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Questions on use of social media during London riot coverage

Over on his blog, Andy Dickinson, who teaches digital and online journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, reflects on a question he posed via Twitter last night, while monitoring activity on the platform in relation to the violence taking place in London and beyond.

He said his question was prompted by Tweets from journalists outside London stating that nothing was happening on their patch. But other Twitter users were quick to cast doubt on his statement.

His blog post details the points made, but one of their points was that the value of what a journalist reports is not always about news but the provision of information. That, as a trusted source, journalists could let the online community know whether or not there was substance in rumours circulating on sites such as Twitter, that violence was building elsewhere.

Ultimately Dickinson “held up his hands” (via a hashtag), and his subsequent blog post today (9 August), reflecting on the issue, and some elements of the argument he still stands by, gives some food for thought about the use of social media by journalists in these sorts of situations.

Despite protestations of its importance ‘no news’ statements like that would never make the front page or head of a bulletin.  As Neil Macdonald pointed out that they where [sic] more information than news. Journalism as a source of information – very valid.

A few tweets did quote authoritative voices – police etc. That was better. Some proper information in there. Many did not.

Online video journalist Adam Westbrook also offers his thoughts in this blog post, on what he calls the “messy” situation for the media using social media/user generated content. He got caught up in the so-called “mess” when retweeting video footage which was originally linked to the wrong location.

On the plus side, I do think real-time web’s ability to self correct is extraordinary. My blunderous retweet was corrected within five minutes. If you don’t mind taking stern words from other users, it’s a rock solid facet to the platform.

However, Twitter being used by journalists, who (hopefully!) question sources and try to verify, is one thing. But non-journalists aren’t necessarily as skeptical of information. A rumour to a journalist could be read as fact by someone else, especially people who are scared.

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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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AllThingsD: Replace ‘real-time’ with ‘right-time’ for the web

April 16th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

Right-time – a new buzzword for information and news on the web, suggests AllThingsD. The term was coined by a speaker at Twitter’s Chirp Conference earlier this week, David Pakman:

The ‘right-time’ Web is more valuable in some cases than the real-time web. Real-time data is only interesting when I’m actually looking for that information. There’s no service today that’s giving information when it’s really needed. If your company is doing that…I brought my chequebook

Full story at this link…

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Paper.li launches Twitter newspapers

Paper.li, a new (but not officially affiliated) Twitter application, has launched in alpha.

It creates a ‘newspaper’ using links that have been shared by both the specified user and the people they follow – from the past 24 hours.

Paper.li calls the Twitter account the ‘editor-in-chief’ and the people being followed by the account the ‘contributors’.

It comes with a small disclaimer: “As we are in alpha, we may have to turn off any new creations on short notice to make sure we can correctly scale our systems.”

The user’s live stream is shown at the side of the page and the main page displays content around related subjects. Google ads are placed at the right hand side.

Here’s a section of what the @journalismnews’ page, or paper, looks like. I wasn’t sure what to expect given that we’re following quite a diverse mix of people, but it’s actually quite tailored to our patch, journalism and media, with a live #journalism stream as well. But as you scroll down, the links become less relevant, with a ‘Switzerland’ section at the bottom of our page.

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Today programme interviews journalist from French social media experiment

February 5th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Social media and blogging

The Today programme has a brief interview with Janic Tremblay, journalist for Radio Canada, one of five journalists from French-speaking radio stations involved in a five-day experiment this week using social media sites and networks as their only source of news.

Tremblay explains the set-up of the project (which has been criticised by some media commentators), what they have learned so far and, in particular, the opportunities and challenges provided by using Twitter.

Listen to the short clip at this link.

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One Man and His Blog: Liveblogging or livetweeting?

Adam Tinworth looks at the positives and negatives of covering a live event with Twitter – and comes out with some handy suggestions for any journalists looking to use the tool for live coverage.

“The real time web is important, and significant. But that doesn’t mean that the old web, the archived, static web, isn’t still of value. Twitter coverage is dispersed, and fades away as the moment passes. Archive content has real utility as reference and grist for the conversational mill in the weeks that follow.”

Full post at this link…

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Publish2 Blog: Introducing ‘social journalism’ tools to Publish2

Proponent of link journalism Publish2 has introduced a set of new features aimed at ‘curating the real-time web’ for newsgathering and news coverage.

Referring to recent coverage of the Iranian election protests and the growing use of tracking news on Twitter by monitoring hashtags, Publish2 now allows uses to aggregate, tag and repurpose Tweets as a widget or feed.

“Social Journalism has clear value for breaking news, to curate what’s already being shared on the real-time web,” writes founder Scott Karp.

Full post at this link…

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Media140: Twitter, newsgathering and trust

May 21st, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events, Social media and blogging

“We are putting a massive amount of trust in one platform here. Twitter is throttling this mechanism obviously for its own commercial ends (…) If we put so much of our newsgathering onto one platform we’re in real danger,” said Mike Butcher, TechCrunch UK editor, yesterday as part of a panel on the ’140-character story’.

While much of yesterday’s Media140 conference focused on best practice and how journalists can use microblogging tools such as Twitter, Butcher and his fellow panellists comments were a warning to news organisations tempted to jump on a social media bandwagon.

As journalists, ‘we always want the next big thing, because it validates the fact that we’ve written about them’, said fellow speaker Bill Thompson, referring to his own experience as a freelance technology writer.

But, added Thompson, if ‘old media’ rules are applied too readily to new media, organisations will ‘miss the essential quality of what Twitter is doing’.

Some ‘old’ guidelines still apply, suggested BBC technology editor Darren Waters: “We cannot get into a world where the real-time web means the ‘not wrong for long’ era.”

Listening to yesterday’s panel the issue of the personal/professional divide when journalists enter social media or online communities – indeed how ‘social’ they can be on these platforms – is still a work in progress.
The BBC is still working on its editorial policy towards personal social media use by journalists (and after all ‘social media’ is not some fixed, homogenous lump) – it has set out some guidelines at this link – the corporation must consider its relationship with its audience and to what extent personal content is seen as representing the BBC.

But – as panellist Jon Gripton, senior editor at Sky News Online, suggested – in terms of following up reports on Twitter and social media, for example of breaking news events, the same journalistic attitude towards fact-checking and verification apply.

A mantra from Thompson: “I don’t believe anything I see or read on Twitter, it tells me where to go.”

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