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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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.