Journalisted is an independent, not-for-profit website built to make it easier for you, the public, to find out more about journalists and what they write about. It is run by the Media Standards Trust, a registered charity set up to foster high standards in news on behalf of the public, and funded by donations from charitable foundations. Each week Journalisted produces a summary of the most covered news stories, most active journalists and those topics falling off the news agenda, using its database of UK journalists and news sources.
Riots, Premier League kick-off, and continuing debt crises
for the week ending Sunday 14 August
This week’s undisputed lead story was the rioting across England
New Premier League season, US and Eurozone debt crises, and Syrian fighting covered lots
New Tibetan PM, alleged Zimbabwean ‘torture’ camp and Brazilian corruption covered little
Riots and their aftermath, starting in Tottenham and spreading across London before hitting Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Gloucester, Leicester, Wolverhampton and elsewhere, 2,097 articles
Jeremy Irons’ comments, that ‘If a man puts his hand on a woman’s bottom, any woman worth her salt can deal with it’, 18 articles vs. Mormon leader Warren Jeffs is jailed for life for child sexual assault offences, 17 articles
In a blog post today (12 August), information architect at the Guardian, Martin Belam, calls on journalists to make the most of the data now available in relation to the riots which took place this week.
He says using the data is “vital” and the resulting journalism will have the power to “help us untangle the truth from those prejudiced assumptions”. But he adds about the importance of ensuring the data is not misinterpreted in time to come.
The impact of the riots is going to be felt in data-driven stories for months and years to come. I’ve no doubt that experienced data crunchers like Simon Rogers or Conrad Quilty-Harper will factor it into their work, but I anticipate that in six months time we’ll be seeing stories about a sudden percentage rise in crime in Enfield or Central Manchester, without specific reference to the riots. The journalists writing them won’t have isolated the events of the last few days as exceptions to the general trend.
… There can be genuine social consequences to the misinterpretation of data. If the postcodes in Enfield become marked as a place where crime is now more likely as a result of one night of violence, then house prices could be depressed and insurance costs will rise, meaning the effects of the riots will still be felt long after broken windows are replaced. It is the responsibility of the media to use this data in a way that helps us understand the riots, not in a way that prolongs their negative impact.
This followed a blog post by digital strategist Kevin Anderson back on Sunday, when he discussed how the circumstances provide an opportunity for data journalists to work with social scientists and use data to test speculated theories, with reference to the data journalism which took place after the 1967 riots in Detroit.
… I’m sure that we’ll see hours of speculation on television and acres of newsprint positing theories. However, theories need to be tested. The Detroit riots showed that a partnership amongst social scientists, foundations, the local community and journalists can prove or disprove these theories and hopefully provide solutions rather than recriminations.
When the riots broke out in London and beyond last weekend, the press worked hard to keep up with the latest accounts and rumours circulating. And it was not just the national press and local papers bidding to bring audiences the latest from the heart of the action, the riots also proved an extraordinary experience for student journalists keen to flex their online reporting muscles.
On the fourth night of riots in the city and beyond, Journalism.co.uk caught up with MA journalism student at Brunel University Gaz Corfield, editor of hyperlocal site the West Londoner. Corfield and his team of contributors produced a live-blog of the events on the WordPress blog which, according to Corfield, enjoyed a tremendous 1 million views in just 24 hours (see graph below).
Below Corfield explains how the team approached coverage of the events, why he thinks the live blogging formula worked so well, and how him and his team of contributors helped verify and check reports.
Why a live-blog?
From the feedback we’ve had it seems that speed and accuracy of coverage is what makes the liveblog format popular. Full length news stories are great for catching up on events when you’re having a leisurely read about them the day afterwards. However, when the situation is fluid and still developing, readers want immediate updates. It takes time even to write up a NIB and you may not have enough information to pad out a story. Devoting a separate page on your website to four and a half lines with a break in the middle isn’t very informative. Some of our readers were interested in the earlier reports and with the liveblog format those are easily accessible just by scrolling down the page.
What challenges did you face while covering the riots, both in terms of safety and technological?
Our people on the ground have mainly been friends and volunteers who got in touch and offered their services. The vast majority of what we’re doing is curating reports from Twitter but having our own people on location has helped. One of our contributors, Sarah Henry, was in Hackey on Tuesday and was briefly caught up the violence there but got away unscathed – she tells me that the BBC reporter next to her was hit by a bottle.
Twitter, Twitpic and Yfrog have all been essential to our services and I really cannot recommend TweetDeck enough; the ability to set up live-updating searches was a true godsend. The biggest challenge, though, has been keeping the updates going out onto the site. You can have all the people and apps in the world bringing you information but at the end of the day, someone’s got to type them up!
What made your coverage stand out from others?
Speed, accuracy and collation of information from the ground, sifting between rumours and facts. Debunking false rumours, where we felt confident enough to do so, also built up our readers’ trust quickly. We weren’t afraid to categorise our reports – if we had sketchy information about something, we’d tell our readers “this report is unconfirmed” and work as quickly as we could to either confirm or deny it.
We also made a conscious choice not to label the people we were reporting on, even though our sources mentioned vigilantes, ethnic groups and political groups. Given the already heightened situation I felt it would be irresponsible to put out sensitive information we couldn’t directly check ourselves, so we stuck to just reporting movements of people. I think our readers appreciated that; our coverage was seen as being purely factual without any speculation, and therefore more valuable than other sources. I refused to report rumours about intended targets, which I think reassured a lot of people.
Rapid and relevant updates are what seems to be driving the traffic – at the end of Tuesday night/Wednesday morning the traffic was dropping off as there simply wasn’t anything new to report on. We also had the huge advantage of being the first liveblog to have up-to-the-minute reports. At the beginning of the riots there were repeated rumours that there was a news blackout, and many people were expressing frustration at their usual go-to news outlets being behind the curve.
How were you verifying breaking news/images/video etc?
We put a lot of trust in images. Provided they were tweeted alongside a location-specific hashtag we took them seriously – although this did go slightly awry when someone produced fake pictures of the London Eye on fire! Videos more or less spoke for themselves – either you can recognise local landmarks, or you can’t. Google Street View was useful for verifying images and videos in less frantic moments.
Sorting through tweets was harder – although we had our trusted sources out on the ground at the beginning, as the night progressed we had to read through public Tweets and decide what was real and what was just rumour. If we had a lot of similar (but not identical) reports of activity in a given area, we tended to treat that as reliable. However, that did get confusing towards the small hours of Wednesday morning because our own information was immediately being picked up and distributed by Twitter users in the areas we were trying to learn more about. Our biggest challenge was filtering out retweets because they clogged our information flow.
How did you use social media to further your reporting?
We used Twitter and Facebook. One person dedicated to running each, plus myself on the liveblog. It did get quite tricky deconflicting information going out from both sources. When I first built the site I set our Facebook page’s updates to autopost on Twitter, which later made us wonder where some of our own tweets were coming from! Close co-ordination kept the feeds unique and interesting, though.
We established a conversation with our readers on Facebook, using our page there to respond to queries about riots in peoples’ local areas. Our Twitter feed was pushing out shortened versions of the liveblog updates, with regular links to the liveblog page. In quieter periods we also published our Twitter username and asked for tip-offs to be directed at that, which worked well. Surprisingly, we also received a large volume of tip-offs through the email contact form on our website; you don’t really think of email as being a form of social media but clearly it has its place.
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.
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:
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.
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.