Tag Archives: Media Standards Trust

From alpha users to a man in Angola: Adventures in crowdsourcing and journalism

Yesterday’s Media Standards Trust data and news sourcing event presented a difficult decision early on: Whether to attend “Crowdsourcing and other innovations in news sourcing” or “Open government data, data mining, and the semantic web”. Both sessions looked good.

I thought about it for a bit and then plumped for crowdsourcing. The Guardian’s Martin Belam did this:

Belam may have then defied a 4-0 response in favour of the data session, but it does reflect the effect of networks like Twitter in encouraging journalists – and others – to seek out the opinion or knowledge of crowds: crowds of readers, crowds of followers, crowds of eyewitnesses, statisticians, or anti-government protestors.

Crowdsourcing is nothing new, but tools like Twitter and Quora are changing the way journalists work. And with startups based on crowdsourcing and user-generated content becoming more established, it’s interesting to look at the way that they and other news organisations make use of this amplified door-to-door search for information.

The MST assembled a pretty good team to talk about it: Paul Lewis, special projects editor, the Guardian; Paul Bradshaw, professor of journalism, City University and founder of helpmeinvestigate.com; Turi Munthe, founder, Demotix; and Bella Hurrell, editor, BBC online specials team.

From the G20 protests to an oil field in Angola

Lewis is perhaps best known for his investigation into the death of Ian Tomlinson following the G20 protests, during which he put a call out on Twitter for witnesses to a police officer pushing Tomlinson to the ground. Lewis had only started using the network two days before and was, he recalled, “just starting to learn what a hashtag was”.

“It just seemed like the most remarkable tool to share an investigation … a really rich source of information being chewed over by the people.”

He ended up with around 20 witnesses that he could plot on a map. “Only one of which we found by traditional reporting – which was me taking their details in a notepad on the day”.

“I may have benefited from the prestige of breaking that story, but many people broke that story.”

Later, investigating the death of deportee Jimmy Mubenga aboard an airplane, Lewis again put a call out via Twitter and somehow found a man “in an oil field in Angola, who had been three seats away from the incident”. Lewis had the fellow passenger send a copy of his boarding pass and cross-checked details about the flight with him for verification.

But the pressure of the online, rolling, tweeted and liveblogged news environment is leading some to make compromises when it comes to verifying information, he claimed.

“Some of the old rules are being forgotten in the lure of instantaneous information.”

The secret to successful crowdsourcing

From the investigations of a single reporter to the structural application of crowdsourcing: Paul Bradshaw and Turi Munthe talked about the difficulties of basing a group or running a business around the idea.

Among them were keeping up interest in long-term investigations and ensuring a sufficient diversity among your crowd. In what is now commonly associated with the trouble that WikiLeaks had in the early days in getting the general public to crowdsource the verification and analysis of its huge datasets, there is a recognised difficulty in getting people to engage with large, unwieldy dumps or slow, painstaking investigations in which progress can be agonisingly slow.

Bradshaw suggested five qualities for a successful crowdsourced investigation on his helpmeinvestigate.com:

1. Alpha users: One or a small group of active, motivated participants.

2. Momentum: Results along the way that will keep participants from becoming frustrated.

3. Modularisation: That the investigation can be broken down into small parts to help people contribute.

4. Publicness: Publicity vía social networks and blogs.

5. Expertise/diversity: A non-homogenous group who can balance the direction and interests of the investigation.

The wisdom of crowds?

The expression “the wisdom of crowds” has a tendency of making an appearance in crowdsourcing discussions. Ensuring just how wise – and how balanced – those crowds were became an important part of the session. Number 5 on Bradshaw’s list, it seems, can’t be taken for granted.

Bradshaw said that helpmeinvestigate.com had tried to seed expert voices into certain investigations from the beginning, and encouraged people to cross-check and question information, but acknowledged the difficulty of ensuring a balanced crowd.

Munthe reiterated the importance of “alpha-users”, citing a pyramid structure that his citizen photography agency follows, but stressed that crowds would always be partial in some respect.

“For Wikipedia to be better than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it needs a total demographic. Everybody needs to be involved.”

That won’t happen. But as social networks spring up left, right, and centre and, along with the internet itself, become more and more pervasive, knowing how to seek out and filter information from crowds looks set to become a more and more important part of the journalists tool kit.

I want to finish with a particularly good example of Twitter crowdsourcing from last month, in case you missed it.

Local government press officer Dan Slee (@danslee) was sat with colleagues who said they “didn’t get Twitter”. So instead of explaining, he tweeted the question to his followers. Half an hour later: hey presto, he a whole heap of different reasons why Twitter is useful.

Media Standards Trust poses questions over Northern & Shell PCC exclusion

Following news that Richard Desmond’s publisher Northern & Shell had withdrawn all of its titles – including the Daily Mirror and OK! Magazine – from the PCC’s self regulatory system, the Media Standards Trust has posed the following open questions to Northern & Shell, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and the Press Board of Finance (PressBof). Republished here in full.

Northern & Shell

  • Will you guarantee to offer the same levels of protection to members of the public – such as families who have suffered a suicide – as you did when covered by the PCC code?
  • If a member of the public feels harassed by a journalist claiming to work for Northern & Shell, what should they do?
  • If you discover that a high profile public figure is pregnant before their 12 week scan, will you protect their privacy as other newspapers have agreed, or just publish the story?
  • Will your publications continue to write to the PCC Editorial Code, or is Northern & Shell opting out of all existing codes of self-regulation?
  • How should a reader go about making a complaint about something that is written in one of your titles?
  • When the Media Standards Trust wanted to make a complaint to the Daily Star, it found that the newspaper did not make public the name of its editor or a phone number for anything other than the newsdesk. Will the affected titles now make clear how to contact the editor and/or provide a clear internal complaints system?
  • What motivated your withdrawal and on what terms, if any, would you return to the system overseen by the PCC?

Press Complaints Commission

  • What impact will Northern & Shell’s withdrawal have on the PCC’s overall funding? Given that the amount contributed by national newspapers is kept secret, it is currently not possible for those outside the industry to work out what effect the exit will have.
  • Will the PCC be able to maintain the same level of service on a lower budget?
  • In its statement – and for the first time – the PCC revealed some of the publications not covered by the PCC (i.e. Northern & Shell publications). Will the PCC now publish a list of all those that do subscribe?
  • Was Northern & Shell clear as to what motivated its withdrawal? And, if so, is it clear under what terms it might return to the system?


  • This is the second time in two months that the PCC budget has been hit (the first being the libel settlement and costs in November 2010). PressBof was not transparent about the cost of the first (and did not respond to the Media Standards Trust’s letter requesting further information); will it now be transparent about the cost of the Northern & Shell withdrawal?
  • PressBof has previously refused to provide any assurances on what this means for the PCC’s level of service. Will it now provide assurances that the level of service the PCC provides will be maintained?
  • Given the importance of national newspaper contributions to the sustainability of the PCC, will PressBof now lift the secrecy surrounding those contributions, and publish information on who pays for the PCC and how much each pays?

Martin Moore, the director of the Media Standards Trust, said: “The withdrawal of Northern & Shell raises fundamental questions about the sustainability of the current system of self-regulation. The PCC and PressBof need to reassure the public that they will continue to have adequate avenues of complaint. Northern & Shell needs to be clear as to how it will, in future, fulfil its obligations to its readers and to the broader public.

“The Press Complaints Commission argues consistently that it exists as a better alternative – and deterrent to – statutory regulation. It now needs to explain what impact Northern & Shell’s withdrawal will have on the general public, and what it plans to do to ensure the comprehensiveness and sustainability of press self-regulation.”


The MST reports on its PCC Watch site that the PCC and PressBof have responded to their questions.

Journalisted Weekly: More snow, big leaks, and World Cup bid fury

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. From now on we’ll be cross-posting them on Journalism.co.uk.

for the week ending Sunday 5 December

  • An avalanche of snow and a WikiLeaks flood deluged the news
  • England’s World Cup bid failure generated anger at FIFA
  • Attempted assassinations in Tehran, and a US school hostage-taking received little attention

See new profiles for UK national newspaper editors on Journalisted

The Media Standards Trust’s unofficial database of PCC complaints is now available for browsing at www.complaints.pccwatch.co.uk

For the latest instalment of Tobias Grubbe, journalisted’s 18th century jobbing journalist, go to journalisted.com/tobias-grubbe

Covered lots

  • WikiLeaks, which released 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables into the public domain, 851 articles
  • More snow, with airports closing and Scotland worst affected, 699 articles
  • England’s bid losing out in the voting for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, causing outrage and sparking critcism of FIFA, 577 articles

Covered little

Political ups and downs (top ten by number of articles)

Celebrity vs serious

  • Ann Widdecombe, in the week she finally left ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, 43 articles vs. former MP David Chaytor, facing imprisonment on admitting expenses fraud, 25 articles
  • Cheryl Cole, who has been chosen to be a judge on America’s X Factor in £3 million deal, 98 articles vs. Haiti’s election, characterised as fraudulent and badly organised, 16 articles
  • Angelina Jolie, premiering her new film ‘The Tourist’, 32 articles vs. a huge forest fire in northern Israel, killing 41 and prompting aid from foreign fire crews including Palestinians, 29 articles

Who wrote a lot about…’Putin’s Russia’

Luke Harding – 17 articles (The Guardian), Andrew Osborn – 10 articles (The Telegraph), Tony Halpin – 8 articles (The Times), Sam Wallace – 7 articles (The Independent), Tom Parfitt – 6 articles (The Guardian)

Long form journalism

Journalisted Weekly: Student protests, Korean clashes and lots of snow

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. From now on we’ll be cross-posting them on Journalism.co.uk.

Student protests, Korean clashes, & lots of snow

For the week ending Sunday 28 November:

  • Snow coated the news as well as the country;
  • Students continued to occupy on-campus departments and the headlines;
  • A brewing North Korea and South Korea conflict drew attention away from a deadly stampede in Cambodia, strikes in Portugal, and violence in Rio.

Covered lots

  • Snow, with school, work and road closures as lots it began to cover lots of the UK, 229 articles;
  • More student protests, including school pupils marching on Whitehall, wrecking a police van and constrained by kettling, 187 articles;
  • North Korea and South Korea, with the North firing across the western sea border killing two civilians and two soldiers last week, 174 articles.

Covered little

Political ups and downs (top 10 by number of articles)

  • David Cameron: 565 articles (+1 per cent on previous week);
  • George Osborne: 231 articles (+11 per cent on previous week);
  • Nick Clegg: 199 articles (-23 per cent on previous week);
  • Ed Miliband: 183 articles (+30 per cent on previous week);
  • Gordon Brown: 147 articles (+19 per cent on previous week);
  • Michael Gove: 136 articles (+3 per cent on previous week);
  • Tony Blair: 125 articles (+24 per cent on previous week);
  • Vince Cable: 119 articles (-5 per cent on previous week);
  • Theresa May: 86 articles (+171 per cent on previous week).

Celebrity vs serious

Bishop Pete Broadbent‘s comment on Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton not lasting more than 7 years, 29 articles vs. Tory peer Howard Flight‘s comment on welfare changes encouraging poorer classes to breed, 33 articles.

Simon Cowell, X Factor judge, 94 articles vs. the trapped New Zealand miners, declared dead following another underground blast, 106 articles.

TV show ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, 64 articles vs. violence in the favelas of Rio, as police and drug gangs clash killing more than 40 people, 43 articles.

Who wrote a lot about…’The Ashes’

Colin Bateman – 15 articles (the Express), Stephen Brenkley – 15 articles (the Independent), David Hopps – 14 articles (the Guardian), John Etheridge – 13 articles (the Sun), Lawrence Booth – 10 articles (Mail Online), Nick Hoult – 10 articles (the Telegraph), Derek Pringle – 9 articles (the Telegraph)

Long-form journalism

If you have a profile on journalisted you can now claim it and start adding articles, links and contact details

Do email team [at] journalisted.com if you spot any mistakes or have suggestions for other journalisted weekly analyses. You can also follow us on Twitter @journalisted.

All Journalisted weekly newsletter statistics are calculated based on articles published on national news websites, BBC News online and Sky News online.

Media Standards Trust: watching the PCC

A relatively new blog has been set up by the Media Standards Trust to provide regular scrutiny of the work of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and press self-regulation in the UK.

As the allegations of phone hacking against the News of the World rumble on, PCC Watch could become a regular read. The Media Standards Trust has been critical of the PCC’s investigation into the practice in the past and has already blogged its views on calls for the body to launch a fresh inquiry.

News organisations should get ready for data, says Martin Moore

While the individual newspapers involved in WikiLeak’s latest military document release may be considering lessons for next time, Martin Moore from the Media Standards Trust says all news organisations should be preparing for future waves of data from such sources.

Writing on the PBS Mediashift Idea Lab he says the ‘data dump’ process is likely to to become an increasingly common method of information release as reporters and sources become more experienced in handling such material.

Soon every news organization will have its own “bunker” — a darkened room where a hand-picked group of reporters hole up with a disk/memory stick/laptop of freshly opened data, some stale pizza and lots of coffee.

He proposes five questions for news outlets to consider in preparation for processing leaked material in the best way for the reader, including how to use public intelligence to generate the most stories from material, how to personalise data for their own specific audiences and how to ensure transparency and trust in the publication of documents.

The expenses files, the Afghan logs, the COINs database (a massive database of U.K. government spending released last month) are all original documents that can be tagged, referenced and linked to. They enable journalists not only to refer back to the original source material, but to show an unbroken narrative flow from original source to final article. This cements the credibility of the journalism and gives the reader the opportunity to explore the context within the original source material. Plus, if published in linked data, the published article can be directly linked to the original data reference.

He adds that preparation will be key to securing future scoops, as “organizations that become known for handling big data sets will have more whistleblowers coming to them”.

See his full post here…

Cartoon journalist recognised on Journalisted.com

Journalisted.com, sporting a new and refreshed look, has added a pseudonymous 18th century journalist to its byline directory.

As Media Standards Trust director Martin Moore describes on his blog, Journalisted is to support Matt Buck and Michael Cross’ cartoon creation ‘Tobias Grubbe’, an 18th century journalist. Grubbe’s work is also to be published on the Guardian website during the general election.

“Grubbe will be expressing his opinions about the election on the Guardian website from Monday 12 April to the election (and a bit after). He has also become an honorary member of journalisted.com, joining over 18,000 of his colleagues,” says Moore.

Grubbe can also be found on Twitter: @tobiasgrubbe.

MediaShift: Why news organisations should use ‘linked data’

Director of the Media Standards Trust Martin Moore gives 10 reasons why news organisations should use “linked data” – “a way of publishing information so that it can easily – and automatically -be linked to other, similar data on the web”.

[Moore’s recommendations follow the News Linked Data Summit and you can read more about the event at this link.]

It’s worth reading the list in full, but some of the top reasons include:

  • Linked data can boost search engine optimisation;
  • It helps you and other people build services around your content;
  • It helps journalists with their work:

As a news organisation publishes more of its news content in linked data, it can start providing its journalists with more helpful information to inform the articles they’re writing. Existing linked data can also provide suggestions as to what else to link to.

Full post at this link…

Alan Rusbridger: ‘Weak press self-regulation threatens decent journalism’

“Once again weakness by the regulator has led to people calling for tougher sanctions against journalism,” Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger argued at today’s press self-regulation debate in the House of Lords.

The failings of the Press Complaints Commission explained the Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s call for a renamed self-regulatory body with the power to make financial sanctions, he said.

The panel gathered at Westminster for the Media Standards Trust event (at which no member of the Press Complaints Commission was present, despite being invited) were united on one point: that increasing the PCC’s powers of penalisation was not necessarily the right way forward.

Geoffrey Robertson QC was adamant on this point: redress of grievances should be done through the courts with juries, not via the PCC; Bob Satchwell, chairman of the Society of Editors, was firmly against any governmental direction of press regulation: it should come from the public and the industry, he said.

Robertson, who has previously called for all newspaper editors to step down from the body, said the PCC was a “confidence trick that now fails to inspire confidence”.

Private Eye’s Ian Hislop was the “most trusted editor in Britain “by not having anything to do with the PCC” Robertson said, adding that most its inquiries were “utter jokes”.

Bob Satchwell, loyal defender of the mainstream press and the PCC, said that suspension of publication (one of the recommendations made by the CMS committee last week) had “absolutely no place in democracy”. “In the end the real arbiters should be the readers,” he said.

The PCC had changed a “cavalier” and “arrogant” press of yore, Satchwell said. The level of control should be up to the public and the readers, he added – not organisations like the Media Standards Trust, or the government.

Rusbridger, who laid out the phone hacking saga as a case study of PCC failure (over which he resigned from the editors’ code committee) said the body needed to either admit it couldn’t conduct proper inquiries, or undergo serious reform.

“It may be that it’s flying the wrong flag [and might be ] better to rebrand itself as a media complaints and conciliation service and forget about regulation.”

Over phone hacking and the new evidence presented by the Guardian in July 2009, the PCC had “showed a complete lack of appetite to get to the bottom of what had happened,” he said.

It inquiries into phone hacking, had been inadequate, Rusbridger said. The PCC had explained privately “that they didn’t have the resources to do proper investigations and it wasn’t within their remit. [It said] they were not set up or financed to do proper investigations”.

“To which the answer is is fine, but then don’t pretend to do investigations which are then used to exonerate people or organisations. By doing so you bring self-regulation into disrepute.”

Rusbridger argued several points in particular:

  • He claimed that either former NOTW editor Andy Coulson or News International executives were lying, in light of the Guardian’s allegations that four “criminal” private investigators had been hired by the News of the World in the past. It was either the case that Andy Coulson, currently director of communications for the Conservative party, was lying and knew about the activities of these private investigators, “criminally obtaining information which led directly to News of the World stories”; or, Rusbridger said, individuals within News International “knew about them and paid them [private investigators] … but protected the editor from knowing what was going on, in which case News International executives have been lying”. Those seemed to him, he claimed, the only two explanations for recent revelations.

Martin Moore: ‘What are the universal principles that guide journalism?’

The UK’s Media Standards Trust is trying to define the principles of journalism, as part of its Value Added News transparency project.

The hNews microformatting system, recently adopted by 200 new sites, requires its users to sign up to journalism principles. “One of the key elements of hNews (…) is rel-principles,” explains MST director Martin Moore. “This is a line of code that embeds a link within each article to the news principles to which it adheres. It doesn’t specify what those principles should be, just that the article should link to some.”

In a blog post for the MediaShift Idea Lab, Moore outlines some of the problems associated with drawing up such a code. He describes the themes identified so far. “These themes are by no means comprehensive – nor are they intended to be,” he says. “They are a starting point for those, be they news organizations or bloggers, who are drawing up their own principles and need a place to start. We’d really like some feedback on whether these are right, if ten is too many, if there are any big themes missing, and which ones have most relevance to the web.”

  1. Public interest Example: “… to serve the general welfare by informing the people and enabling them to make judgments on the issues of the time” (American Society of Newspaper Editors)
  2. Truth and accuracy Example: “[The journalist] strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair” (National Union of Journalists, UK)
  3. Verification Example: “Seeking out multiple witnesses, disclosing as much as possible about sources, or asking various sides for comment… [The] discipline of verification is what separates journalism from other modes of communication, such as propaganda, fiction or entertainment” (Principles of Journalism, from Project for Excellence in Journalism)
  4. Fairness Example: “… our goal is to cover the news impartially and to treat readers, news sources, advertisers and all parts of our society fairly and openly, and to be seen as doing so” (New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism)
  5. Distinguishing fact and comment Example: “… whilst free to be partisan, [the press] must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact” (Editors Code of Practice, PCC, U.K.)
  6. Accountability Example: “The journalist shall do the utmost to rectify any published information which is found to be harmfully inaccurate” (International Federation of Journalists, Principles on the Conduct of Journalists)
  7. Independence Example: “Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know… [and] Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” (Society of Professional Journalists)
  8. Transparency (regarding sources) Example: “Aim to attribute all information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative, attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances” (Australian Journalists Code)
  9. Restraint (around harassment and intrusion) Example: “The public has a right to know about its institutions and the people who are elected or hired to serve its interests. People also have a right to privacy and those accused of crimes have a right to a fair trial. There are inevitable conflicts between the right to privacy, the public good and the public’s right to be informed. Each situation should be judged in the light of common sense, humanity and the public’s rights to know” (Canadian Association of Journalists)
  10. Originality (i.e. not plagiarising) Example: “An AP staffer who reports and writes a story must use original content, language and phrasing. We do not plagiarise, meaning that we do not take the work of others and pass it off as our own” (Associated Press Statement of news values and principles)

Full post (and themes) at this link…