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Hurricane Sandy and verification: 4 key takeaways from Storyful Hangout

Copyright: Image by MTA Long Island Rail Road on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Hurricane Sandy presented a challenge to journalists using social media channels: how can you be sure that the content you are seeing is accurate?

Storyful, an organisation that specialises in finding verifiable news on social media, hosted a Google+ Hangout yesterday on verification during Hurricane Sandy.

The guests were Adam Blenford, the online news editor at BBC News; Liz Heron, social media director at the Wall Street Journal; Aine Kerr, the US politics director at Storyful; Tom Phillips, the international editor at MSN, Craig Silverman, who writes the Regret the Error blog at Poynter; Paul Watson, chief technical officer at Storyful and a group of students from Griffith College Dublin.

Journalism.co.uk was listening in. Here are four main points that came out of the discussion:

1. Users care about the accuracy of the information they receive from news organisations.

Adam Blenford said: “If they don’t think they’re worried about verification per se as a concept, they’re worried about the trustworthiness of the organisations that they’re using to get their news from.”

Liz Heron said every time the Wall Street Journal posts a photo on Facebook – which will have first been verified by the news outlet – users will still question the authenticity of the image, even if taken by a professional photographer.

“There’s such high suspicion now among our readers and viewers that I think it’s really important, especially in a situation like covering Sandy, to be really obvious and clear about the fact that this has been verified. There’s huge suspicion out there about this kind of stuff, even for professional photography,” she said.

2. To get people interested in the verification process, it has to be as compelling as the fake content.

Craig Silverman mentioned The Atlantic, which embedded a “verdict” on images, and Buzzfeed, which put together a quiz on real and fake images, as examples of organisations that had done something a bit different with their verification processes.

“This is content people are really interested in, it’s useful to them but there are also ways to make it fun and interesting. I think that’s actually been very key to helping the real images or at least the verdict on the fake ones spread,” he said.

Tom Phillips agreed, saying there is a “need to make the verification process as compelling in terms of content as the thing it’s verifying, because if we’re not doing that then it’s going to get lost.”

3. Journalists should be wary of broadcasting debunked fake content because there is a risk users may misinterpret it as genuine.

Craig Silverman added: “The risk that is always there, however, [is] that when you actually put that tweet out there, even if you’re noting it as false, there are people who are still going to read it and who then may actually retweet it without that context of saying it’s false”.

4. A few fundamental journalistic principles can help ensure you are not fooled by fake content.

Liz Heron gave the example of using the live video stream of the New York Stock Exchange, which proved that the rumour it was under three feet of water was untrue. She added that often the simplest way to verify something was to contact the original source directly.

Adam Blenford also added that “it appears that the closer and more finely-tuned your Twitter lists and your Twitter stream was towards New York on the night of the storm, the less likely you were to get hoaxed”.

“That’s the old adage if you can get closer to the story, you’re more likely to get it right.”

In other news…

While on the subject of social media sharing, Twitter stated on Sunday (9 December) that Instagram photos would no longer appear integrated on the platform. Tweets will instead only link to an Instagram picture. In a statement published by the BBC, Instagram chief executive Kevin Systrom said it was felt that “the best experience is for us to link back to where the content lives”.

Markham Nolan, managing editor at Storyful, told Journalism.co.uk this was an “inconvenience” for journalists specialising in verification.

“It was very easy to click in and out, have a quick glance and do the initial check,” he said.

But he added that he did not think it would “slow down the deeper verification”.

“It just means you have to click out of your Twitter stream every time you want to see an Instagram picture to see if it’s useful or see if it’s something worth verifying,” he added.

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Guardian on using Gaddafi corpse images: ‘Complaints arrived within the hour’

The use of the image of Muammar Gaddafi’s corpse in coverage of his death caused much controversy earlier this month, as newsrooms across the country made decisions about which images to use and with what prominence. At the time newspapers and broadcasters swiftly sought to explain the reasoning for their decisions to their audience, with the BBC’s Steve Herrmann issuing a statement to say the BBC News site would be “working on ways to ensure that we can give appropriate warnings on our website when we think images from the news are especially disturbing”.

And the debate continues, with the Guardian’s readers’ editor Chris Elliot yesterday questioning the way in which the newspaper had used the images of Muammar Gaddafi’s corpse after it emerged he had been killed.

In a column published yesterday Elliot revealed that almost 60 readers wrote to him or the letters page to complain about the use of the images “as gratuitous, exploitative or triumphalist” while others posted criticisms online.

Elliot concludes that while he agreed with the decision to publish at the time, he is now “less convinced” about the manner in which they were used.

The scale of the photo on the newspaper front page of 21 October and prominent picture use on the website took us too close to appearing to revel in the killing rather than reporting it. And that is something that should feature in our deliberations the next time – and there will be a next time – such a situation arises.

Interestingly he added that in 2006, when the Guardian published images of Saddam Hussein after being hanged, it received more than 200 complaints.

However the Guardian’s media commentator Roy Greenslade does not agree with Elliot, arguing that “it was a valid journalistic response to this most extraordinary of news stories to publish the picture and to publish it big on the front page”.

It was news – gruesome, grisly, ghastly (choose your own shock adjective) news – and the images told a story of brutality and mob chaos that could not be explained in words alone.

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10,000 Words: news site screenshots from 9/11, ten years on

September 12th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Online Journalism

The 10,000 Words blog has created a slideshow of screenshots showing the homepages of 45 newspaper, broadcaster, blog and other online news outlet websites on Sunday, the ten year anniversary of 9/11, showing their coverage between 10am and 11am Pacific Standard Time.

There is also an original gallery of shots which were captured between 12.30am and 1.30am PST (8.30am to 9.30am GMT) here.

Read more on 10,000 Words.

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WikiLeaks satire takes first prize at cartoon awards

April 12th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Awards, Editors' pick

A cartoon satirizing the 2010 WikiLeak’s story has been named the winner of the World Press Cartoon awards.

WikiLeaks and Uncle Sam, created by Australian artist David Rowe, was awarded Grand Prix at the 7th edition of the awards.

As well as being named overall winner, Rowe’s work took first place in the Cartoon Editorial category. In the same category, Polish Pawel Kuczynski came second with ‘Made in China’ and Alecus, a Mexican cartoonist living in El Salvador, took 3rd prize with ‘Chilean Miners’.

See the full image at this link.

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Tracy Boyer: From photography to multimedia – making the transition

March 17th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Multimedia, Photography

This presentation by multimedia journalist Tracy Boyer below looks at making the transition from photography to multimedia. While the slideshow is missing the original audio from her presentation covers when and how using multimedia can enhance your images:


(via Professor Kobre’s Guide to Videojournalism)

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