news. Over the years, the account began to include more and more news-related tweets - and my followers seemed to like the mix. Also, I think it's healthy to remind people that I'm not a bot - I'm just another guy on Twitter, hanging out with everyone else, trying to figure out what's going on in the world.

ewarrior1803 karma

Because we need to know about how to rescue cats from the street.

acarvin19 karma

That doesn't hurt, either. I actually had a number of tweeps who donated to local shelters or adopted pets when my family tried to save that cat last fall.

pudhead1 karma

Perhaps, but I think (just my opinion) that it undercuts what you do to a degree.

acarvin4 karma

So far that doesn't seem to be the case. I have just as many people on Twitter helping me as ever before, and I only get complaints a few times a year. For every complaint I probably get 50 people asking me to keep doing it the way I do. I guess it's whatever you're used to.

journojay10 karma

Hi Andy, it's a pleasure to speak with you. I have two questions as an aspiring journalist:

  1. Since joining a newsroom is harder everyday, I hear lots of journalists telling me to opt to go on my own to a warzone or African country where English journalists are rare. What is your view on this?

  2. I struggle everyday to keep up with the torrent of information online. I'm trying to create a media morning diet but it seems hard. Twitter, news outlets, RSS. There's so much to see and read that I always feel I haven't learned anything. What is your advice to really stick to what's important?

Thank you.

acarvin16 karma

Thanks for the questions. I'll answer them in separate replies in case the threads go in different directions.

1: I know some people who have been very successful at this. I also know others who have been kidnapped in Syria and are still missing. Going on your own is an extreme risk, especially if you lack experience or local language/cultural skills. And freelancers in general don't often have the same organizational muscle - ie an entire news org - to back them up if they get caught in a dangerous situation.

acarvin14 karma

  1. Filters, filters, filters. Create twitter lists of accounts that are most important to you. Trim out ones that aren't. Find people online who are good curators and see what they're reading/watching/etc - ones in time zones ahead of you can help you catch up in the morning. And create Twitter searches whenever you need them.

one-bad-day9 karma

one day, if you eat pitta and hummus again, will you notify us all?

acarvin13 karma

Lemme think about it.

spicemilk7 karma

What do you think is the main difference between the western media's representation and/or western people's perceptions and what is actually happening in the Arab world, especially with regard to the young people involved in protests and revolution?

acarvin11 karma

Western media did more than its fair share of romanticizing the Arab Spring, including places like Tahrir Square. Yes, historic things were happening before our eyes, but it's easy to get swept up by romantic narratives, or over-rely on sources who speak English and are well educated. I think we also often oversimplified how complex these situations are. It's hard to understand any revolution with nothing but soundbites.

spicemilk2 karma

Good answer, so lots of reading and talking people to get the full picture then?

acarvin3 karma

Basically, yes.

thebeebopbooper7 karma

Do you speak Arabic?

acarvin12 karma

Shweya. :-) I've picked up a little bit of Egyptian Arabic, but that's about it. Really wished I'd learned it years earlier, because it's a very tough language to pick up easily.

thebeebopbooper6 karma

So do you feel that your report is necessarily biased and selective when your only avenue for primary sources is through the English language?

acarvin7 karma

Fortunately I have scores of Twitter followers who volunteer as translators for me. They can't translate everything, but they've been immensely helpful. Usually if they see something in Arabic that might be relevant for me, they @ reply me and tell me about it, usually with a translation summary. Others will go as far as to caption youtube videos in English for me.

snapmedown7 karma

How do you respond to Michael Wolfe's criticism of your handling of the Newtown shootings? http://m.guardiannews.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/17/npr-andy-carvin-overreach-newtown

acarvin11 karma

If you look in the comments you'll see I wrote a rather long reply to him; you should give it a read. Bottom line: the examples he cites claiming I was spreading rumors were all tweets in which I was asking people what I knew about the rumors - which had all been reported via mainstream media. The rumors are out there; I'd rather be transparent about it and acknowledge I don't know the truth yet, and ask for people's help in the process.

Civics6 karma

How did you get your start with career in media?

acarvin18 karma

I was an undergrad and grad student at Northwestern. I have a BS in rhetoric - no joke - and an MA in communications policy. I have no training as a journalist, apart from a music mag I edited in college, mainly to get free concert tix. :-)

After that, I got a fellowship to work at the Corp for Public Broadcasting, where I investigated how education would have to change as the Internet became more ubiquitous (this was 1994). I worked there for a few more years, creating grant programs focusing on civic uses of the Internet and community media, then went to edit a website focused on bridging the digital divide. It became one of the first nonprofit social networks, and I got to travel the world, focusing on Internet policy issues. That gave me the chance to meet a lot of bloggers, including in Tunisia, which helped me get started on all of this two years ago. Finally, I was recruited by NPR in 2006 to figure out how they could work better with online communities to improve their journalism. I've been doing that ever since.

youngli0n4 karma

hi there. no questions at this time but i wanted to thank you for what you do, as a lot of people think Arabs are the "bad guys"

i was at one point one of these people, and people like you helped open my eyes. thanks!

acarvin6 karma

thanks, i really appreciate it.

Andysch14 karma

Hello Andy. What do you belive is the best solution for Israel/palestine conflict?

acarvin12 karma

I don't offer policy recommendations on anything. Even if I had a good idea, doing so is a violation of NPR's ethics rules. Sorry.

Kuyim6 karma

Secret reddit side account, if you have a good idea

acarvin3 karma


no-soy-de-escocia3 karma

How do you deal with the time difference inherent in covering events so far away? Does staying current in a fluid situation essentially require you to be nocturnal?

Edit: Rephrased the second question

acarvin4 karma

Surprisingly not. I'm on the east coast of the US. By the time I wake up around 6 or 7, it's typically just after mid-day prayers in Cairo or wherever. Protests kick into high gear after that, and last well into the night. So if I tweet between 7am and 11pm, let's say, the overlap is usually pretty good. Plus I can always check my Twitter lists when I wake up to see what others have been reporting while I was asleep.

Thompson_S_Sweetback3 karma

The first stages of the revolution seem to be easy - social unrest, mass demonstrations, and/or armed revolution lead to the resignation of an entrenched dictator. But how do you judge the next stages of the revolution? Take Egypt - what signs do you look for to determine whether the country is making serious progress towards a constitutional democracy or simply replacing one military puppet with another?

acarvin6 karma

One thing that seems to repeat itself a lot is how campaigning for/against something can be very successful online, but governing in the name of those policies can be harder to achieve online. Take Obama's online supporters. He rallied them successfully in '08, but wasn't able to utilize them well during his first term. In the case of Egypt, many protesters stuck to using social media or hanging out in Tahrir well after the revolution, while the Muslim Brotherhood canvassed neighborhoods and spread the word about their policy proposals. On multiple occasions I heard MB members brag they weren't on Twitter. Not that they were luddites, but that they recognized that working offline was of paramount importance for them in the months after the revolution.

toear233 karma

Besides safety, are there any other reasons or benefits to reporting on the Arab Spring via social media as opposed to covering the events in person? Thanks for doing this.

acarvin7 karma

For me at least, I'm able to maintain contacts with lots of people spread around a large area, 24-7 if necessary. I don't have to worry about where I'll get electricity or Internet access. And because I can watch all of this in real-time, I can work with a large # of people in real time to sort it out. It's just a different way of doing foreign reporting, not a replacement for it.

clane2ndwindow3 karma

Your twitter client, what do you use?

acarvin7 karma

Desktop: older version of tweetdeck. iPhone: Hootsuite. But I'm not a huge partisan about it. Whatever helps me organize and display lists and hashtags, I'm good.

clane2ndwindow2 karma

Yeah, the newer tweetdecks kinda suck, huh? Can you post a screenshot of your column set up? I'm struggling with how to organize everything...

acarvin4 karma

There's a pic here, but it's not a closeup:


Generally speaking, I have, from left to right, my mentions column, a "greatest hits" column of reliable sources from across the region, my friends timeline, and country-by-country twitter lists, along with some keywords searches, which I move closer to my field of view when I'm concentrating on a particular story.

thinkjose2 karma

Here are some photos of his TweetDeck setup in an article I wrote a few years ago. http://thinkjose.com/2011/03/the-revolution-will-be-curated-acarvin/ It's pretty amazing to watch Andy read, authenticate, respond, and repeat. It's kind of like a plate spinner on fast forward.

acarvin1 karma

Yeah, that's a much better shot. :-)

Silently_judging2 karma

Andy, thank you for doing this AMA! Your work is quintessential in expanding the narrative of the middle east. My only question would be, why am I not taller?

acarvin4 karma

You drank too much caffeine when you were younger. Oh, and your genes.

bonicr2 karma


acarvin6 karma

Syria started as peaceful protests against the government. The government began to crack down; many people were killed, tortured, kidnapped. Over time, some of the protesters, particular defecting soldiers, decided to fight force with force of their own. The fighting escalated, and it's become a proxy war, with various govts supporting the side of their choice. Neither side is strong enough to win outright, and 60,000+ people are dead. That pretty much sums it up.

TheOnlySaneOne2 karma

How do you verify the Twitter accounts that you cull information from? How many do you follow at this point? And what programs do you use to track Twitter?


acarvin8 karma

Whenever possible, I try to start with someone I already know and trust. I then look at their account and see who they're following, and how long they've followed them. The longer they've been doing it, the more likely they know each other. I then repeat the process with some of those people. Once I've done that, I watch their accounts carefully to see what they're doing. Are they uploading new footage with new timetamps or geotagging? Do they clumsily throw around words like "BREAKING" or "CONFIRMED" in all caps, in every tweet? Are they followed by people I know, who I can ask to vouch for them? And so on.

damontoo1 karma

Do you use any custom apps for any of it? For example creating a filtered tree of twitter followers based on account age and tweet content that you can further review and refine is definitely possible with their API etc. As opposed to doing all the research manually.

acarvin5 karma

I've tried to spec out some possible apps, but haven't had anything developed yet. Would love to see tools for tracing the origin of rumors, social network mapping, triaging @ replies, etc.

purrpurr222 karma

Do you feel "virtual news anchors" will start to become a norm when covering dangerous territory? It sounds as though you are able to gather a lot of reliable information from across the globe, at a safe distance.

acarvin11 karma

I think they'll become more common, but not as a replacement to combat reporters. I'd rather think my work complements theirs. A combat reporter sees and smells the horrors, and can look people in the eye when talking to someone. That's what makes war reporting great. What I do is often painting a broader picture of what might be going on in a larger area, beyond one person's visual POV. I can also sort through lots of information in real time. They're very different types of newsgathering experiences, but both valid and needed, I think.

Esoau2 karma

From the view of a digital journalist such as yourself, how do you view the way the new Egyptian Democracy is handling itself? Has it been a step in the right direction, or just another misstep?

acarvin3 karma

I think Egyptians can answer that question better than I can. Short answer: they're having a rough time of it.

mattb2162 karma

Considering the outcomes that have been realized thus far, do you consider the Arab Spring to be a positive or negative event for the men and women who fought to bring it about?

acarvin6 karma

I think locals in the region can give you a much better answer than I ever could. The results have varied in each country, but one thing is clear - you can't tie a bow at the end of a revolution and begin slicing up the sheet cake. Political transformations take years, even decades, and often it's very rough along the way. Right now they're in one of those rough patches, and time will tell if they can pull themselves out of it. But like I said, the long-term results will probably vary country by country.

rbhindepmo2 karma

What was the most hilarious moment (or recurring theme) that you noticed during the 2011 revolutions?

acarvin19 karma

Two words: Khamis Gaddafi. Now this guy wasn't funny at all - he was Muammar Gaddafi's youngest son, and the leader of a brutal military brigade. Some time around March 2011, several sources, including usually reliable ones, reported he had been severely burnt and possibly killed. A few weeks later, there were reports of him dying again. And again. And again. This has gone on for almost two years now, around a dozen times. And mind you, this isn't just random tweeps claiming he's dead - news orgs have done it too. To this day, I still wonder if it was an elaborate plan on his part so he could escape and sit on a beach with Keyser Soze or whatever.

rbhindepmo1 karma

indeed, the multiple lifes of Khamis Gaddafi. I forget, was the "plane crashed into Bab" story the first "Khamis Gaddafi death" story or did they have a few of those stories before that?

acarvin3 karma

Pretty sure the kamikaze attack rumor was the same day as a car bomb rumor. Forget the exact date; it's in my book somewhere.

TbroOnline2 karma

Amazing stuff to remember sitting in a bar in L.A. back in 2007 (iirc) and chatting about what this twitter stuff was going to mean for broadcasting. Great work Andy!

acarvin2 karma

Heh, tell me about it, Thomas. Hope all's well with you.

BadVogonPoet2 karma

Do you face any judgement/criticism from traditional journalists given your chosen medium?

How long did it take for NPR to warm up to the idea of a Twitter based news anchor?

What's the most emotional moment you've witnessed in your coverage of the Arab Spring?

acarvin9 karma

Most emotional? There have been many. Learning of a colleague being killed, for example. Last February there was a boy in Syria whose jaw was shot off. It was horrifying. I tried to work with volunteers to get him out of the country; a team of surgeons had even donated their time to operate on him. But he passed away before he could be moved out of the field hospital.

Then there was the day after Mubarak resigned. For some reason I didn't recognize many of my sources' twitter avatars. I then realized that they had change their avatars to their real faces for the first time.

acarvin7 karma

Criticism: not as much as one might expect. People are generally very supportive. NPR originally hired me to conduct experiments in collaborative journalism, so they've been supportive since day one - though I don't think they realized I was doing it 18 hours a day and ignoring other job duties until the revolutions were a month or two old. :-)

BadVogonPoet1 karma

Do you still have a hand in collaborative journalism or has that torch been passed? This is a fascinating concept for me, given my own career in social media.

acarvin2 karma

I'm still doing it, but I'd really like to scale it at NPR. Not many of us work this particular way, and it can lead to bottlenecks, especially when covering breaking news.

LetsGoProtest2 karma

Thanks! I have a lot respect for the NPR programming. The question:

Given recent news about lack of change or too much religious influence in the new governments, in your personal opinion, do you believe anything of substance will rise (or has already risen) as a result of these protests and revolutions?

acarvin3 karma

Ask me again in 10 years. We'll see.

Xysten2 karma

Why do you care about "Arab revolution" and why should we care?

acarvin1 karma

I'm interested in geopolitics and history. Major geopolitical shifts often only come around once a generation. This is one of them.

mirrorball112 karma

I would love a job working for NPR. Other then listening to it all the time, I don't really have anything on my resume to support this interest. What do you suggest I do?

acarvin3 karma

Work on your reporting skills AND your coding skills. We love that sorta thing.

pkells2 karma

Did you ever patch things up with Heidi Moore?

acarvin2 karma

Yep. We're good now.

fullsizedmidget2 karma

What are you most afraid of experiencing? What freaks you out most as a journalist in that region?

acarvin8 karma

Most of the time I report remotely. I have no training as a combat reporter, and I promised my family I wouldn't go places while bullets were still flying. Having said that, it's an unstable area - I nearly got stuck in a major battle in Tahrir Square about 18 months ago, and I had stoned Libyan rebels fire anti-aircraft guns directly over my car just for the lulz.

What freaks me out is when people I know - sources, reporters, etc - are in a dangerous situation and are talking about it in real time. I've known several people who were killed during the Arab Spring, and many more who had very close calls. It can be very harrowing following along with them remotely.

i_eat_cereal_AMA2 karma

What's your favorite type of cereal?

What kind of cereal is avaliable to you while you're covering stories over seas?

acarvin3 karma

Special K Vanilla cereal. I also like to mix multigrain cheerios with wheaties and add a dash of honey. When I'm traveling overseas, I'm pretty flexible; whatever's available is fine.

WhyHellYeah2 karma

Do you see it being successful? Good or bad? Any real hope for democracy or is it going to be one and done?

ewarrior1805 karma

It's going to take some time. The Atlantic Revolutions (1775-1822) took time. The US struggled with political and economic difficulties post-revolution. The post-Soviet nations of Eastern Europe are a closer example. Even now debates still go on about their post-revolution economic progression. You never really know. Two years is just too short. History needs more time to be judged.

acarvin8 karma

The fall of the Berlin wall is the perfect example. At the time it was hard to guess how it'd turn out. And they're all still evolving, 20 years later. Some turned out more free, like Poland, while others like Belarus or Moldova haven't been so successful in that regard.

acarvin4 karma

You mean the revolutions? I think it'll be years before we know if any of them were truly successful or failures.

Diabrolical1 karma

Congrats on the book, and thanks for the hard work.

How do more traditional journalists view your work with Twitter - do they take it seriously? Do younger journalists respect your work more?

acarvin3 karma

On the whole I've gotten a lot of support. What I do is by no means perfect, and there are some good discussions to be had about its weaknesses, or how to improve it. But I've received tremendous support here at NPR, and at many other news organizations. And it's not divided by age or anything like that. I have supporters and critics of all ages. :-)

Terror_of_Texas1 karma

Do you think that the Arab spring could have happened without the use of social media? And do you think that there was too much hidden from the world as to some of the things that were happening (ie Assad's initial reaction to the Syrian revolt)? Also, I am currently about to have my Media in the Middle East class at UT Austin today, any tips for the subject, or resources that could help me? Thanks!

acarvin5 karma

The region was pretty unstable to begin with. Unemployment was rife, and satellite TV routinely showed people what life was like elsewhere. I think it definitely played a role - which varied from country to country - but it wasn't necessarily the determining factor. People still had to go out on the streets and die for their cause.

acarvin3 karma

I don't think much was hidden per se re: Assad. I just don't think it got as much attention early on because so many other revolutions were happening at once.

Papie1 karma

What is the one thing about Syria that people are most misinformed about?

acarvin6 karma

I think we're really lacking in knowledge when it comes to what's happening in the rural areas of the country. We know a lot about the big cities, but this is a country-wide conflict. Things could be awfully bad in some parts of the country and we might not hear anything about it.

F6x1 karma

Are you worried that a printed book–in an era of digital distribution–would cause you to want to immediately revise some of your thoughts in it?

acarvin3 karma

Oh, and thanks for the head's up re: the Mars Volta. What a bummer. Got them on shuffle right now.

acarvin3 karma

Every frickin' day. :-) So yeah, there are always thing I'd want to change, wordsmithing here or there, etc. And the news stories change constantly; what's true in Libya one day isn't relevant the next. But I still wanted to write something down that was permanent. I was one of the very first people to be given access to their full Twitter archive, 18 months ago, and social media is so ephemeral. I liked the idea of having something written down. But it's still very strange seeing my words in print. I don't remember the last time I printed anything.

robkhit1 karma

Which revolution had the biggest impact on you?

acarvin3 karma

It's varied. Egypt was an exhausting marathon, and the first one in which I got to know many of the players well. Libya was probably the most intense, and I knew multiple people who were killed there. Syria has been heart-wrenching, particularly the civilian injuries. So they all impact me in one way or another.

tsudo1 karma

How important are Twitter lists to your listening ability?

acarvin6 karma

Very important. 90% of the time I spend on Twitter is looking at Twitter lists.

mcnukem1 karma

What was your biggest "oh crap!" moment?

acarvin5 karma

I once shared a video that I described as an injured child getting prepped for surgery. Only after tweeting it did I discover that the child was dead, and they were washing the body, as is traditional prior to a Muslim burial. I felt awful about it.

Nfes1 karma

Is there a difference between young American journalists and young journalists in a Middle Eastern country? Do western journalist tweet differently than their Middle Eastern counterparts?

acarvin3 karma

I think that's the case everywhere, because we all have different cultural points of view.

Karmakameleeon1 karma

Do you see, from your work, any sort of revolution beginning to brew in Pakistan?

acarvin1 karma

Protests and anger? Yes. A revolution? Who knows.

davidrab1 karma

I love NPR and your work! Thanks so much. Jeff Jarvis, from This Week in Google, is a big fan of yours and always says how good you are at using twitter.

acarvin2 karma

Thanks. Jeff wrote the intro to my book. :-)

talisman2771 karma

Im from dubai UAE and i want to ask... do u think that dubai will keep the progress they are doing now until the future?

acarvin1 karma

Dunno. Probably a good question for people who invest in construction there.

coronawithlime1 karma

I hope they put you on an episode of This American Life!

acarvin2 karma

Heh, not likely. Great show, though.

Blu3j4y1 karma

Do you ever work with Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson? She seems like she'd be a nice person to be around. Is she nice?

acarvin1 karma

Yeah, Soraya is very cool. Got to hang out with her in Cairo about 18 months ago. A consummate pro.

Willb3tray4food1 karma

Social media is a fairly new form of news, do you think it is going to become a more mainstream form of news over other forms such as newspaper, radio, and T.V. If so, how will integrity of data be kept?( example: the whole scandals with the notra dame player) how do you confirm sources? Have you ever used misinformation?

acarvin2 karma

Whoa, that's a lot of questions. Let me try to unpack them in separate replies.

acarvin1 karma

re: misinformation, if something seems fishy to me, I ask people to help me investigate it. It's getting hard to report on Syria, for example, because misinformation is rife on both sides.

How do I confirm sources? Look early on in the chat - I answered that one already.

acarvin1 karma

One problem with social media is that we don't have deep databases of content that's readily available. It can be very hard to dig into a story that happened six month earlier, for example. That's why I back up all of my tweets and use tools like archive.org to find archival material when needed.

Willb3tray4food1 karma

But can't you also run into the problem of multiple reports on one thing?

acarvin1 karma

Multiple reports can be good in my work, because they allow me to cross-reference. Anything you cover should ideally have multiple sources.

acarvin1 karma

Social media has become pretty mainstream within newsrooms, but it's used at varying levels. It's just another way of approaching reporting, and can be integrated into all sorts of traditional media reporting.

Willb3tray4food1 karma

Do you think it will start to replace some forms of reporting?

acarvin1 karma

Replace? Who knows. It's just another set of tools for reporters to use. And reporters generally use whatever tools seem to work best for them.

flynnski1 karma

Hi Andy! I'm currently doing an internship with my local NPR station, and I was just curious how you ended up getting from Northwestern into NPR. What's your career path looked like thus far?

acarvin1 karma

Dig into the discussion; I talked about it in another thread.

JeremyNJ19841 karma

What is the likely outcome of the current demonstrations against President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?

acarvin3 karma

Ask an Egyptian. Though even they might say they don't know how any of this is gonna turn out.

BananaPeelSlippers1 karma

How little does the US government understand about the on the ground situations in the these countries?

It seems like no matter the specifics, we get the same tired rhetoric on repeat. Do you think this is because they are ignorant of realities, or pushing an agenda?

acarvin2 karma

The US collects intelligence a variety of ways, but there have been a number of occasions when it seems it's been quite surprised by events on the ground. I would imagine parts of the govt feels like they had the rug pulled from under them, and are still trying to figure out what's what. And yes, everyone has an agenda - or as countries call them, interests - regarding how things turn out.

eagpbm1 karma

Andy, do you think there will be peace in the Middle East in our lifetime?

acarvin6 karma

Depends on how old you are, I guess.

acarvin1 karma

Looks like our time is up; thanks for participating!

SharkyMarksworth1 karma


acarvin1 karma

Don't remember. Ask my mom.

tcarm11 karma

If I'm not mistaken, some media outlets/journalists thought you were on scene of the Newtown shooting because of your tweets. Being from Connecticut, and a follower of your's on Twitter, I was amazed at how you were reporting (or passing along info) much faster than actual reporters at the school. I believe a few days after, you received criticism and some called your approach "overreaching." That doesn't make sense to me. Can you explain how you feel about that?

acarvin2 karma

I got a few complaints that day because people didn't like me tweeting stuff that hadn't been confirmed yet, despite the fact I was doing so to ask my followers to help confirm or debunk them. Some journalists aren't comfortable with that methodology, and I can respect that. But it works for me, and my bosses are supportive, so I have no intention to stop experimenting with these methods.

nostateofmind1 karma

Pancakes or waffles?

acarvin7 karma

Waffles. I make them with a bit of oatmeal and yogurt in the batter. It's pretty awesome.

LykeABaus1 karma

I find that NPR does a fantastic job, relatively speaking, in maintaining neutrality and yet providing thoughtful analysis. What sorts of guidelines or standards do they give you guys for your reports? How does NPR actually manage to achieve this neutrality?

acarvin2 karma

We take our ethics very seriously: http://ethics.npr.org/

sketchymustache1 karma

100 duck-sized tear gas canisters or 1 horse-sized canister?

acarvin9 karma

One horse-sized. At least you can get a tarp and cover it. The 100 duck-size ones would be everywhere already. Get some vinegar and make a DIY gas mask.

txnewsboy1 karma

Member stations pay a lot of money to NPR for the radio content - why should they be paying for you to tweet? This is an example of the mission creep of NPR. Why doesn't NPR fund you with NPT - national public tweet - and ask the tweeter followers to donate?

acarvin7 karma

Member stations pay for our reporting and our content. Much of it is radio, but a lot of it is online content. Stations use my stuff all the time - they retweet me, interview me for their shows, etc. And I also sometimes ask my followers to donate to their local stations if they like what I'm doing. And in the two years of me doing this, I've never had a single station complain - but I've had countless ones invite me to teach them how to do it.

neanderhummus1 karma

how did you get started in NPR

acarvin1 karma

I was at a conference of bloggers and news execs in 2005, and the first speaker started by talking about my work collaborating with people online during Hurricane Katrina. Someone in the audience said I was there, so I was invited up to take questions. Afterwards a woman approached me and gave me her card. She was VP of digital at NPR. We talked occasionally for about six months, and she ended up posting a job description based on the kind of work I did. So here I am.

F6x1 karma

Whether it's pitas or rescue kittens or your kids, you obviously have a life outside of breaking news on Twitter. How do you balance your screen time with your personal time? And what kinds of things do you do to reset mentally after some of the disturbing realities you share?

acarvin1 karma

I try to work a regular work day - 9 to 5. When I get home, I cook dinner, play with the kids, give them baths, help with homework, etc. I try to make sure we maintain that routine as best we can. I've also gotten better at taking breaks from Twitter. Writing the book was also a good mental reset for me; it was very cathartic getting it out of my system.

hobokenmarth1 karma

Thanks--for the early great work you did on untangling the pet food recalls. Even back then, you were earning trust the old fashioned way--by knowing your stuff.

acarvin1 karma

Thanks, I appreciate it.

iamkoloss1 karma


acarvin2 karma

I can't speak for global leaders, but I think they would've been naive to assume it'd all be lollipops and unicorns the day after a revolution. And honestly, I didn't observe that happening. What I saw was either cautious optimism, or anxiety over not knowing what would happen next. But of course it varied. Countries like Qatar saw opportunities to expand their reach; France has flexed its muscle; the US has taken a "lead from behind" approach.

iamkoloss1 karma


acarvin2 karma

That's definitely part of it. Like I said in an earlier thread, it's easy to romanticize revolutions as glorious, pure and easy. They're a hell of a lot more complex than that, and it's hard to get news outlets to go deep on a story and stick with it for a long, long time.

peter_871 karma

foreign policy blogger here. question about your coverage of the middle east over the past two years. twitter, youtube -- social media in general doesn't get the whole picture of life in, say, egypt, wouldn't you agree?

how do you reconcile the picture of a country in turmoil you get from twitter or whatever other tools (and then paint for the rest of us watching your feed) with what is actually happening on the ground?

i'd say one important thing about the "arab spring" many of us have learned since tahrir square is that what we see on twitter is not representative of everyone and everything going on.

or do you believe that what you see on twitter actually is representative?

lastly, who/what do you read/watch if you want to know what's really going on in the middle east?

acarvin1 karma

Totally agree. That's why we need reporters on the ground filling in all of those blanks. If all we knew about the Egyptian revolution was Tahrir square and people tweeting there, we'd have a limited perspective on what happened and why - which is pretty much the case for a lot of people. I just try to tackle one angle of it while our other reporters approach it from other angles.

As for what I read, it's the usual suspects: FP, Foreign Affairs, Cairo Review, local news sites, plus lots of people on Twitter who follow it more closely than I do, who tweet out some great stuff on a regular basis.

mblitek1 karma

Do you ever get scared/depressed at the current situations? I know that after I watch certain documentaries I get a sicky feeling that the World is going to sh!t and there's nothing I can do about it. Even worse, I imagine the what ifs of that situation ever spreading. Thoughts?

acarvin2 karma

It can be really numbing at times: economies falling apart, civilians getting killed, etc. But I like to think that I'm doing my small part by bearing witness to some of these things and helping people better understand them.

fuck_off_ireland1 karma

Andy, I just wanted to say thanks to you and NPR. NPR is a part of every morning, and you and the others do great work.

So thanks!

acarvin2 karma


F6x1 karma

How are you handling the Mars Volta breakup?

acarvin1 karma

Listening to Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt as I type this. What a kick-ass song.

acarvin1 karma

By listening to them right now and dusting off some At The Drive In recordings.

Kalibrering1 karma

Is Jack Speer a cool Guy?

acarvin1 karma

Wish I knew him better. Definitely seems like a cool guy, though. But there are some really awesome people here. I just love being in an environment where everyone is smarter than you and knows more about the world than you ever will. It's mind-boggling how talented they are.

outofocus1 karma

What a coincidence, I was just listening to an interview with you on NPR yesterday. You should have titled your IAMA, "I am Andy Carvin, I am not a social media guru, but I use social media to cover..." :).

No questions, but I want to say that I enjoyed your interview yesterday and I appreciate what you do.

acarvin1 karma

Heh, thanks, I appreciate it. #NOGURUS

MechCow1 karma

The book "The Net Delusion" makes a pretty convincing case that social media's effects have been at best highly exaggerated in the west, at worst totally fabricated to push a particular agenda that shows magical western technologies as helping out those in revolutionary positions. In particular it claims very few tweets during the Tehran riots actually came from those inside Iran and were mostly western bloggers sharing information from outside. Have you read this book and if so what do you make of it? Is there hard evidence that twitter is actually being used by revolutionaries?

acarvin1 karma

I think that was true in Iran, but there's plenty of evidence how much social media has been used during the Arab Spring. It's been very well documented. What can be quibbled over, though, is what role, if any, social media has played in impacting the revolutions, either for the short term or long term. And the answers to those questions are going to vary widely depending on what country you look at and what aspect of the revolutions you're referring to.

Timcast1 karma

Hey Andy! I was on a panel with your brother at SXSW last year. You guys rock. Keep up the good work!

acarvin2 karma


SlipStreamWork1 karma

So in the recent Verge article the main picture was you on a computer using Windows XP. Have you thought about upgrading, or is there a story behind that?

acarvin2 karma

That's the computer that happens to sit at my desk; standard issue for NPR staff. The computer I use 99% of the time is a MacBook Pro; that's what the third monitor is for. I haven't touched the XP in about four months.

cmallard20111 karma

Is it disappointing when you look at how the arab world uses social media to create real change whereas western social media is largely confined to "cats"? Don't get me wrong I love cats, but it feels like we aren't completely maximizing its capabilities.

acarvin4 karma

I love cats, too; I posted my first cat video back in '03. I'd also argue that plenty of people in the Arab world tweet about cats, TV shows, bad customer service, and what they had for breakfast. It's just we focus on the newsworthy stuff they produce when it happens. And most of the time in the US, the average person isn't caught in the middle of a big news story, so they talk about whatever interests them. But when news does happen, many westerns jump in and help cover it.

AlephBaTa1 karma

What's your opinion on the Syrian Civil War? Bahraini uprising?

acarvin7 karma

I don't do opinions. I cover them.

Wossoo1 karma

From what you have seen, do you believe that revolutions require external support (for example from states like the UK, US, France etc) or do you believe they can happen independently?

acarvin4 karma

The dynamics in each situation are different. It's also hard to second-guess once a decision has been made.

b4theprophet0 karma

Do you think the " revolutions " are for the better or worst? It seems Islamic fundamentalist are simply replacing dictators.

What happens in 10 years if these new " governments " take a turn for the radical. Will it be more shock and awe, paving the way for IMF and corporate oil?

acarvin3 karma

I prefer to leave that kind of analysis to the pundits. But generally speaking, the revolutions have given Islamists an opportunity in politics that they lacked before.

Bonesnapcall0 karma

Does the direction that Egypt is heading in worry you that all the efforts to oust Mubarak will be in vain?

acarvin2 karma

I prefer to tell the stories of people who are or aren't worried rather than doing the worrying myself. Not really my role to do that.

jbrendlinger61520 karma

why are the chinese and russians trying to go to war with the us

acarvin4 karma

They are?

lilmaniiac-1 karma

Why did you think anyone would care about an AMA from you?

acarvin1 karma

Because people had asked me if I ever planned on doing one. Sometimes a threaded discussion is a much easier way to discuss things than a twitter stream, so I figured what the hell, let's try it. Worse thing that would happen would show up or ask any questions.