Thursday, 29 December 2011

MSF aid workers shot in Somalia

Associated Press is reporting that two people working for the aid group, Médecins Sans Frontières, have been shot in Mogadishu. At least one person is believed to have been killed. 
The incident is reportedly related to an internal staffing issue – AP quoted MSF worker Ahmed Ali, who claimed that a recently fired employee was responsible for the shooting. 
The news appears to have been broken by @HSMPress, a Twitter account run by Al Shabaab, the Islamist insurgent group:

HSMPress continued to provide updates on the situation as it developed including information regarding the possible identities of the gunman and the victims. 

Monday, 19 December 2011

Yet more on drone journalism

BBC journalist Stuart Hughes has a useful round up of the interest in drone journalism which includes links to recent newsgathering deployments of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to cover protests in Poland and Russia:
"Dramatic aerial footage of recent demonstrations in Warsaw shot using a small Polish-made drone gave a tantalizing glimpse of how they could be used as newsgathering tools.
Photographers covering election demos in Moscow also deployed a UAV - prompting some onlookers to suspect they had spotted a UFO over the Russian capital
The resulting images were widely used by international news organizations - including the BBC."
Full piece available on the BBC's College of Journalism website.

My previous snippets on this can be found here (on the demonstrations in Poland) and here (on a drone journalism lab in the United States).

Thursday, 15 December 2011

General Richards: The media “frequently draw the wrong conclusion” on Afghanistan

The Chief of the Defence Staff gave an annual lecture to the Royal United Services Institute last night. General Sir David Richards spoke broadly about the global environment, the response of the armed forces and particular strategic challenges.
He argued that Britain’s main challenge was economic and emphasised the cultivation of strategic alliances to compensate for a smaller national military.   
He also spoke about media coverage of the UK armed forces in relation to Afghanistan:
"The operation is on track. We are succeeding and the population supports our efforts, as the latest Asia House analysis shows. Still the Taliban can play one card. They operate in the world of perceptions and convince many in the UK and elsewhere to see the operation as it was, not as it is.
"Perception lags reality by some 18 months. While we are, like a chess player, planning three or four moves ahead we cannot signal our plans openly. That leaves the media frequently, and understandably, to look only at what has happened.
"They frequently draw the wrong conclusion. If you want to see how those on the ground perceive the situation, and have a view on the commitment, resolve and optimism of the Afghan people, I commend this excellent Asia House report."
Not a particularly unusual assessment of media coverage of Afghanistan by a military representative. For what it’s worth, I’m not convinced that it is only the Taliban that operate in the "world of perceptions" and that actually the UK armed forces operate there as well with reasonable success. Distinguishing the ‘reality’ of Afghanistan from this "world of perceptions" is an exceptionally difficult task.
(I’m afraid I can’t find the Asia House report online…drop me a line if you know where I can find it.)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Five links from 2011: 'Twitter'

I am picking out a few of the more interesting links from my 2011 delicious bookmarks. On Monday, I selected five from my 'war reporting' tag. 

Today, I've selected another five from among the bookmarks I labelled 'Twitter' in my delicious account. 


Computational historian Kovas Boguta visualises the Twitter influence network around the revolution in Egypt.

In May, computer programmer Sohaib Athar provided Twitter updates of the US mission to kill Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Athar was unaware of the significance of what he was tweeting at the time but he knew something was up:
"Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)."
The Washington Post collected his tweets using Storify. 

Meanwhile, Twitter's rapid uptake by all and sundry included the Taliban in May and Somali insurgent group Al Shabaab by December

A rather surreal interactive war of words online now accompanies serious military activity on the ground as ISAFMedia and alemarahweb engage in disputes over Afghanistan while HSMPress take on Kenya's military spokesperson Major Emmanuel Chirchir.    

"Potentially relevant tweets are fed into an intelligence pool then filtered for relevance and authenticity, and are never passed on without proper corroboration. However, without "boots on the ground" to guide commanders, officials admit that Twitter is now part of the overall "intelligence picture"."
5.  British Prime Minister considers curbing Twitter use after UK riots

August's riots in the UK prompted consideration of whether the use of Twitter and social media should be restricted.

As it turned out, BlackBerry Messenger appeared to be the communication tool of choice and recent research by the LSE/Guardian claims that Twitter was more useful in the aftermath to organise clean ups than to incite disorder. 

Monday, 12 December 2011

Five links from 2011: 'War Reporting'

This year I bookmarked at least 530 links on delicious. I know that because I try to tag each bookmark by year - I'm three hundred or so links down on last year's total of 854.

Seeing as we're coming to the end of the year I thought I'd pick out a few of the 'best', 'most interesting', 'memorable' or simply 'random' links on various topics from among the 530.

In this post, I've selected from those that are also tagged 'war reporting'.

1. Sebastian Junger remembers Tim Hetherington

In April, photojournalist Tim Hetherington was killed while reporting from Misrata in Libya. Colleague and friend Sebastian Junger reflects on his life and death:
"That was a fine idea, Tim—one of your very best. It was an idea that our world very much needs to understand. I don’t know if it was worth dying for—what is?—but it was certainly an idea worth devoting one’s life to. Which is what you did. What a vision you had, my friend. What a goddamned terrible, beautiful vision of things."
2. Libya conflict: journalists trapped in Tripoli's Rixos hotel
"It's a desperate situation," [the BBC's Matthew] Price told Radio 4's Today programme. "The situation deteriorated massively overnight when it became clear we were unable to leave the hotel of our own free will … Gunmen were roaming around the corridors … Snipers were on the roof."
3. War, too close for comfort

Simon Klingert talks to some people on a train about his life as a photojournalist:
““So have you ever seen someone die?” It was about two minutes into our conversation when the question had popped up. The question. Not that I minded though. After all, it seems like a natural question to ask when you tell people you’re trying to make a living as a war correspondent and it dawns on them you actually like what you are doing..”
4. The hazards of war reporting from behind a desk

BBC journalist Alex Murray reflects on reporting the conflict in Libya from his computer screen:
"But the war has been very close to me, too close sometimes. Viewing them [videos from Libya] in a corner of the newsroom on a screen with nobody else sharing the experience at that moment is a dissociative experience. The process of analysing it, effectively repeatedly exposing myself to the same brutal events, does not make it easier."
5. Image of the child of fallen soldier trends on Facebook

I typed 'Afghanistan' into the Kurrently search engine one day and noticed that this photo was being passed rapidly around Facebook in the United States. I find the photo jarring and unsettling: the artificial neatness of a homely, yet staged photograph here represents the tragic consequences of a chaotic, complicated and distant battlefield.      

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Ghosts of Afghanistan: An interview with foreign correspondent Jonathan Steele

At the back end of last month, I spoke to foreign correspondent Jonathan Steele about Afghanistan for the War Studies podcast. I've embedded it below in case you missed it.

Steele's new book, Ghosts of Afghanistan, compares the experiences of Russian (1979-89) and US/NATO (2001-) forces in Afghanistan.

He argues that President Obama can learn from how Mikhail Gorbachev began withdrawing Russian troops in 1988.

In Steele's estimation, Obama should be pursuing a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and other parties with more vigour.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Russian blogger arrested after post-election protests

Russian blogger and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny has been arrested after participating in post-election protests in Moscow against the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. 

He was sentenced to 15 days in jail. 

The BBC has a good profile of Navalny which explains how his Livejournal blog gained traction for exposing corruption:
"The popularity of his blog allowed him to start mobilising internet users to take an active part in his anti-corruption campaigns by means of what he called his "unstoppable mass complaints machine". 
"The "machine" worked by getting internet users to send hundreds of online complaints to investigative and oversight bodies demanding that they look into the case that Mr Navalny was pursuing at the time. 
In March this year, the Russian business daily Kommersant was forced to retract an article which attempted to discredit Navalny's exposure of large scale fraud at Transneft, the state-owned pipeline company in 2010.

Russian bloggers complained earlier this week that Livejournal was down for several consecutive days around the day of the election, alleging that a cyberattack had been designed to stop them discussing Sunday's vote. 

The head of Livejournal, Ilya Dronov, believed the perpetrators had "a mountain of money" in order to sustain the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.  

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

More on Drone Journalism

The other day I posted a link about the use of drones to cover a protest in Poland. And now there is a student Journalism Lab for this kind of reporting: 
"The University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications is starting a lab to educate students on what it sees as one of the new frontiers for newsgathering and reporting: drone journalism.

"The lab will look at the ethical, legal, and privacy concerns surrounding the collection of video and photographs from small, unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as provide hands-on experience: students will be building their own drone platforms to collect data in the field."
(Not that me posting a link and the formation of said Lab were in any way connected...)

I'd be up for someone throwing a 'drone journalism'-shaped curve ball at the Leveson Inquiry which is currently looking at the practice, culture and ethics of the press.

I think the inquiry is running a bit short on really difficult privacy questions... 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Election Monitoring Crowd-Sourced in Egypt

From the New York Times' Lede blog:
"Although some prominent Internet activists decided to boycott Monday’s elections in Egypt to protest continued military rule, many well-known bloggers spent the day working as self-appointed election monitors. Using the same social media tools that helped them to force Hosni Mubarak from office, the bloggers posted images of long lines at polling places and passed on reports of apparent violations of the electoral code."

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Front line photography

A French photojournalist goes undercover to access the hidden plight of Homs as political unrest continues in Syria.

Marike van der Velden captures daily life in Iraq. "In Holland," she tells the New York Times, "we don’t know anything about the Iraqi people".

An aerial photo taken by Oxfam provides a glimpse of the scale of Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. Global Voices has more on the camp which is home to 450,000 people. Many of those taking refuge have fled civil war and drought in Somalia.

Friday, 25 November 2011

How the failure of self-regulation has undermined press plurality

For various reasons, I've ended up watching more of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press than I intended.

On Wednesday, solicitor Mark Lewis was giving evidence. Lewis has represented a number of individuals whose phones have been hacked but I was particularly interested in his thoughts on the regulation of the press. 

I've added headings to summarise his can find all this in full on pages 44-6 of the transcript from Wednesday's evidence.

1. A black and white choice?
"...what is portrayed is a stark choice, a black and white choice between state regulation and self-regulation, and in fact everybody knows that we must avoid state regulation in terms of this Trotskyite, Stalinist, Nazi minister of propaganda..."
2. Everyone knows state regulation should be avoided
"One understands that that has to be avoided, but that's how state regulation is portrayed by the newspapers, that's what it inexorably leads to, we have state regulation as state control."
3. Journalists should self-regulate anyway
"...self-regulation should be what journalists do and newspapers do themselves, not the PCC or any third party, because there ought to be a code that journalists think: you know what? This is what we can do, this is what we can't do."
4. But there is no secondary form of regulation which means there is effectively no regulation
"So it's a secondary form of regulation. The Press Complaints Commission, in the words of Lord Hunt, who is now the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, is not a regulator, so in fact the preservation of the status quo by the press is the preservation of no regulation at all."
5. The consequence of not having secondary regulation is that press plurality has been undermined because sections of the press have proved incapable of self regulation to the point where the News of the World was forced to close.
"the consequence of no regulation is that on Sunday, people will not be able to read the News of the World because it was the absence of regulation that allowed this Inquiry to happen, it allowed the News of the World to go, it allowed the readers of the News of the World -- I mean, whether one agreed with everything they put in and wanted to take issue, it was an absolute consequence because parts of the newspaper industry, not all the newspaper industry, were completely unregulated and out of control."

Armed With Smartphones, Russians Expose Political Abuses

From the New York Times...
"Violations of Russia’s elections rules have typically gone unnoticed, but now Russians armed with smartphones and digital cameras are posting videos of the abuses online." 
The article also notes that Russian bloggers are influencing Google's search results (though just how often is "occasionally"?):
"A slogan adopted by bloggers describing United Russia as “the party of swindlers and thieves” has become such a prominent Internet meme that it occasionally appears as a top hit when Googling the party’s name."

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Drone Journalism Arrives

The Lede Blog: Drone Journalism Arrives: "A Polish firm called RoboKopter scored something of a coup last week when it demonstrated that its miniature flying drone was capable of recording spectacular aerial views of a chaotic protest in Warsaw." Anybody in the UK doing this sort of thing or planning to?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Latest social media projects at the BBC

In an ever-changing online world the BBC continues to move forward with various new projects.

Here is a quick round up of just a few of the latest developments.

BBC tweets go human

I flagged this up in a previous post, but here is Chris Hamilton, the Social Media Editor, talking to Nieman Lab about the switch to human tweeting on the BBCNews and the BBCWorld Twitter accounts:
“We want to be tweeting with value...are we exposing our best content, and also tweeting intelligently?” Simply sending out a story is an important first step in Twitter practice, particularly in an environment that finds more and more people getting their news through social channels. But then: “What can we add to that story?”
The BBCNews account will be human controlled during the day, before returning to automated "cyborg" mode for periods overnight, although the aim, as far as possible, is to have human tweeting 24/7.

If the experiment with BBCNews is successful it will be rolled out to BBCWorld as well.

Hamilton describes this as the first step in a longer term strategy and he noted that the BBC is still trying to work out the extent to which the BBC can engage with Twitter users who mention or reply to the BBC's accounts.

(A problem of scale that has thus far been unsolvable. We seem to think that these 'new' 'social' media tools have to be two-way all the time because that is often how they started out, the 'social' bit in the title and they are good at 'social' on a small scale. When in fact they also do 'broadcast' very well. They are flexible media tools that you can use for either 'social' or 'broadcast' and indeed, both to a greater or lesser extent at the same time.)

Development of live pages

It has been a busy year and a busy year for live pages which have been used at the BBC for the UK general election, Egypt, the Japan earthquake, Oslo and Utoya, and Libya.

The Editor of the BBC News website Steve Herrmann is keen to develop the pages claiming the format has been a "big success in terms of usage".

Rather than having a single focus, the BBC is giving a more general live page a whirl with the latest updates from various stories all in one place. You can see it in action here.

I think one of the key questions is whether eventually this type of page will merge with the home page to form some sort of live updating home page.

That might be a bit too much activity for a home page, but for some time the Web has been moving towards becoming a constantly updating 'live' medium. Home pages already update much more than they used to in the past.

BBC experiments on Google+

BBC World Have Your Say has been experimenting with Google+ since August. It appears the social media producer has been using the 'hangout' feature to talk to listeners and potential contributors to the show...

And the BBC's Outriders programme has also started up a page recently.

There is also some standard sort of pages like BBC News and BBC World Service.

Twitter memorial for members of the Canadian Forces

Wearethedead.jpgThe Ottawa Citizen has started a memorial Twitter account for members of the Canadian Forces who have lost their lives in conflict.
The account will tweet the name of one service member at 11 minutes past every hour. The name is chosen at random by a computer from a list of more than 119,000 Canadians killed in two World Wars, the Korean war, the war in Afghanistan and other conflicts.
It will take 13 years to tweet all the names on the list, meaning the Twitter account will have to be running until June 2025. 
The managing editor of the Ottawa Citizen, Andrew Potter, said there is no reason why people should only remember once a year, "when we march and mourn and pray and lament."
"Through this Twitter account, and through more extensive use of social media down the line, we hope to make the act of keeping faith a more subtle, but in many ways more permanent feature, of the lives of Canadians."

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Latest Twitter updates on social media and war reporting

Thursday, 20 October 2011

BBC Editor says he was advised to pull journalists from Libya by Foreign Office

On the eve of the fall of Sirte, the BBC’s World News Editor has revealed that the Foreign Office “strongly recommended” to broadcasters that they pull their journalists out of Libya prior to the start of NATO’s bombing campaign.
Speaking at yesterday evening’s Frontline Club event on the pressures of reporting conflict, Jon Williams said officials at the Foreign Office were concerned that they could not guarantee the safety of journalists on the ground.
Williams playfully described the advice as “very generous”, but said broadcasters told the Foreign Office that they would “accept responsibility” for having their journalists report from dangerous locations.
Williams also claimed there were “lots of hints from the British” that BBC Correspondent Jeremy Bowen’s interview with Colonel Gaddafi in February “really wasn’t very helpful”.
NATO officially took control of all aspects of the military campaign in Libya on 31 March although British, French and US airstrikes had begun on 19 March two days after UN Resolution 1973 had been passed.
The resolution called for a no fly zone and measures to protect the civilian population from Colonel Gaddafi’s forces.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Voices at the Arabic Bloggers Meeting

The BBC's Jamillah Knowles visited the Arabic Bloggers Meeting in Tunis recently. In this podcast she talks to Egyptian, Iraqi and Palestinian bloggers....worth a listen.

Global Voices has a couple of podcasts too and Al-Jazeera English interviewed a number of bloggers for this article.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Notes on 'Reporting Libya and the Arab Spring' at the Media Society

So yesterday I tried to fit too many things at too many different places into one day and ended up being late for the Media Society event on reporting Libya and the 'Arab Spring'.

But here are a few incomplete notes on the panel discussion...(cross-posted at the Frontline Club)

1. BBC vs Sky News reporting of Tripoli

I think this has largely been put to bed. The general consensus seems to be that while Correspondent Alex Crawford and her Sky team did a great job of covering the fall of Tripoli, criticism of the BBC's reporters on the ground was not justified.

ITV's Bill Neely described flak levelled at the BBC team who decided not to proceed with the rebel convoy as "grossly distasteful". But...

2. BBC: Live vs Bulletins

...we did learn from Kevin Bakhurst, Deputy Head of the BBC Newsroom, that one of the reasons Correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team did not follow the story into Tripoli was because they stopped to file a piece for the Six O'Clock News.

While they were doing this, Bakhurst said they became detached from the rebel convoy and the team adjudged that it would have been highly dangerous to try to rejoin it - "the right decision for the situation they were in".

Of course, the team may still have made a decision that it was not safe to travel with the convoy even if they had not become detached. It is worth pointing out that Rupert Wingfield-Hayes was caught in an ambush the following morning while travelling with the rebels.

Although secondary to safety concerns, therefore, this does nevertheless raise the question of whether the BBC should prioritise rolling news or bulletins.

On the 'bulletins' side of the argument is the fact that bulletins have much larger audience figures than rolling news (Ten O'Clock News, 5 million; BBC News Channel 9.6 million per week).

For the 'rolling news' case, Sky's Alex Crawford was deemed to have "owned the story" and there is a feeling that increasingly audiences are consuming news live, a point raised by the BBC's Jon Leyne. Further research anyone?

3. Blown budgets

It appears that money for international news in 2011 has already run out.Both Kevin Bakhurst and Sky's Head of International News, Sarah Whitehead, said they had blown their budgets and had asked bosses for additional funds.

Ben De Pear from Channel 4 News said he had spent his "tiny" budget by July and had been forced to raid the coffers of other departments. When Bakhurst was asked what he would do if another major international news story broke later in the year he said: "I don't know".

4. Social Media

(Unless I missed something at the beginning)...there wasn't much discussion of social media.

Professor Tim Luckhurst argued that the 'Arab Spring' had stressed the importance of traditional media journalists. Initially, he was talking about 'citizen journalists' not replacing professional reporters which I'd agree with.

But I'm not convinced about the statement that followed from that premise:
"Yes, social media makes a contribution but it makes the least contribution when you need it most. And it cannot always be relied upon. And it can only be relied upon when it is curated by professional journalists".
The first problem here is the identification of 'social media' with 'citizen journalists' when all and sundry are now using social media - especially professional journalists.

Leaving that aside, the crux of the issue is the idea that people who are not professional journalists make least contribution to the news through social media when 'we' need it most. I'm just not sure I agree.

I would argue that generally people who are not professional journalists have much less desire to spend the time, energy, trouble and money to report the news on social media platforms when there is no great pressing need.

The Arab Spring has shown that in the context of state censorship of traditional media and political repression, social media provides a (nevertheless contested) space where people who have a frustrated need to share news, ideas and information can do so.

You might call this a very different form of 'journalism'.

You might reject that understanding of 'journalism', but surely the contribution of these individuals to the news and even 'traditional journalism' when 'we' needed it, has been rather important (even if their contribution was subsequently often curated and brought to a broader audience by professional journalists)?

It's both, not one or the other.


I'd be interested in your thoughts...

The book launched at the event, Mirage in the Desert? 'Reporting the Arab Spring', is available on Amazon and includes a chapter by me on the Gay Girl in Damascus blog.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Reporting the Arab Spring: the mirage of the ‘authentic voice’

I’m breaking the radio silence on the blog to post the introduction to my latest book chapter for Mirage in the Desert: Reporting the Arab Spring. (Not to be confused with Mirage in the Dessert…that is something entirely different.)
My chapter uses the case of the Gay Girl in Damascus blog, (a hoax which purported to chronicle the uprisings in Syria earlier this year), to explore how journalists are approaching the challenges of a world where the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’ are becoming increasingly blurred.
(It’s an issue that seems relevant at the moment. Only last week, an ITV documentary about Colonel Gaddafi’s support of the IRA mistakenly represented material from a computer game as footage from a secret film.)
If you want to read more, come to the launch next Tuesday and buy yourself a copy of the book. It also features contributions from more illustrious types such as Alex Crawford, Lindsey Hilsum, Jon Leyne and Kevin Marsh among others.
In the meantime here is your teaser…
A ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’, the mirage of the ‘authentic voice’ and the future of journalism
Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari regarded herself as the “ultimate outsider”. On her blog, “A Gay Girl in Damascus”, she claimed to be 35 years old, female, half-American, half-Syrian and gay.
Inspired by the revolutionary fervour of the “Arab Spring”, her blog posts compellingly documented her personal life as a gay woman and her involvement in the political protests against the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.
In April 2011, a post describing how her father had stopped Syrian security services from arresting her led to coverage in the Guardian, CNN, CBS and Global Voices.
Amina Araf was a pseudonym which had been adopted to conceal her identity, but based on her blog posts and email correspondence with journalists she was represented in the media as an “authentic voice” for the movement against al-Assad’s repressive government.
Too unlikely, as it happened. Several months later Amina Araf was unmasked as a fictional character created by Tom MacMaster – a 40-year old American studying at Edinburgh University.
In an apology to the blog’s readers, the postgraduate student maintained that “while the narrative voice may have been fictional”, “the facts on this blog” were “true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground”.
He believed he had created an “important voice” for issues which he “felt strongly about”. Members of the gay community in the Middle East, however, claimed that he had put people at risk, while journalists criticised his“offensive”, “arrogant” and “Orientalist” fantasy.
MacMaster’s fictional blog had spiralled out of control but his experiment had inadvertently exemplified the difficulties of performing journalism in the digital era.
By removing the physical body and collapsing the geographic, the internet allows us to alter, switch, conceal and simulate our identities more easily and to a greater extent than we have done in the past. (See Turkle, Life on the Screen, 1990).
In contexts such as the Syrian uprising, when it was difficult for journalists to access individuals in “real life”, many reporters were reliant on the digital representations of individuals as a starting point for their journalism.
The story of “A Gay Girl in Damascus” highlights how journalists and readers alike can be seduced by the mirage of the “authentic voice”online, but it also demonstrates that traditional journalistic fact-checking and verification practices were inadequate despite news organisations’ emphasis on them in the aftermath.
Uncovering “the truth” of Amina Araf’s blog was, instead, made possible by a collaborative investigation and verification process facilitated by online networks. 

Monday, 12 September 2011

So how has social media changed the way newsrooms work?

Last Friday, Kevin Bakhurst, the deputy head of the BBC newsroom gave a talk at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam.

He asked and subsequently answered: How has social media changed the way newsrooms work?

A good question.

So I thought I'd have a go as well. Not an exhaustive list by any means and you could flesh out a few things but a reasonable starting point...

1. Organisational
a) Digital tools facilitate easier cross-departmental co-operation.
b) Establishment of specialist departments to filter, sift and verify material published and submitted by the 'former audience' (E.g. UGC hub at BBC, Iran Election desk at CNN, 2009).
c) Integration of these departments into wider newsroom. No longer an add-on to traditional newsgathering but essential and central part of that operation. (E.g. BBC's UGC hub moves from 7th floor at Television Centre to main newsroom area 2007-8).
d) Creation of new roles - social media editors; community managers; interactivity editors; UGC journalists; livebloggers.

2. Newsroom culture
a) (Easy to forget these days....) Acceptance of digital sources as legitimate places where journalists might find valuable news and information that can be incorporated into news stories.
b) Emergence of a spirit of journalism which views autonomy as shared with the audience rather than the result of independent inquiry. 'Shared' and 'independent' understandings exist alongside one another in newsrooms...
c) first-hand journalism is coupled to newsroom journalism which benefits from hundreds of online sources
d) Efforts made to be more transparent about the process of journalism - explanations of editorial decisions and the limitations of news reporting.
e) Speed of news cycle deemed to have increased.
f) Personal public profile of an increasing number of journalists important to maintenance of news brand (E.g. Previously off screen producers now highly visible on Twitter).
g) Aspiration for a model of conversational/interactive journalism despite difficulties of making it work in practice.
h) Creation of new editorial guidelines for online content.
i) Greater awareness of instant audience feedback to journalism

3. News content
a) Adoption of social media platforms as outlets for traditional media content. Blogs, Facebook pages, YouTube, Twitter, Liveblogs, Flickr, Tumblr, etc etc...leading to...
b) Exploration of different modes of online reporting. Shift from 'inverted pyramid' model towards 'live updates'. Increased incorporation of audience comment. "Data journalism" sourced from the 'former audience' and subsequent visualisations (E.g. Ushahidi, #uksnow map). Convergence of genres and establishment of multimedia news as the norm.

4. Shifting values
a) Immediacy and accuracy vs speed - speed of news cycle and the ability of individuals to publish immediately leads to new understandings of accuracy and processes of verification...
b) Verification I - a move from 'verify, then publish' towards 'publish (with attribution to the source) then verify'. Increased online engagement with rumour, half-truths and emerging reports. Establishing the 'truth' is an evolving potentially participatory experience.
c) Verification II - development of "forensic" analysis of social media content as well as collaborative and 'crowdsourced' models.
d) Transparency as 'objectivity'? The hyperlink and an increased 'news hole' on the Web allows space for openness about sources and transparency about biases. But resisted by news orgs - volume of links out limited as news sites want visitors to stay on their own site. Some news orgs have retained emphasis on value of 'objective' and/or 'impartial' approach (see below).  

5. A few limits
a) Public emphasis on adherence to traditional journalistic standards and practices to safeguard the professionalism of journalism.
b) Maintenance of robust understandings of what is deemed to be newsworthy in traditional media.
c) Restraints of time, money and scale limit the interactive potential of conversational news. Audience members tend to interact with each other rather than with journalists. (E.g. Twitter hashtags).
d) Various news organisations steer clear of the embrace of subjective content retaining an emphasis on 'objective' and 'impartial' news (Economist, BBC). Although the proliferation of partial, opinionated journalism challenges these organisations for attention, it also strengthens their USP.

Friday, 2 September 2011

10 research articles on blogging, Twitter, UGC and journalism 2010-1

So I'm doing my viva examination for the PhD later this month - nothing like a couple of hours worth of questioning as reward for several years hard work.

In preparation for the impending engagement, I'm trying to get a handle on the latest research around blogging and related subjects. And I thought I'd collect them here for those of you who are interested...

(Afraid these are all institutional or Athens-type log-in access only...which forms part of the complaint about academic publishers in this recent article in The Guardian.)

1. D. Murthy, Twitter: Microphone for the Masses? Media, Culture and Society, 2011
"Twittering citizen journalists are ephemeral, vanishing after their 15 minutes in the limelight. In most instances, they are left unpaid and unknown. Although individual citizenjournalists usually remain unknown, Twitter has gained prominence as a powerful media outlet...It is from this perspective that Twitter affords citizen journalists the possibility to break profound news stories to a global public."
2. M. El-Nawahy & S. Khamis, Political Blogging and (Re) Envisioning the Virtual Public Sphere: Muslim— Christian Discourses in Two Egyptian Blogs, Int. Journal of Press/Politics, 2011
"Our analysis showed that although there was a genuine Habermasian public sphere reflected in some of the threads on the two blogs, there was a general lack of rational— critical debates, reciprocal deliberations, and communicative action as envisioned by Habermas. It also showed that this newly (re)envisioned virtual public sphere aimed to revitalize civil society, through broadening the base of popular participation, which in turn led to boosting and expanding the concept of citizen journalism, beyond the official sphere of mainstream media."
3. S. Steensen, Online Journalism and the Promises of New Technology, Journalism Studies, 2011
Useful survey of current research into hypertext, interactivity and multimedia.
4. A.M. Jonsson & H. Ornebring, User-Generated Content and the News, Journalism Practice, 2011
"Our results show that users are mostly empowered to create popular culture-oriented content and personal/everyday life-oriented content rather than news/informational content. Direct user involvement in news production is minimal. There is a clear political economy of UGC: UGC provision in mainstream media to a great extent addresses users-as-consumers and is part of a context of consumption."
5. Williams et al, Have they got news for us?, Journalism Practice, 2011
"Our data suggest that, with the exception of some marginal collaborative projects, rather than changing the way most news journalists at the BBC work, audience material is firmly embedded within the long-standing routines of traditional journalism practice."
6. A. Hermida, Twittering the News, Journalism Practice, 2010
"Traditional journalism defines fact as information and quotes from official sources, which have been identified as forming the vast majority of news and information content. This model of news is in flux, however, as new social media technologies such as Twitter facilitate the instant, online dissemination of short fragments of information from a variety of official and unofficial sources."
7. C. Neuberger & C. Nuernbergk, Competition, Complementarity or Integration?, Journalism Practice, 2010
"At first glance, three different relations can be identified between professional and participatory media: competition, complementarity and integration. We found little evidence that weblogs or other forms of participatory media are replacing traditional forms of journalism. It seems to be more likely that they complement one another. Besides this, we observed that the integration of audience participation platforms into news websites is expansive."
8. G. Walejko & T. Ksiazek, Blogging from the Niches, Journalism Studies, 2010
"Results indicate that science bloggers often link to blogs and the online articles of traditional news media, similar to political bloggers writing about the same topics. Science bloggers also link heavily to academic and non-profit sources, differing from political bloggers in this study as well as previous research."
9.  A. Kuntsman, Webs of hate in diasporic cyberspaces: the Gaza War in the Russian-language blogosphere, Media, War and Conflict, 2010
"This article looks at ways in which a military conflict can produce circuits of hatred in online social spaces. Ethnographically, the article is based on the analysis of selected discussions of Israeli warfare in Gaza in 2008 and 2009 as they took place in the Russian-language networked blogosphere."
10. T. Johnson & B. Kaye, Believing the Blogs of War?, Media, War and Conflict, 2010
"This study surveyed those who used blogs for information about the war in Iraq...In both 2003 and 2007, blog users judged blogs as more credible sources for war news than traditional media and their online counterparts. This study also found that different types of blogs were rated differently in terms of credibility in 2007 with military and war blogs rated the most credible and media blogs being judged the lowest in credibility."
Let me know if you spot any good ones I've missed out...

Monday, 22 August 2011

Libya: Reporting the Advance on Tripoli

Rebel forces have jubilantly entered the Libyan capital Tripoli, although fighting still continues in several parts of the city.
For a round up of the latest news check out this list on the Small Wars Journal website.
Here are a few articles that have caught my eye relevant to the reporting of the rebel advance.
The BBC’s reporting
A) Blogger Iain Dale apologises for his tweet about the "wimp of a reporter on the BBC wearing a flak jacket" at the Rixos hotel.
"Last night in a highly volatile situation, the BBC team in Zawiya, along with other major broadcasters judged it was not safe to continue with the rebels on the road into Tripoli."
C) The convoy that Correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes was travelling with runs into sustained fire from government forces. 
Praise for Sky News’ Coverage 
Correspondent Alex Crawford wins praise for her live coverage from the advance towards Tripoli facilitated by an Apple Mac Pro, a mini-satellite dish and a car cigarette lighter socket.
The Libyan Blogosphere
An analysis of coverage available on blogs by Global Voices
"Six months on and it is heartbreaking to look at how eerie the Libyan blogosphere is, row upon row of bloggers in Libya are silent because of the Libyan war. From the silent ones you realize that they are in the cities under Gaddafi control and therefore have no access to the internet."
Libya Twitter list
A useful list of Twitter users in Libya compiled by Mike Hills.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Journalism and rumour busting in China

There has been lots of talk about journalists' role in refuting rumours on Twitter during the recent riots in the UK.

A slightly different take on the same issue has emerged in China with the establishment of a "rumour busting league" by former Xinhua agency journalist Dou Hanzhang.

The Financial Times reports that Mr Dou's league has been trying to expose "rumours" passed on by microbloggers since May.

But his site only attracted significant attention when it began attacking "rumours" surrounding government attempts to cover up details of last month's fatal rail crash.

According to the Southern Metropolis Daily, Mr Dou's league was rather selective in its definition of rumour:
“It targets only rumours that originate with ordinary people and neglects rumours created by the government, and uses official statements as the basis and starting point of its [campaigns]”.

Friday, 5 August 2011

BBC's live updates of attacks on Norway

I've been looking at media coverage of the attack on Oslo and Utoeya, when a bomb in the Norwegian capital and a killing spree on the island left 76 dead.

I put the text of the BBC's live updates pages for the 22 and 23 July into Wordle and it created these two images for me.

The first is from the 22nd July - the day of the attack. 

The second is from the 23rd July, the day after the attacks:

Of course, Wordles look pretty but what do they tell us. Well, a few things struck me.

First, it shows how the focus of the BBC's story shifted from Oslo to Utoeya. "Oslo" is much more prominent in the Wordle when compared to "Utoeya" on 22 July than on 23 July .

The BBC began reporting that an explosion had occurred in Oslo on their live updates page at 15h30 (UK time) and initial news coverage focussed on the blast.

The shootings on Utoeya were first reported by the BBC 17h19. As events at Utoeya were unfolding during the evening, there was still plenty of Oslo-based reaction to report and details of what was happening on the island remained sketchy.

As the scale of the tragedy at the youth camp emerged overnight, the focus on 23 July shifted towards Utoeya. In the Wordle for 23 July, "Oslo" and "Utoeya" have similar weights.

Second, the Wordle shows the emergence of suspect Anders Behring Breivik on 23 July, the man arrested on Utoeya and who later admitted responsibility for the attacks.

Third, there was much more use of the word "Norway" on 23 July. In part, this may have been due to an increase in the number of general reactions published by the BBC to the attacks in the aftermath when there was less breaking news to report.

Friday, 29 July 2011

The phone hacking video catalogue

The phone hacking scandal has inspired (although I'm not sure whether that's quite the right word for it) several parody video efforts. These are the ones I've come across in no particular order and if the story keeps unfolding, then there will probably more soon...


Animated cartoon which (obviously?) imagines the hacking scandal in a world of pirates, missile-launching observation balloons and bi-planes. Includes a Guardian journalist(?) firing a well-aimed cannonball at the News of the World ship and Murdoch as a teleporting man-fish...

2. Rebekah Brooks covers Rebecca Black...(I'd add something more but my knowledge of music is ashamedly limited.)

3. Hackgate (The Movie)

Spoof movie trailer including Hugh Grant as David Cameron and Colin Firth as Hugh Grant...

4. The Daily Show

Englishman John Oliver helps Jon Stewart feel better about the state of his nation...

5. Foam pie thrown at Rupert Murdoch

Hang on...this actually happened...

At the time, somebody on Twitter suggested: "That guy clearly thought he was in the Foam Hacking Select Committee. It was next door. Easy mistake to make."

Monday, 18 July 2011

Blogging from Afghanistan, Twitter during Mumbai and bonus stats section

A few bits and pieces that have caught my eye...

'RAF Airman' blog
  • Some interesting posts building on this blog documenting RAF Airman's deployment to Afghanistan. Recently he's been trying to "spot the gorilla"....and also the guerrilla maybe.
Twitter and Mumbai
  • The Economist had an interesting piece about the development of social media crisis communications during the Mumbai bombings. 
  • It was similar in theme to something I wrote for the Frontline Club about the evolution of Twitter use when comparing the 2008 attacks with those in 2011.
The 'random stats' section (as promised)
  • Twitter: "There were 224 Tweets sent on July 15, 2006. Today, users send that many Tweets in less than a tenth of a second."
  • Social Media: "FTSE 100 companies: 56% have official Twitter account, 41% use YouTube and 38% use Facebook"

Friday, 15 July 2011

The BBC and social media

There were two important posts on this theme yesterday on the BBC's past and present ventures in online journalism.

1. The BBC's Jem Stone was recently tasked with writing a short history of the BBC's online and social media journey since the 1990s.

Calling on his own experience of being at the heart of a number of projects and dusting off the blog posts of some of his BBC colleagues, he has produced this post which offers a useful timeline of key developments.

2. Meanwhile Chris Hamilton, Social Media Editor for BBC News, has written a post explaining an update to social media guidance for BBC journalists.

The focus here is on Twitter which has been adopted by a wide range of BBC journalists particularly since 2009.

The general social media guidance (pdf) includes a link to a list of the BBC's "official" Twitter accounts which include those of presenters and correspondents.

These official accounts now have a separate set of guidelines. They are checked by editors as they are published and may be incorporated into BBC correspondent pages or other BBC content.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Real time, all-the-time news and the launch of the Huffington Post UK

The Huffington Post has launched in the UK.

And in an interesting blog post announcing the arrival of the blogging platform-cum-"Internet Newspaper" on this side of the pond, Arianna Huffington - the Post's founder - has me slightly baffled.

For a while she extols the virtue of the Huffington Post's commitment to real-time, all-consuming and interactive coverage:
"At the core of everything we do are engagement, connection ("social"), and a commitment to real-time coverage"
And warming to her theme...
"Our goal is to give our readers a one-stop shop for all the information they need to know...All delivered in real time, on every platform (don't forget to download our smartphone and tablet apps!), and using every possible medium."
She also expects that the Huffington Post's "readers" will want to be fully involved in a "social" news experience...
"And we make it easy for you to be able to not only consume what we are offering, but also become an integral part of the stories we are telling by sharing them, liking them, commenting on them, tweeting them, or posting them on Facebook."
OK, so the news never stops and we're all contributing to it and interacting with it and engaging with it in real time using "every possible medium". The Huffington Post will be successful and make you happy because of its commitment to real-time, interactive, 24/7 coverage.

But apparently the Huffington Post's lifestyle coverage will totally contradict all that. It's committed to "redefining success and happiness":
"The prevailing culture tells us that nothing succeeds like excess, that working 80 hours a week is better than working 70, that being plugged in 24/7 is expected, and that sleeping less and multi-tasking more are an express elevator to the top. Our coverage will beg to differ."
Er, really?

The only way I can see how this particular circle can be squared is if the Post simply left the lifestyle section blank so we can, as Huffington suggests, "unplug", "recharge" and catch up on some sleep...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Evening Standard's 'Internet threatens justice' headline

I've just been reading the Evening Standard on the tube home. Specifically, the story about Lord Judge sentencing a juror to 8 months in prison for contempt of court after she contacted a defendant via Facebook.

The headline which accompanies the story in the paper edition of The Evening Standard on page 7 reads:
Judge: Internet threatens justice
I was intrigued to read that the very same Lord Judge is later quoted in the article as saying:
"The problem therefore is not the Internet. The potential problems arise from the activities of jurors who disregard the long-established principles which underpin the right of every citizen to a fair trial."
I would suggest that The Evening Standard's headline is somewhat misleading. But such is the nature of headlines, I suppose.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Twitter for journalists: @fergb: Lose the egg and harvest Twitter lists (#Newsrw)

"Don't have an egg [as your profile picture] on your Twitter page", says AP journalist Fergus Bell.

Like Neal Mann, Bell is also a keen Twitter user and his focus was on the importance of building an open trustworthy relationship with people and the utility of Twitter lists to assist his journalism. 

Rather than following lots of people from his personal account, he said his preferred strategy for newsgathering was to establish a series of Twitter lists using HootSuite.

He also believed that it was more useful to monitor "quality sources" instead of following people simply "because they were interesting".

This strategy enabled him to avoid "the clutter" that would build up in an individual Twitter feed.  

In a daily news environment where time is precious, Bell recommended harvesting existing Twitter lists created by other people.

He cited Twitter's own World Leader list as an obvious example of how a journalist could take advantage of other people's list-making tendencies and suggested that useful lists for nearly any news story had probably already been created.

In terms of verification, Bell said he did use tools that had been mentioned by the BBC's Alex Gubbay, (who spoke just before him), including Google Maps and Street View.

But Bell emphasised investigating "the person" behind the content. He suggested that it was difficult to "fake a social history" and advocated checking whether the content that a person had submitted was consistent with their previous contributions to the Web.

Turning that on its head, Bell also said it was important that journalists were open about their own social profile so that the 'former audience' would know that they were genuine.

He highlighted that he wouldn't run anything prior to having permission from the content owner and said it was important to "gain the trust" of potential contributors.

Hence Bell's call for journalists to lose their Twitter eggs - the default photo icon used by Twitter on sign up - and to embrace the personal aspect of Twitter as a news tool. 

Twitter for journalists: @fieldproducer on structuring the chaos (#Newsrw)

"If Reuters is your example of a solid news wire, Twitter is Reuters on acid, crack and cocaine", says Neal Mann. Often referred to both on- and offline as @fieldproducer, Mann has been building a reputation as one of the leading exponents of Twitter for news.

Mann harnesses his use of Twitter to traditional journalistic practices and values. He says journalists need to structure their Twitter use in the same way that news organisations have always structured newsgathering. 

Mann has lists for topics and subjects in the same way that news organisations have specialist correspondents and areas of interest.

He also describes Twitter as his "patch" and, probably inadvertently echoes Gaye Tuchman's "news net", when he talks about "casting a net" across the platform to find interested journalists, bloggers and news junkies.

Although he now follows thousands of sources, he emphasises standing up the story through traditional sources and verifying information.

Mann argues that merely following people on Twitter, however, does not optimise its potential. He says his newsgathering is enhanced by his use of Twitter as a news publication tool. He says journalists should be broadcasting as well as receiving and interacting with people on Twitter on a regular basis. 

By becoming a known "node" in the Twitter network he claims that people are more likely to tip him off with news stories.

He also builds an interested audience for certain seasons of his journalism. By tweeting daily links around the Wikileaks story, for example, he built a following of people who were interested in Wikileaks prior to his own work for Sky News covering the Julian Assange bail hearings last year.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The number of staff employed by the BBC

Here is a blog post to save people doing what I've just done to try to nail this one down: how many people work for the BBC?

The BBC press office pointed me to the BBC Trust report 2009/10. Table 2-11 on page 63 contains figures for the "total average PSB [public service broadcasting?] headcount (full-time equivalent)" at the BBC:

Year end 2006     18,860
Year end 2007     17,914
Year end 2008     17,677
Year end 2009     17,078
Year end 2010     17,238

Strangely, this Guardian article in May 2007 says that according to figures from the Corporation, "overall headcount in the public service departments of the BBC is now 21,360."

But that figure would tally with the working in this BBC response to a Freedom of Information request in February 2011 which tabulated the number of BBC staff "employed on permanent and fixed-term contracts":

31-Dec-00    19,914
31-Dec-01    21,741
31-Dec-02    22,592
31-Dec-03    22,968
31-Dec-04    23,199
31-Dec-05    22,111
31-Dec-10    20,753

The FOI response specifically excluded staff working for: BBC Studios & Post Production Ltd, UKTV, BBC World, BBC Worldwide Ltd, World Service Trust (around 500 employees) and BBC Children in Need.

I.e. those areas not funded by the licence-fee payer and thus exempt from the FOI Act.

Presumably if you add in staff numbers working in those departments to the figures in the FOI response you arrive somewhere near the 2006 figure the BBC reported  - 23,500 staff.

Wikipedia says there are around 23,000 BBC staff in total although the three links cited as footnotes contain no figures to back up this number. In February 2008, The Times also used the 23,000 figure.

But why there is such a discrepancy between the FOI request and the figures in the Trust Report escapes me at the moment. Counting or not counting the World Service (2400 staff with 650 due to go) might make a difference.

As the World Service is funded by an FCO grant it could be 'counted in' as tax-payer funded or 'counted out' as it is not funded through the licence-fee.

And what of freelancers in the figures?

If you can help clear any of this up, do get in touch.

In the meantime, it looks like I'll be going with the disappointingly vague: "employing more than 20,000 staff".

P.S. Usefully that FOI request also has a table for the number of staff working in the BBC News Division (with a not so useful gap between 2004 and 2010):

31-Dec-00 2,459
31-Dec-01 3,462
31-Dec-02 3,690
31-Dec-03 3,691
31-Dec-04 3,749
31-Dec-10 6,302

A note explains that "due to organisational restructuring in April 2009 the News division now includes English
Regions, accounting for the increased headcount figure for December 2010."

Monday, 16 May 2011

Recent interesting links: BBC, journalism, blogging, social media.

BBC and Blogging

The re-launch of BBC News 'blogs' has sparked some criticism. Going after the new commenting format in particular, Adam Tinworth describes them as a "road crash", while Adam Bowie starts at the scene of the same 'accident' before turning his attention to the associated RSS feeds.

Off the back of that, an unrelated yet interesting piece of research from Canada suggests that blog readers are perhaps not as interested in the ability to comment on blogs as one might think.

Social Media and Journalism

Sky News freelancer, Neal Mann (@fieldproducer), explains how he uses social media to monitor 2,000 sources - a practice he regards as essential to his job.

His post was one in a series for the BBC College of Journalism in the build up to their Social Media Summit on Thursday and Friday this week.

Hopefully, I'll see some of you there!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

BBC journalists' 'blog' posts and reaction to new blogging format

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

End of BBC News 'Blogs' signals new era for blogging at the BBC

The BBC is in the process of launching 'Correspondent Pages' which will aggregate all the content of a BBC correspondent on one page.

They will replace BBC News 'blogs' and pages for Peter HuntTorin Douglas and others have been running in stealth mode since the end of March.

The change to the new format is explained in a blog post published today by News Blogs Editor Giles Wilson. He describes the move "as a pretty fundamental reinvention" of how the BBC's news "blogs operate".

The pages will collate all the content correspondents produce, including their articles for the BBC website, their radio and TV reports and their Twitter feeds.

The new Correspondent Pages were indicated as part of a broader set of changes outlined recently by the Editor of the BBC News Website, Steve Herrmann.

The BBC is not going to call these new pages 'blogs' and BBC blogger and Northern Ireland Political Editor, Mark Devenport, has already said farewell to his old blog format.

In a post flagging up his switch to the new format entitled 'Devenport Diaries RIP', he said he "fought long and hard" for the retention of his alliterative blog title but the "powers-that-be wouldn't budge". His Devenport Diaries blog is now archived here.

Devenport has been using his new Correspondent Page to report on the recent elections in Northern Ireland. 

The BBC's big blogging correspondents, such as Nick Robinson and Robert Peston, will be moving over to the new format soon so the 'BBC blog' label will be significantly diminished. 

The BBC has always had an uneasy relationship with the word 'blog' because of its association with partial comment and opinion.

Blog-like formats were often called 'logs', evident in Nick Robinson's 'Newslog' which first appeared on the BBC website in 2001 or 'diaries', like Jeremy Bowen's coverage of Gaza in 2009.

In 2005, former editor of the BBC News website, Pete Clifton, temporarily banned the word 'blog' from the website until the BBC had the "tools to produce them properly".

The BBC's live page updates or live text commentaries are also never officially described as 'live blogging'.

Nevertheless these new Correspondent Pages unmistakably draw on the blogging format. They offer a more comprehensive stream of news for a single correspondent. 

The incorporation of Twitter updates means correspondents can offer more regular and shorter updates.

And the pages continue a shift towards news content being organised around an individual personality as well as a news index.

In effect, the personal brand is becoming increasingly important in establishing the authority of the BBC's news online.

Giles Wilson notes that the BBC's decision to move news blogs from Movable Type software to the BBC's main production system enables the BBC's "top correspondents' analysis" to "feel much more like an integral part of the website."

Blogging will continue to underwrite the BBC's approach to online news output even if it looks as though a first era of 'blogging' in news at the BBC is coming to an end.
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