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London riots: Five ways journalists used online tools

Since riots started in London on Saturday, 6 August, journalists – and many non-journalists, who may or may not think of themselves as citizen reporters – have been using a variety of online tools to tell the story of the riots and subsequent cleanup operation.

Here are five examples:

1. Maps

James Cridland, who is managing director of Media UK, created a Google Map – which has had more than 25,000 views.

Writing on his blog (which is well worth a read), Cridland explains how and why he verified the locations of riots before manually adding reports of unrest to his map one by one.

I realised that, in order for this map to be useful, every entry needed to be verified, and verifiable for others, too. For every report, I searched Google News, Twitter, and major news sites to try and establish some sort of verification. My criteria was that something had to be reported by an established news organisation (BBC, Sky, local newspapers) or by multiple people on Twitter in different ways.

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk, he explained there was much rumour and many unsubstantiated reports on Twitter, particularly about Manchester where police responded by repeatedly announcing they had not had reports of copycat riots.

A lot of people don’t know how to check and verify. It just shows that the editor’s job is still a very safe one.

Hannah Waldram, who is community co-ordinator at the Guardian, “used Yahoo Pipes, co-location community tools and Google Maps to create a map showing tweets generated from postcode areas in London during the riots”. A post on the OUseful blog explains exactly how this is done.

Waldram told Journalism.co.uk how the map she created last night works:

The map picks up on geotagged tweets using the #Londonriots hashtag in a five km radium around four post code areas in London where reports of rioting were coming in.

It effectively gives a snapshot of tweets coming from a certain area at a certain time – some of the tweets from people at home watching the news and some appearing to be eyewitness reports of the action unfolding.

2. Video

Between gripping live reporting on Sky News, reporter Mark Stone uploaded footage from riots in Clapham to YouTube (which seems to have inspired a Facebook campaign to make him prime minister).

3. Blogs

Tumblr has been used to report the Birmingham riots, including photos and a statement from West Midlands Police with the ‘ask a question’ function being put to hugely effective use.

4. Curation tools

Curation tools such as Storify, used to great effect here by Joseph Stashko to report on Lewisham; Storyful, used here to tell the story of the cleanup; Bundlr used here to report the Birmingham riots, and Chirpstory, used here to show tweets on the unravelling Tottenham riots, have been used to curate photos, tweets, maps and videos.

5. Timelines

Channel 4 News has this (Flash) timeline, clearly showing when the riots were first reported and how unrest spread. Free tools such as Dipity and Google Fusion Tables (see our how to: use Google Fusion Tables guide) can be used to create linear (rather than mapped) timelines.

If you have seen any impressive interactive and innovative coverage of the riots please add a link to the comments below.

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#bbcsms: A round-up of the best blogs on the BBC Social Media Summit

Various delegates from the BBC Social Media Summit last week have spent the weekend writing blog posts reflecting on the two-day event.

If you are looking for a concise round-up of the main points of the day, go to Martin Belam’s notes from the BBC Social Media Summit.

He explains Al Jazeera‘s defence of criticism it received for being part of the story of the Arab uprisings, not just reporting it. He also reports that the New York Times is to experiment with its Twitter feed so that it becomes “a fully human experience without the automated headlines being pumped through it”.

If you want more detail, see Adam Tinworth’s series of live blogs, like this one on the session on technology and innovation.

Dave Wyllie also provides a good session-by-session summary in his core values post. He also reflects:

I left with the feeling that journalism is moving at great speed with some promising entrepreneurs and future figures emerging in their own startups. The rest are working in established businesses or broadcasting.

It’s UK based print I’m worried about, many didn’t even turn up. Maybe they didn’t get the invite or maybe they thought we were full of shit.

The most thought-provoking blog is from Mary Hamilton in her blog #bbcsms: what I learned about ego, opinion, art and commerce. She takes up the repeated use of the term ‘mainstream’.

Perhaps a more honest hashtag would be #bbcmsmsms. But it’s also telling: those who were invited to participate, and thus set the agenda and drive change, were not social media people from the Sun, or from Archant’s local divisions, or from the Financial Times. Of course it’s easier for organisations working with likeminded people to reach a consensus, but in doing so we miss the chance to learn from people outside the echo chamber.

So, like Wyllie, Hamilton also notes the absence of the UK regional news organisations. She goes on to say that issues raised may have been different if they had been there.

Esra Dogramaci of Al Jazeera faced some very hostile questioning on the topic of training people to use citizen journalism tools. Will Perrin of Talk About Local did not. Of course there are hundreds of reasons why the responses were different – not least the potential harm that people in Arabic dictatorships can come to as a result of doing journalism – but one of them is territory. Al Jazeera is invading the “mainstream”. Talk About Local is invading the regional space. If there had been many Archant, Johnston or Trinity Mirror folks there, I think Will would have faced some tricky interrogation too.

She makes some interesting points on the ‘fight to be first’:

There’s still significant opposition to this notion from both individual journalists and news organisations. We fear being scooped. Outside the financial trade press, where being first by a few seconds can move markets, the business model of being first is largely an illusion. In fact, the business model is in being the most widely read, and being first is no longer a guarantee that you will gather the most eyeballs for your effort.

The fight to be first stifles innovation, because it erases partner contributions. Traditional media have always done this with stories. Now we are seeing it with innovations, too – even with innovative ways of using familiar tools. The NYT can commit to their experiment of turning off the auto-feed on their Twitter account; this isn’t new, and it’s in part because other news organisations have succeeded that the NYT can experiment without too much fear of failure.

At the end of the day, Alan Rusbridger claimed that the Guardian invented live-blogging. That stakes a claim, draws a line around an innovation that is simply a new way of using a tool, that has existed for nearly as long as the tool has existed. And suddenly, we are fighting over the origin of the thing, rather than celebrating its existence and finding new ways to use it. Suddenly it’s all about the process, about who scooped who, not about the meaning of the events themselves.

Round and round we go.

In his post #bbcsms and the ethic of the link Joseph Stashko discusses circular arguments. He says that one of sessions adopted the wrong starting point:

So when the session titled ‘Can startups compete with mainstream media?’ began I was somewhat puzzled.

The discussion that followed was very good, but the question was framed in the wrong way. It attempted to compare two different things. They shouldn’t be looking to compete with each other, because it takes us back to a bloggers vs journalists style debate again – the two should look to complement each other rather than compete.

It’s a mindset which seemed to be uncomfortably pervasive throughout the day. As someone remarked to me afterwards “I thought we were over that sort of debate…apparently not”.

He goes on to say:

In 2011 I don’t think we should be asking the questions that are based around what the roles of startups and mainstream media are. Mainstream media have recognisable brands, huge manpower, contacts, prestige and reach. Startups are more nimble, can specialise easily and can get things done quicker.

When I want to start work on a new project, I don’t identify someone who can do things that I can’t and then try and learn all their skills myself – I ask them to come and help me. It’s madness that we’re still having to debate this, but possibly appropriate given that it was held at the BBC.

He asks three questions of the point of such conferences:

How many more case studies of Twitter do we really need?
How many more examples of how you can harness the wisdom of crowds?
And how many more discussions about the futility of mainstream media building their own versions of existing services rather than employing the ethic of the link to connect people to knowledge?

The Media Blog also asks a question in its post journalism, is it ever ‘just a numbers game’? Here it’s worth noting Wyllie’s summary of the session which explains that “the room seemed to divide into two camps: live by your stats to influence your content OR ignore stats for they are perverse and influence you in the wrong ways”.

The Media Blog takes the example of the Daily Mail’s website.

And while it is difficult to cast either extreme of the Mail’s split personality as quality journalism, it is clear that simply chasing clicks with pics and key words is not. For example, a Google search for US socialite and ‘home movie’ star “Kim Kardashian” on the Daily Mail website returns 186,000 results. A search for “Kim Kardashian”+”bikini” returns just 1,000 fewer – 185,000 results – which is still more than results for “David Cameron” and “Gordon Brown” put together.

But asking if journalism and web traffic is ‘just a numbers game’ the post acknowledges that not all stories generate hundreds – let alone hundreds of thousands – of clicks and questions the “business sense” of editorial decisions in only selecting stories which generate hits which “is to assume that all important news would also have the good grace to be popular news”.

Publishers just need to remember the subtle differences between getting more readers to their content and producing content purely to bring in more readers. Somewhere between the two lies a dividing line marked ‘quality journalism’.

So what about the future? Mary Hamilton suggests an opening up:

We need people who take elements not just from journalism but also from other areas: user experience design, anthropology, web culture, psychology, history, games, literature, art, statistics. We need to interrogate journalism with tools outside the journalistic sphere; we need not just to borrow from other disciplines but exchange with them.

And comment below Hamilton’s post expands this further:

Your last point is a valid, and reflects what I took out of the day; innovators and non-mainstream thinkers are looking to be involved, traditional outlets are sitting back and waiting for invites. They should be the ones sending out the innovations.

“With capability comes responsibility”, I believe was one of the finer quotes of the day.

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#Followjourn @josephstash /journalist

April 21st, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Recommended journalists

Who? Joseph Stashko

Where? Joseph is co-editor at Blog Preston. He writes a blog about journalism and technology.

Twitter? @josephstash

Just as we like to supply you with fresh and innovative tips every day, we’re recommending journalists to follow online too. They might be from any sector of the industry: please send suggestions (you can nominate yourself) to sarah.booker at journalism.co.uk; or to @journalismnews.

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Joseph Stashko: Why 2011 ‘should’ be a great year for young journalists

January 11th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Jobs, Online Journalism

Student journalist Joseph Stashko has posted this morning on why, if you’re under 25 and an aspirational journalist, now should be easier than ever to get a job in the media. He argues that the technological shifts that have affected traditional print journalism have caused the route into the industry to change, and those who are happy to embrace the multi-media, web-savvy skills necessary for today’s journalism should be welcomed into the industry.

Of course you need traditional journalistic values in a 21st century newsroom, but for once the people being recruited at entry level know about how to adapt to the news landscape just as well as the people above them.

I’d even go as far in arguing that graduates are capable of knowing far more than their employer when it comes to how to approach modern news distribution. They don’t have the stigma and knowledge of the old way of doing things; this is a generation that has almost grown up entirely in the social culture of news and is glad of it. They’re selfless about their work, they want to listen to and engage their readers and produce exciting content.

Read the full post at this link.

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Journalism students, put down your pints and get into student media

August 3rd, 2010 | 12 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Training

Joseph Stashko is a journalism student at UCLan and co-editor of hyperlocal news site Blog Preston.

So, you’re studying journalism at university. You’ve paid your fees, bought a copy of McNae’s law, and at the end of three years slogging away at intros, pyramid writing and shorthand, you’ll become a journalist, right?

Obviously it’s a naive and unrealistic view. Getting a job in journalism is more difficult now than ever. And yet the industry saw a 24 per cent surge in applications for journalism courses last year, many of them undergraduate. Clearly people still want to be journalists, and the idea of a vocational degree is still considered attractive.

Considering the uptake in journalism courses, student media offices should be bursting at the seams. So why are so many journalism students unwilling to contribute to student media outlets?

The University of Central Lancashire, home to the first formal journalism course in the UK, currently offers more than 20 undergraduate and postgraduate courses. It has legions of journalism students at various stages in their career, with a wide range of skills and ideas. Yet the student newspaper, Pluto, is run by a skeleton crew.

Pluto’s news editor David Stubbings is hoping to hoping to refresh and improve student media at UCLan by redesigning the fortnightly paper and website and improving the means of communication to students.

“I think a lot of students arrive at university very excited and want to try and do everything. They’ll maybe write a bit but then just lapse and do the bare minimum, especially in first year,” he said.

He pointed out that the blame for a poorly staffed student media also lies with the editors, who should be encouraging more students to participate to avoid an elitist environment.

“Those who are heavily involved must make an effort to attract more contributors and crucially keep them interested. I think there are a lot of students who fail at doing that, so when you see the same writers names appear again and again people start to think that there’s no point trying to get involved.”

The outlook is, admittedly, bleak for nascent journalists. With all that’s written about mass redundancies, newspaper profit going into freefall, and seasoned journalists being laid off, you’d forgive a journalism student for wanting to crawl back into halls and stay there.

But I’d suggest the opposite. Student media, if done well, can offer a forum to throw around ideas (no matter how far-fetched), collaborate with like minded people, and practice journalism that is probably far closer to the romantic ideal of a roving reporter than any entry level job.

Journalism students have a lot to offer in an industry that is constantly in a state of flux. While interning at a national newspaper, I recall pointing out to a senior editor how to integrate his articles into Twitter, engage the readers and help tell a story better with data visualisation and diagrams. Skills which my generation take for granted are still thought of as innovative by many senior journalists, and what students lack in experience they can make up for with imagination and a little creative nous.

Student media can, and should foster this. At worst it can be self indulgent, and have the best interests of its writers, not its readers, at heart. But at its best it can be a melting pot of new ideas, encouraging experimentation and unusual content, all the while in the stable incubation stage of higher education.

In this uncertain time, journalism students can hold the key to unlocking a lot of different possibilities for the future of the profession. So lose your inhibitions, put down your pints, and get involved in your student media.

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Hyperlocals, regional press, and the ‘them and us’ attitude

July 1st, 2010 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Hyperlocal

Interesting blog post from Joseph Stashko, co-editor of local news site Blog Preston, where he highlights what he thinks are the biggest issues surrounding ‘hyperlocal’ news networks.

One of his points is the relationship between regional press and local sites.

Not all bloggers are reactionary, unsubstantiated wannabe journalists, and not all regional media journalists view the internet as an evil contraption. We need to get beyond this immature view that still persists.

Rather than two very separate platforms, he would like to see greater integration between the two, a ‘best-of-both-worlds’ situation.

What I’d like to see is some kind of co-operation between traditional and online media. This has been done in some places, but not enough, and not to a standard where both parties equally benefit. Too often, articles are written deriding ‘the other side’, making snide cheap shots and I don’t think anyone can afford to be making enemies right now. How about providing a space on regional newspaper websites for these new journalists to cover their small beat? Or even integrate into the print edition, maybe with a postcode specific opinion article once a week.

Read his post in full here…

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