Archive for November, 2008

Mumbai shows why social media is useful as a reporting tool. Again.

With every major breaking news story, social media sites and sources keep outdoing themselves. The events in Mumbai have proved to be no exception, with Twitter once again leading the way.

Techcrunch notes that Twitter was talking about the terrorist attacks before the media cottoned on to the fact there was something major happening in the Indian City, and says that there’s no doubt that Twitter should now be considered a proper news source.

“You can jump up and down and shout all you want that Twitter isn’t a real news source. But all you are doing is viewing the world through a reality lens that’s way outdated. People want information fast and raw from people who are on the scene. If it gets a little messy along the way, that’s ok. We’ll soon see tools that help us distill the really good stuff out of the stream anyway.”

Global Voices back this up and goes as far to say that Twitter gives a better sense of what’s happening on the ground than traditional media could do.

“While the TV and media reports have been accused of using sensationalism and inflicting more terror from rumors, the twitter feeds portray the real sense of what is happening and how people are coping with it”

Twitter’s accuracy as a news source is picked up on in both posts, but it’s worth noting that with any breaking news, the exact story can often be unclear. I’ve worked on or followed numerous breaking stories where the information is contradictory, and what is taken as fact one hour can be shown up as utter garbage the next.

That isn’t necessarily the fault of the media or journalists – it just reflects the chaotic nature of breaking news, as do Twitter updates. But one of the most valuable aspects of using Twitter as a news source is the immediacy of the Tweets, and the swiftness with which incorrect information is corrected.

How accurate is Twitter? Well, look at the relevant  # channel for any given story and with a small amount of cross referencing, it’s easier to built up a picture of which tweets are giving the most accurate picture.

It’s not just the 140 character Tweets that make Twitter so useful for breaking stories. As Duffman notes, video-streaming applications like 12 Seconds, Seesmic, Phreadz, and Qik all post to Twitter feeds direct from a mobile.

“It’s this element of citizen journalism that some professional hacks may not like because they’ve become so used to using news wires to break stories that all they have to give them an edge over the rest of us is the quality of the coverage. Others recognise its potential and get involved.

Twitter empowers citizen journalists and allows them to not only report on on the spot but more importantly, enables them to reach a huge audience. Its not a complete solution as it lacks the objectivity in the same way embedded journalism does. However, it doesn’t go through the usual news media prism and is received without being framed to suit anyone 
else’s agenda. That, for me is its true value.”

It’s not just Twitter that was a useful news source for the Mumbai attacks. Charles Arthur reports that Flickr – the photo sharing site – quickly got a stream of pictures up direct from the scene (and it’s pretty hard to question their authenticity).

There’s also been Google maps mashups, along with the more traditional source of blogging and an ever-changing Wikipedia page. and The Guardian have good roundups.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that anybody who tracks the right topics across these platforms will be able to pull together a pretty accurate picture of how the story’s unfolding – a picture that may well be more accurate than news being reported through more traditional outlets.

This is something that became readily apparent during my tracking of the Exeter bomb blast in Giraffe earlier this year and has already grown beyond my findings back then.

Tracking the story via social media is, of course, no substitute for being on the ground. But if you’ve got a reporter liaising frequently with a colleague who’s pulling in as much information as possible from social media (and other sources), that can produce some impressive journalism.

What’s also fascinating is that for the Mumbai terror attacks, most major news websites were liveblogging. It shows how online reporting has moved on in just a few years. When Nosemonkey liveblogged the 7/7 bombings, much of the mainstream media treated it as an interesting curiosity. Now, a liveblog for a major news event – complete with links to other blogs, Twitter feeds, maps mashups, and the like – is pretty much industry standard.

With each major news event, it becomes clear that social media often has the most immediate coverage – and it’s a foolhardy journalist who chooses to ignore this.

That said, while social media may be the place to start looking for news during the event and in the immediate aftermath, once it comes to taking the story on and providing richer background analysis, traditional media comes back into its own. It has the time and the resources to devote to journalism.

What events like the Mumbai terror attacks show is that we all have the potential to be online citizen journalists. It’s never been easier to get breaking news out on the web – all you need is a half-decent mobile phone.


Quick, probably not very well-thought out post about law and teh interweb

Putting to one side the majority of the unpleasantness surrounding the Baby P case, one of the interesting aspects – from a media point of view – has been the problem of the online world and any court orders relating to reporting.

Without having delved too far into the story, it’s obvious that there’s some form of court order in play here, otherwise we’d have had Baby P’s name by now, along with the names of two of the accused [1].

The crime led to an outpouring of rage on assorted sources on the internet – blogs, forums, and Facebook groups, among other places.

Because of the way the internet is – huge swathes of information all quite easy to retrieve – it’s not exactly hard to find out the names of those involved, hence the naming and shaming that followed in the aftermath of the court case.

It doesn’t take a genius the piece together the information in the press reports, crossed referenced with a bit of smart Googling. Some of the older articles with names are in assorted caches.

Much of the ire seems to be focused on the fact that that the media hasn’t named the couple who were jailed over Baby P’s death, but as Judith Townsend at points out, naming Baby P isn’t about any notion of justice (whatever that may be), or about the Facebook campaign. It’s about confronting the reality of an online world.

Everybody who joined the Facebook group or named them online is in contempt of court. But they’re not to know the ins and outs of contempt law. Why should they? Even journalists can be a bit fuzzy on some of the laws, unless they regularly work on court reporting or in a specific field.

Most laws relating to contempt were created to ensure a fair trial; to ensure that no matter how horrific the crime, no matter how apparent the guilt, the defendant gets a fair, unprejudiced trial.

Much of the law (I’d imagine) around the Baby P case are to protect other children involved in the case, not the accused or the guilty. The law is surprisingly clear on this.

That was fine when print and broadcast were the only ways of getting your news. The judge made the order, the journalists would sometimes contest it, but if they failed then the information didn’t get printed or broadcast. Simple.

Today, it’s never been easier to join the jots, the access cache, and to publish the names (or other relevant information online). And the orders don’t apply to non-UK websites.

As the law stands, there’s been a lot of Contempt of Court committed around the Baby P case. But who should be served with any action? Facebook? Blogger? WordPress? Google? Forum administrators? Individual bloggers? Individual posters? All of the above? None of the above?

Libel and the internet may not be perfect, but in this regard the law is streets ahead of Contempt of Court and the internet. The Baby P case has demonstrated that it’s virtually impossible to enforce Contempt laws in an online world (although I wouldn’t go as far as saying its impossible to get a fair trial).

Clearly, the laws surrounding Contempt and a fair trial need an urgent and serious overhaul. Quite what that should involve will take a far better legal brain than I, and probably about 99% of the country, have.

[1] It’s (thankfully) been a VERY long time since I’ve had to deal with child cases and courts, my immediate guess was a Section 39, although as that doesn’t apply to dead children, it might be a different court order. Section 11? I’ll have to pick up my copy of McNae’s again here as I think I need to reacquaint myself with the assorted orders to do with children and young people.

Gary Elsewhere

At Soccerlens: An overview of how the credit crunch is hurting the Conference, focusing on three Blue Square Premier clubs in particular – Weymouth, Salisbury and Lewes. There’s also a quick bit on which non-league clubs have got their attitude to finances just about right.

A wafer-thin slice of the future of TV

For a bunch of aging comedians, the Monty Python crew have always been a bit ahead of many of their younger contemporaries when it comes to the internet. Now they’ve gone where many other TV shows would fear to go – uploading their content for free onto YouTube.

As the Guardian reports, they’ve used the site’s Video ID system to identify their material that’s been uploaded (without their permission), replacing it with better quality footage on their own YouTube channel and attaching adverts to the clips urging watchers to buy their DVDs. That immediately appears to have paid off:

“And there is method in the Pythonesque madness of giving away valuable content for free – Monty Python’s DVD sales are up more than 1,000% following the launch of their YouTube channel, and that’s on Amazon alone. Fans must have been listening to the Python message: “We want you to click on links and buy our movies and TV shows. Only this will soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years …””

As a fan, it’s a great idea – high quality clips for free, while there’s no better way to get you in the frame of mind to buy some classic Python. The quality of the clips is definitely a key hook – why trawl through poor-quality stuff when you’ve got the official stuff in all its glory?

Would this approach work for other shows? Well, the Python team are in a pretty privileged position as they’ve got an established brand and a very large fanbase – not to mention (I’d imagine) hundreds of people searching for clips on YouTube every day.

Whether it’d work for a smaller show trying to make a name for itself or a lengthy drama is an interesting one – but it certainly couldn’t hurt to try.

YouTube is a massive player in online video, so it makes sense to try and utilise it – and if the content’s officially sanctioned, it does give the show’s owner some degree of control. And, as the Python team have already shown, it can have a positive effect on sales.

It’s all part of the more social experience that viewers come to expect online today, and shows that YouTube is hear to stay and should be considered in any promotional strategy. Quite how you then drive traffic from there to your own website, and then ensure you make money from it, is another question entirely. But if you’re not engaging in some way with these sites, there’s always a risk of becoming a dead parrot.

Assorted drinking and meetups in London

Because, it’s just, you know, so interesting reading people blogging about their social life… 😛

Sarcasm aside, this week saw the November Bloggers’ Meetup in Aldgate. This event is growing every month (it was full up the afternoon it was announced), and is one of the friendliest meetups you could wish to meet.

As more than one first-timer commented to me on the night: “I was expecting it to be very formal, but people just walk up to and start chatting.” It’s definitely one of the most social of the social media meets, and you get to meet a very interesting and wide-ranging group.

This event didn’t quite have the lure of a personalised cocktail, but had an interesting talk from Fake Plastic Noodles’ Melanie Seasons on the difference between blogging in the UK and the USA. What’s fascinating is how much more of a community there is between bloggers in this country than there is in the States.

Despite being a bit nervous (and even though it’s a friendly crowd, I’d defy anybody not to feel a bit nervy about going up in front of a group of 80 strangers), she gave some food for thought for everybody there – and hopefully got many drinks brought for her as she deserved it.

And while I’m on the subject of drinking with interweb people, we’ve announced a date for the Dirty South Twit – Monday 8th December in an as-yet-to-be-announced venue is Clapham Junction. Go on, sign up and raise a glass. It’d be rude not to.

Chris Todd

Certain news really puts football in perspective. Fans are fond of quoting Bill Shankly’s famous phrase about the sport being more important than life and death, but that gets put to one side when you hear some genuinely upsetting news that actually does deal with life and death situations.

This news concerns Torquay United defender and former Exeter City club captain Chris Todd who has just been diagnosed with Leukaemia.

Chris arrived at Exeter City after being released in Swansea City, via a brief spell in Ireland. He was brought to the club by Neil McNab in 2003, one of the few decent things to come out of the much-maligned coach’s short-lived reign at St. James’ Park.

Although he couldn’t stop the Grecians’ relegation from the league, the happy-go-lucky Welshman became a mainstay of Exeter’s defence during their time in the Conference. First he formed an impressive partnership with Santos Gaia, then Gary Sawyer. Other defenders came and went but Toddy remained at the heart of the back four.

When Paul Tisdale took over as manager of the club in 2006, there was always very little doubt who he’d pick as captain. Chris was a popular player in the dressing room and a strong leader on the pitch and as one of the few players who’d stuck with City through the lean times, his appointment was appreciated by the fans.

As captain, Chris helped lead the Grecians to their first trip to Wembley at the end of the season, although the side lost to Morecambe.

At the end of that season, Chris followed Exeter’s former assistant manager Paul Buckle down the A380 to Torquay United, where he again became a mainstay of their defence as they mounted a challenge to bounce straight back into the league following their relegation.

The disease was only picked when when a nurse recommended he have a blood test after he struggled to recover from an operation. He was told the news on Monday. Part of the complications of the disease includes an enlarged spleen, which could easily rupture on contact and Chris was lucky to get through a 5-a-side game unscathed on the morning he found out about his disease.

I’ve met and interviewed Chris on many an occasion and he’s genuinely one of the nicest guys you could wish to meet in football. He’s always cheerful and, unlike many modern footballers, is happy to chat to anybody – fans or journalists. Many an interview would finish with both of us in fits of laughter.

Typically, the defender is taking the news in his usual good-humoured manner:

“Obviously it’s a bit of bad news for me.

“I’m very pleased to be at a club where they are giving me 100% support and I’ve got my family behind me, who are amazing. It’s hard to accept but I’m a fighter, as anybody who knows me will tell you. I have had upsets in my career and this is just another step. I will deal with it and I will be back.”

You can hear further reaction on Gemini FM’s page here.

Chris will learn on Monday at what stage the disease is at – at best, it could still be in its early stages and he could be back on the pitch within a few months.

What makes it, to me, even more shocking is Chris is, at 27, still a young man. He’s only a month older than me, but also has a fiancee and a young daughter to care for.

Chris Todd is one of football’s good guys. He’s also a fighter, and I hope that the fighting spirit that you always see from him on the pitch will see him through this dreadful time.

Get well soon Chris.

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November 2008

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com