It seems bizarre that journalists wouldn’t use many of the tools and media channels that are available. Surely, they could apply their traditional journalism skills and add social media and other media channels, such as blogs, to their reporting arsenal?
No one is asking journalists to throw away the tried and true ways of researching and verifying stories but to add new skills that will improve their reporting. Those new skills include curation and the use of media technologies to tell stories in ways that haven’t been told.
How to source a video
A great example of how journalists can verify social media sources and put together different types of content comes from journalist Mark Little, one of the founders of Storyful, a site that offers curation tools and a publishing platform.
Little has written an excellent post that draws on his 20 years experience as a reporter and he explains how he approaches the tricky issue of verification.
“Without a doubt, verification is the greatest challenge. It’s also the greatest opportunity for ‘social journalists’ willing to leave the confines of traditional news organisations and perhaps even create their own.”
He describes what he calls a “light-bulb moment” that occurred when he was working on a story about Egyptian protestors engaged in a pitched battle on a bridge across the Nile.
Our curators discovered the video on Facebook and quickly contacted Mohamed to confirm he was the original creator of this remarkable footage.
The team used Google earth to check the location of the bridge and Mohamed’s vantage point. Using social media channels Flickr and Panaramio, Storyful compared Mohamed’s video with other user generated content shot on ground level.
Finally, the curator asked Mohamed for his permission to upload the video to YouTube and pass it on news organisations. Mohamed sought only a credit in exchange for the free use of his video.
Over several months, Little managed to distill a procedure of how to verify video content from citizen reporters, into an easy to follow list:
- Review of the uploader’s history and location to see whether he/she has shared useful and credible content in the past, or if he/she is a “scraper,” passing other people’s content off a their own (location is a big clue: don’t trust uploaders in Japan to post video from Syria).
- Use of Google street view/maps/satellite imagery to help verify the locations in a video.
- Consultation of other news sources or validated user content to conﬁrm events in a video happened as they were described.
- Examination of key features in a video such as weather and background landscape to see if they match known facts on the ground.
- Translation of every word that comes with a video for additional context.
- Monitoring social media traffic to see who is sharing the content and what questions are being asked about it.
- Develop and maintain relationships with people within the community around the story.
This is a common sense approach to verifying content from sources that you don’t know. Yes, it does take some extra work but that’s what journalists are paid to do. Journalists should not be shunning social media.
Some training is available. For example, Krista Canfield at LinkedIn helps train journalists how to use LinkedIn as a reporting tool. She says she has trained journalists from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
Here is one of her tips for journalists researching stories on LinkedIn:
As a journalist, you may not want people to know that you’re following a company. If you want to follow companies in stealth mode, here’s what you do:
- Hover over your name in the top right hand corner of LinkedIn
- Click “Settings” when it appears in the drop down menu.
- On the next page, under, “Privacy Controls,” you should see a link that says, “Turn on/off your activity broadcasts.” Click that link.
- Uncheck the box next to, “Let people know when you change your profile, make recommendations, or follow companies.”
A reporter is a curator…
A reporter can seen as a curator of the information contained in a news story. The reporter decides what content, from which sources, and in what order, should be included in the news; the story then creates the context for the news.
In pre-internet times reporters published a story and they couldn’t easily see how it was consumed and discussed. In the online world we are spoilt with many ways to measure readers, and see the effect of a story in different communities in near real time.
For example, I nearly always Tweet my headlines to my readers. Sometimes readers will retweet with a different headline, sometimes it’s a much better headline. There have been times that I’ve gone back and rewritten a story and changed the headline because my readers had picked out a better lead.
That’s just one small benefit to paying attention to social media and trusting your sources. Little says it well:
The only way a curator can ultimately sort news from noise is to join the social media conversation which emerges from news events. Not just listen, but engage directly, openly and honestly with the most authentic voices.
Every news event in the age of social media creates more than a conversation, it creates a community. When news breaks, a self-selecting network gathers to talk about the story. Some are witnesses – the creators of original content – others are amplifiers – passing that content on to a wider audience. And in every group are the filters, the people who everyone else looks to for judgement.
The reporter has to see themselves as part of this extended network of people — they all play a vital role in news gathering and publishing. They make the product better.
The team beyond the newsroom…
Journalists are used to working as part of a team–they are a cog in the production process, which includes editors, news editors, sub-editors, producers, photographers, layout designers, etc. No one works alone in the news business.
Journalists just need to get comfortable extending that team beyond the newsroom.
But that takes time, it takes time to “curate” your sources, because you have to establish levels of trust and connection. Trust takes time.
That’s why the sooner journalists start embracing social media and blogs, and learning some of the new toolsets, the better. The better for all of us too since we will get better and truer reporting, and higher quality content.
Quality content will stand out like a towering emerald skyscraper, high above the black waters of the unrelenting tsunami of mediocre content.
Here’s a reminder of what great reporting looks like: Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone: The People vs. Goldman Sachs Rolling Stone Politics.
They weren’t murderers or anything; they had merely stolen more money than most people can rationally conceive of, from their own customers, in a few blinks of an eye. But then they went one step further. They came to Washington, took an oath before Congress, and lied about it.
We need more journalists like Matt Taibbi, who are able to tackle big, and hugely important issues.
If journalists can extend their editorial team beyond the newsroom, and include the citizen journalists, and the “amplifiers,” etc, they will become far more effective, and we might get a new generation of highly skilled journalist, a new generation of Matt Taibbis…