This post went up on the Storyful blog today but I want it to be shared as widely as possible.
I just tweeted about how I’d forgotten how difficult it is to make collaborative journalism projects work. It’s an emotional roller coaster. One minute you’ve sent out the tenth email of the day and received no replies, the next minute you speak to a student journalist on the phone who is so excited about what could be possible. It takes such hard work to sustain these projects. You can see why it’s easier to stay clear, but the rewards I’m hoping will be worth it.
Like the tubestrike project from September 2010, hopefully this will work in the end and I can write a blog post that will get as many hits as this one, explaining the lessons learned. People seem to love hearing about the difficult bits!
You may have seen an increasing number of tweets, blog posts and even perhaps received an email about our plan to aggregate content from students during the campaign season.
Up until now, it’s been a vague idea, but now we can unveil our plan for the first truly comprehensive, collaborative journalism portal for the US election, #ElectionEyes. It will start with the Republican convention starting on 27th August, and will run for the rest of the election.
The project will be truly representative. We want content from as many neighbourhoods as possible, not just the battleground states. Traditional coverage has a narrow focus, in terms of topics as well as geographic location. Of course everyone will be looking out for a candidate gaffe caught by a camera phone, but with #electioneyes, we’re just as interested in a video of the Saturday morning rallying call of one election agent in one small downtown office.
We’ve talked to journalism professors across the US and all have talked about their plans to work with their students to cover the election from their local perspectives. Students will be spending the next three months blogging, taking videos and photos, creating audio slideshows, curating with Storify, and live-tweeting the campaign as they see it.
But rather than having to encourage individuals to upload content to a specific site, we will be using a website that will automatically display content being shared on the hashtag #electioneyes. This means the project requires no extra work for anyone. I repeat, this project requires no extra work for anyone! The technology will do the hard work for us.
This was happening in 2008 but the technology didn’t exist to connect everyone so easily. Huffington Post’s #offthebus was an incredible example of what can happen when citizen journalism is taken seriously, and some of the contributors to that project unearthed some of the standout moments of the campaign. In 2012, #offthebus is happening again and we’ll be working with its team to feature the best content on their site.
This project will provide a comprehensive and rich body of reporting and we know it will focus on the issues that matter to real Americans, not just the ones that the candidates want to talk about. We also know it will focus on policies not just the horse race.
Storyful journalists will be monitoring the #electioneyes site every minute of every day so we can feature the most interesting content on the Google Politics and Elections page, and theYouTube Politics page, as well as feeding it to our client news organisations.
From August 27 we’ll also be hosting weekly public Google Hangouts to discuss different techniques for capturing and sharing content, so anyone can learn the tricks of mobile reporting, building twitter lists to monitor conversations, the challenges of live-blogging etc.
For any journalism school that signs up, you’ll get free access to the same Storyful US Politics stream that professional news clients receive, for the whole of the election campaign. We’ll also be creating training videos with tops tips and tricks for getting your classes ready to cover the election using mobile and digital technology. These will be available for free for journalism schools that sign up.
So spread the word. Let’s see what we can achieve.
If you want your take on the election featured on our site, we’d love to add you to our contact database here.
Add #electioneyes to your tweets, and let’s see what’s possible.
I’m very late actually writing this post as it’s now week 4 of my new job, but maybe I wanted more to write about than simply ‘I’ve got a new job’ – that’s what twitter is for.
So four weeks ago I started working with Storyful. I had been following the startup since the summer of 2010 when Mark Little started tweeting about his new venture. I met Mark in person when we invited him to the BBC Social Media Summit I helped organised in May 2011 and then on a couple of unrelated trips to Dublin I found myself in a pub with Mark and other Storyful staff finding out more about how they operated and what they were hoping to achieve. Lots it turned out.
This January on another unrelated trip to Dublin Mark offered me a job I couldn’t turn down, and earlier this month I took the role of Global Advocate/Director of Development and Integration (we’re still working on titles around here)! I’m going to be based in London, but with lots of travel, working with our clients around the world, and frequent visits to the mothership in Dublin.
That’s the most exciting bit. It wasn’t until I started that I realised how much I missed working as part of a team. Being an academic can actually be quite lonely, and when you throw in the competitive and (dare I say it) backstabbing elements, it can be quite a disheartening experience. And my last three years as a freelancer have also sometimes felt quite lonely. Being part of a team, either in person in an office full of banter, tea and those buckets of naughty goodness from Marks and Spencers, or virtually, on yammer where at any time day or night, someone from the team in Dublin, Oregon or Vietnam will be there saying hello, or sharing tips and leads. That is incredibly rewarding.
The other impressive part of watching Storyful in action is that this is a proper newsroom. Every piece of content is verified to within an inch of its life, every fact is cross-referenced and double-checked, and the news values associated with a story are considered instinctively. And the speed at which they work is mind-blowing. My first day in the office was Super Tuesday, and watching the streams unfold on the internal systems made my eyes water.
After training at least 2000 people on social media tools in the past three years, and comparing that with what I see amongst the Storyful journalists I realise that everyone can learn what the tools do, and how they can be used theoretically. Being able to use them in real-time, under pressure, as well as being able to follow the trails across different social networks and sources, and to combine that with traditional journalism practices is not something that can be taught. Your brain has to work a certain way, and it has nothing to do with age, gender or experience.
My sister used to run a restaurant in West Wales and I’d often find myself on potwash, helping out on busy shifts. I used to watch in awe at the height of dinner service, as my sister, under intense pressure and heat, would stand at the Pass, directing the chefs, to create and send out the most beautiful dishes. I would compare it to a conductor directing an orchestra.
That’s what it looks like when I see a big news day at Storyful. A group of very talented people working together to create something very exciting. Come back to me in a few more months when maybe I’m more cynical, but for right now, I’m pretty damn pleased to be here.
Earlier this month I spoke at a Media140 event about the ethical dilemmas faced by journalism in an age of social media. I thought I’d write up some of my thoughts here:
In my previous life I was an academic at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies. One of my roles was as ‘Deputy Ethics Officer’ (yes my Mum was proud;)) and was involved in the development of ethical guidelines for the School in 2005. In the past decade Universities have been forced to institutionalise ethics for two reasons: to protect students who want to undertake research in dangerous situations (for example an MA student wanting to understand the life of sex workers in Thai brothels), or more importantly to protect vulnerable subjects (for example people with learning difficulties, children etc).
The ethical principles are clear and shared across academic disciplines. Researchers know to ask for consent from participants before asking questions, keep data confidential etc, but these shared principles weren’t so easy to get passed in our School of Journalism. As one of my colleagues stated: “I’m a journalist. My job is to expose the corrupt and if the only way I can do that is by going through their rubbish bin to find credit card receipts, that’s what I’m going to do. You can’t get me to sign up to these universal guidelines”.
That exchange exposed in a second, the ethical complexities inherent in journalism. And it is for that reason that the arrival of social media has not created fundamentally new ethical quandaries. Yes, at the boundaries, social media is forcing newsroom editors to make snap decisions about whether or not to publish a photo, whether or not to upload content, but fundamentally nothing is new. For the most part, the five main issues that are causing the most problems, are issues that have always been problematic – they have just been transplanted into digital scenarios instead. These five issues are: copyright; verification; protecting sources, gathering information using false pretenses; contempt of court. I will talk about these in separate blogs at a later point, but ultimately my argument is that these issues have always existed. What is more challenging now are the issues that exist at the boundary. Here are a few scenarios. What would you do in each?
1. Someone posts to a public facebook page that is campaigning to keep a local hospital open. You work at a local radio station and read the post out on air. The person complains saying they didn’t agree to their words being shared on a broadcast medium. Should you have not read out the statement, or perhaps read it out but not read out the name?
2. Someone calls up a radio station and gets angry in an over the top way about a topic everyone can relate to. Your producer puts the audio on a social network and it goes viral and he becomes a laughing stock around the world.Is it appropriate to put out audio on social networks when the person doesn’t know first?
3. There’s a large fire and a student journalist contacts the newsroom saying they are happy to cross police lines to get you some footage. You can’t get a camera crew down there for 40 minutes, what do you do?
4. Someone has been murdered. You can access information about them as they had their profile open to friends of friends and you happen to have gone to the same University. Do you publish their last status update or do you contact the family first?
(See my suggested ethical ‘answers’ below)
These first two scenarios have at their heart the way the audience perceives social networks. Journalists might argue that a facebook wall is a broadcast medium in the same way as a radio station, but users with locked down profile settings who are confused that posts on a facebook page are not private, might not. Similarly people who call up radio stations, understand what that means, but don’t understand how that same material could make its way around the world. Similarly, people post to facebook, believing they are writing for a particular audience, and not thinking about how information would be perceived by others. In my training, I often ask people to check to see what a journalist would find out about them if tomorrow, they either won the lottery or disappeared without a trace. What would the headline be?
As Deputy Ethics Officer I undertook some research into how online communities perceived ‘lurkers’ as increasingly researchers in the department were using online message boards as a form of audience research. Again and again, they would say that while they technically understood that their online community (a message board) was public, they couldn’t understand why academic researchers or journalists could just listen to their conversations without introducing themselves and explaining what they were interested in.
In a 2008 survey carried out by the Press Complaints Commission, 78% of respondents would change information they publish about themselves online if they thought the material would later be reproduced in the mainstream media. I would be interested to see if that number has changed now that people are more savvy. But the crucial element here is that savviness is often directly correlated with education and income. For much more completely brilliant writing on this area, you must read danah boyd’s work.
We are in a transitional period where people are working out what these new spaces mean to them. While spaces might be technically public, they don’t feel public to the tight knit communities using them. Ethical considerations are never black and white and ultimately come down to individual decisions about what is right and wrong. When working in an incredibly pressured environment with competitors using information you deep down know isn’t appropriate, it’s harder to do what’s ‘right’, but slowly we’re seeing newsrooms and the ‘audience’ becoming more sophisticated about these issues. Photographers are watermarking their pictures, people are checking their facebook settings and producers are contacting contributors before uploading potentially viral content to audioboo.
Ethical considerations are evolving and while their are hitches, confusion, and some dubious incidents, for the most part I’d say that we’re moving in the right direction, without the need for any guidelines or directives. And that has to be a good thing.
- Read out but don’t read out the name
- Explain to contributors beforehand that content might be shared on the web.
- Say no, however tempting.
- No again, however tempting.
Disclaimer: I have been working with the BBC Radio 4 appeal for the past 9 months, but I wanted to share this as I think it’s beautiful and incredibly moving. Below I explain how it came about.
For me, it’s an example of why digital tools and social media can have such impact on voluntary organisations that work directly with people. It’s easy for organisations to go about their work, but then use social media to slickly ‘broadcast’ their news from an official perspective. But more and more are realising the ways in which the tools themselves offer the potential for ‘clients’ to show or describe in their own words, how an organisation has helped them.
The Connection at St Martin’s helps homeless people by providing specialist services to over 200 people in central London every day. They offer a day and night centre, outreach for rough sleepers, skills training and career advice, activity programmes and specialist support for complex needs.
It would have been very easy to create an audio slideshow produced using stock images of homelessness taken by a professional photographer, a sympathetic voice-over and a Coldplay track playing softly underneath. Instead these photos came from a photography project at The Connection, where clients were given disposable cameras. At first there were discussions about providing particular themes (e.g. take a photo at dawn, take a photo of your possessions), but it seemed most appropriate to keep instructions to a minimum.
In addition, rather than doing formal interviews with the clients about their experiences, they had their usual weekly workshops and instead, all conversations were recorded, to produce natural dialogue about the photographs and the motivations for taking them. The audio from this particular slideshow was taken during an interview between Jamie and Libby Purves for the official Christmas appeal broadcast but there are plans that some of the other audio from the workshops can be lifted out and shared more widely.
The Connection already has quite a track record of using art as a way of working with clients and they have exhibitions of clients’ work and a facebook page profiling some of the artwork. Many of the pieces are absolutely beautiful and it’s wonderful that flickr and facebook provide a way of showcasing them to a wider audience. (It’s well worth clicking on these links. Flickr features all of the photos taken as part of the photography project, and the facebook page features different types of artwork created by clients at The Connection).
So it’s perhaps not surprising they just won a Talk Talk’s Digital Heroes award, a scheme to reward individuals who are using digital technology to benefit their local communities.
Last year a poem by Jamie featured in an audioslideshow. According to Sally Flatman, the Radio 4 Appeals producer, “I think last year was, in a way, a building block for this year. We had Jamie’s poem which was very powerful but the only way we had of illustrating it was by existing photographs. We felt very much this year that we wanted the slideshow to be more of a whole, not pictures bolted onto someone’s audio or audio bolted onto someone’s pictures. We’re learning that these slideshows can be a very powerful way of someone telling their story. “
Technology today allows anyone to become a creator, and when they do, the results can be absolutely stunning. Please share this slideshow as widely as possible this Christmas.
On the 6th September, London Underground staff staged the first of four walk-outs. On Monday, Londoners face the final of these planned stikes. I have been working with BBC London, encouraging the use of the Ushahidi crowdmap platform to report the effects of the last three strikes on the city. (I wrote up lessons form the first strike here).
From the beginning we had planned to use the crowdmap for all of the strikes so we could compare, contrast and learn as we went.
As I emphasised here, the map has demonstrated very clearly, that on certain stories, collaboration is the only possible way to report events. BBC London could not resource reporters at every station checking to see whether it was open or closed throughout the day, at every bus stop taking pictures of overcrowding, or giving tips about unclogged roads or the locations of available Boris Bikes.
And yet, while people are looking at the map in large numbers (about 20,000 uniqiue visitors each time) the number of people submitting tips, pictures and experiences is still small. Yes, the #tubestrike hashtag has provided some of the best material, but the map still feels locked in a social media bubble.
I try to imagine what the map would look like if it was covered in red dots, with real-time updates about the current travel situation. The network effect would take hold. The more people use it, the more useful it would become, and more people would use it.
I feel uncomfortable comparing ushahidi deployments, as it’s inappropriate to compare commuters being inconvenienced on their way to work with the terrible situation experienced by Pakistanis during the recent floods (pakreport.org), or the situation in Moscow last summer when the fires took hold (russian-fires.ru). But in Pakistan they’ve had over 2000 reports (a cry for help was posted this morning from someone who has lost everything and can’t get support), and the Russian fires received over 1600 reports.
The London maps have received a handful of direct reports. We’ve been posting content which included the #tubestrike hastag on twitter, adding verified station closure information, and posting audioboos from BBC London reporters, but we’ve received very few emails, SMS’s or reports submitted on the crowdmap itself.
When this tubestrike ends, I will be writing up a report about what has worked, what hasn’t, but mostly, whether this sort of effort can be justified from a resourcing point of view.
Personally, I think it is important that the BBC has a space where this sort of collaborative journalism can be encouraged, but if reports from the audience are minimal, should the crowdmap be resourced?
Is part of the problem the fact that this map appears to be “sponsored” by the BBC. Do people feel like the BBC must know the current situation and therefore they have little to offer? Does it feel too top down rather than community-driven?
We’re going to give it one last push next Monday, and I’d be very grateful if you could use online spaces to encourage people to use it – facebook, message boards, and blogs, as well as offline spaces – in your places of work, down the pub, and around your breakfast table.
But overall, we want to learn from this experiment. When big events strike, is crowdmap a useful way of describing the impact?
As a broadcast organisation, planning how to cover a major piece of industrial action is never easy. Just when extra people have been placed on shift, bulletins have been altered and the cameras are in place, strikes can be called off at the last minute. The same might apply for the next 24 hour walkout of tube station staff (3/4th October), but in case it doesn’t, we’re preparing for the worst.
As many of you know, BBC London used the new cloud based Ushahidi platform, crowdmap to cover the first in this series of strikes on the 7th September. It was definitely an experiment but we were very happy with how it went. I wrote a blog post with some of my reflections here; in terms of what worked and what we might want to do differently.
We have decided that we would like to use the map again if the strike goes ahead, and our decision is based on one key reason: this is a story that can’t be reported any other way.
While I was excited about using the platform, that came from my passion for social media, and my hope that the experiment would work. It didn’t feel like a journalistic imperative, and some of my colleagues weren’t quite as excited as I was.
But our experience on the day convinced everyone, purely because the BBC’s usual reliance on official sources just could not work in this situation. It was in the Union’s interest to tell the story that stations were closed and that maximum disruption had been achieved. Conversely it was in the interests of Transport for London (TfL) to tell us that as many stations as possible were open.
It wasn’t simply a case of both sides deliberately failing to tell the truth, it was more a case of massaging the truth, and protecting working staff. TfL were moving staff around during the day, opening stations and then closing them just as quickly, trying to keep the locations secret so Union pickets couldn’t be moved around ahead of them.
As a result, as the day progressed it became increasingly clear that we couldn’t rely on the information coming from either side. On crowdmap, during the moderation process, it forces you to define a new report as verified or unverified. At first we were verifying information from the TfL website but we quickly stopped doing that. We found we were posting information but Londoners almost immediately began to dispute those reports via twitter or crowdmap itself.
The point of this post is to ask that people get the word out. The original crowdmap received almost 20,000 unique visitors and obviously we were very happy with that, but we’re also aware that many of those visitors were social media types from all over the world intrigued by the combination of ‘BBC’ ‘crowdsourcing’ and ‘ushahidi’ in a tweet.
Our hope for the proposed strike next week is that the crowdmap becomes a really useful tool for people trying to get to and from work. So we’re asking for a few favours:
- Please get the word out – post the map on your blogs, twitter, facebook.
- Tell people who live in London they can email us (email@example.com), phone us on 020 7765 1064 or send us an SMS (using 81333 and starting the message LONDON STRIKE).
- Show people who might not have seen it, what the map looks like and how they could use it.
- Tell us which categories you’d like to see on the map to make it more useful for you.
This isn’t an example of journalists playing with a new tool, or one of those interactive exercises where no-one actually pays as much attention as they should do to the material being submitted. This is our opportunity as Londoners to tell the story of the tubestrike in the only way possible – as a collective force.
The BBC can’t place reporters at every tube station or bus stop, but it can help collate the experiences of millions of Londoners on the 3rd October.
This experiment needs to move out of social media land and into the hands of Londoners to make their commute easier. Its success relies on as many people as possible posting their reports. Let’s see what a real crowdsourcing initiative can look like.