Posts Tagged 'breaking news'

If you’re a (radio) journalist, Audioboo is dead exciting

Occasionally a service pops onto the internet that’s just brimming with potential for journalism (and the rest of the media). It doesn’t need any complicated explanations – you just plug and go and start having a lot of fun. Audioboo is one of those services.

Ostensibly it’s a very simple app for the iPhone that allows you to record a ‘boo’, which gets sent to the Audioboo website, where there are also the standard social networking functions. You can also embed it into your own website. This boo can literally be anything, but it’s normally short and snappy – rarely over two minutes. It’s a bit like an aural version of Seesmic or Twitter, although that’s not entirely accurate.

The Guardian used this to good effect on their liveblog during their coverage of the G20 summit and the accompanying protests. Mix with text and video, it gave you short, snappy reports from journalists on the ground.

This, to me, is exciting.

Let’s backtrack to when I was a radio reporter. It’s not a million miles away from what I would be doing for assorted news stories – often standing near a breaking news story (usually in a cold and/or wet place. Big news stories always seem to break when the elements are at their worst, just to torment news reporters) with a microphone in hand, describing what was going on for the benefit of our listeners.

Depending on what equipment was available on the day you’d either get a radio quality OB unit (although this would inevitably decide not to work or be in use when big stories broke), a mobile phone, or you’d just end up doing an ‘as live’ report into your recording equipment.

This is why Audioboo excites me. The quality, as far as I can tell, is decent – certainly better than using a mobile. Sure, it has limitations – you can’t do a two-way, for example. But the principle of just sending a quick report of where you are and what you’re doing… hell, that’s no different from standard radio journalism and opens up a wealth of possibilities.

If I were still in radio, I’d be getting onto our technical and website bods to make sure we could send Boos direct to the newsroom. How liberating would it be if you can send an immediate report back in decent quality without having to do a pre-record or even take up precious time from the journalist at the other end who’ll be recording your call.

And if a radio journalist found themselves somewhere without any recording equipment (maybe during off-duty time), it’d be easy to get a report back to the office.

But Audioboo goes way beyond that. Citizen journalism is usually, these days, a fairly vague term that’s just used to lump ‘the internet’ together but in this case it suits Audioboo perfectly. If newsrooms encourage listeners to send in their ‘boos’ from news stories, there’s a whole wealth of material that can be collected freeing up precious time for the journalist (and please God, meaning that we have to do less vox pops. I’ve yet to met a journalist who enjoys vox popping. That said, there is a time and a place and they do make for good radio).

Then there’s the radio shows themselves. Audioboo can add another easy, interactive aspect to any DJ’s show, or any podcast as well (it’s certainly something I’d like to play with in the future for the twofootedtackle podcast when I get a moment). Given how simple it is, there are so many possibilities.

Of course, it’s not just radio journalists this can be useful for. It should be reasonably easy to work them into TV news (I’d imagine), and the Guardian have already shown how any news website can work them into coverage. Again, any newspaper – be it national, regional or local – should be looking to work this into their site.

Inviting ‘boos’ from the public is essentially opening up audio is the same way camera phones and the like did for pictures, and that’s now a staple part of any news coverage.

The only downside. I don’t yet have an iPhone so can’t Audioboo myself. But it’s a concept that really excites me and it’s been a long time since I’ve said that about any web service, no matter how much I love or use them.

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This really should be the last example of why journalists and media-type people need to at least know how to get the best out of Twitter

This is cool. It’s a picture taken by Marcus Warren from The Telegraph of the paper’s newsroom. That thingy on the left-hand screen of Twitterfall, an application that lets you track topics via a cascade in real time. This makes it invaluable for tracking breaking news stories via Twitter.

For a bit more on Twitterfall, and a quick guide to using this excellent application, Paul Bradshaw has more.

Now, regardless of whether you think Twitter is the second coming or view it as a place for trendy media types to hang out, the fact that the Telegraph has a Twitter app on a big screen in their newsroom suggests that they view it as a part of the newsgathering process (as it has been for a while now).

It’s not just journalists who can make use of this. PR can use it to react in real time to those occasional crises that require an immediate bit of reputation management. It’s also useful for seeing how a story you’ve put out there develops.

Twitter may be the flavour of the month, but when you strip back the hype it is, quite simply, another communication tool – and a very basic one at that. The really exciting stuff comes with third-party apps like Twitterfall and the countless other tools that are being developed.

This small mircoblogging site is now part of the media process, be it news or PR. Get used to it.

EDIT: You’ll note in the title that I’ve said need to know how to get the best out of Twitter. Not necessarily get on Twitter. There’s enough stuff out there that you can quite effectively get a lot out of Twitter without actually being a member. However, I’d still maintain that if you want to get the best out of the site – especially when it comes to engaging online – it’s helpful to give it a go and sign up. You may not get it or, after an initial flurry, decide not to post very often. But at least you have a presence on there if it’s needed.

Instant reporting indeed

This may well be a first (and hopefully not too common an occurrence). Via Jeff Jarvis, a passenger who was in a plane crash in Denver literally Twitters from the scene as soon as he gets out.

Surely cynical hack X can’t still now say Twitter isn’t useful to journalists. There you go, a perfect eyewitness for a pretty major story (although it probably helps to be on Twitter so you can introduce yourself before leaping in for an interview request).

The other argument I often hear against using Twitter, from a journalism (or PR) point of view is that it’s impossible to find news like this because they don’t how to follow and it’s such a vast space that its impossible to stumble across anybody Tweeting breaking news.

Well, yes. And then no. Stumbling across a breaking news Twitter feed by chance would be pretty unlikely. But knowing how to target possible breaking news is another.

It’s as simple as this: first set up a TweetBeep alert for stuff specific to you. Second, start using Twitscoop, which shows you a cloud of hot keywords being Tweeted. I’ve integrated the widget into my Netvibes, which I’m rarely off, so can pick up if something’s got the site a-Twitter.

Finally, if news breaks, just use Twitter search to see who’s tweeting about what. So, in this example, looking for plane crash, plane or even Denver would probably return a few relevant hits. Or, even better, if there’s a hashtag, you’ve got all the content you need right there.

Once you’ve got this set up and into the mindset, you can probably have all the relevant information on Twitter in just a few minutes. I’ve even seen a journalist friend of mine Twitter that he’s “grateful to TweetpBeep for giving him a story”.

It’s things like this that show why Twitter is so useful for breaking news and is not just some form of bastard child of the Facebook status.

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. Journalism.co.uk 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.

Blogging breaking news

Who says blogs can’t break news? In an age where most footballer-penned blogs are full of bland commentary and meticulously on-message, Dean Windass’s post for his weekly ITV.com blog about considering his future at Hull if he didn’t get picked came as somewhat of a surprise. But it was also a great story, and one a journalism would usually have to work hard to get out of a player.

Unsurprisingly, it was the blogs who picked up on it first, before the local newspaper, the Daily Mail, the Vital Football Hull fan site and ESPN,all done with just a couple of emails alerting people to the story. AFter that, things snowballed.

Yes, the blog may have been hosted by a major media company, but the story, which started life on a small part of the site, quickly found its way around the internet and onto the fans forums. Just from one blog post. And the majority of stories credited the blog.

There’s news in them blogs alright – and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Citizen journalism: a rethink needed?

Couple of fascinating posts on citizen journalism on BeetTV and Phil Bronstein on thoughts around citizen journalism. It has not, says Bronstein, taken off on a large scale. He also sums up the current position neatly:

“The whole concept of citizen journalism is still floating around waiting for a good example wave to carry it somewhere, and user-generated material has yet to be a huge hit within the media world unless someone with a Flip catches Brangelina running into a lamp post.”

Let’s up a quick recap first with the Condensed and Possibly Not Entirely Accurate History of Citizen Journalism According To Gary.

So, in the beginning there was the media who had journalists who produced news. There was also the people, and the people generally watched or read the media and the media thought this was largely very agreeable indeed and nobody knew what the people thought because it wasn’t deemed important and those people who did speak were usually retired colonels.

Anyway, then the internet came along and some of the people realised it gave them a chance to say what they thought and a very small percentage of the people tried their hand at journalism and a few of them were actually quite good at it.

Then the media discovered that the internet was important but weren’t quite sure how to handle it because while they were telling because that it was important, they’d noticed a few people were also telling the rest of the people that the internet and other stuff was important. Or, more commonly, telling the media where they’d got things wrong.

Some media tried to engage, others refused but gradually there was a realisation that the people could be useful to the media and that’s roughly where we are now.

The term Citizen Journalism is definitely a little misleading. It conjures up images of wannabe hacks slaving away all day at the internet trying to beat newspapers to the scoop and perhaps for a very short while this was the case. There was even a brief mad scramble by traditional media to sign these bloggers, much like the moment Electroclash was briefly musical genre of the moment and saw Fischerspooner signed to Ministry of Sound for £1m, nearly taking the whole thing down the pan.

That’s passed now, largely (and thankfully). Now the boundaries are a lot less clear. What’s the difference between a journalist and a blogger? Take Shiny Media. These are blogs, but essentially they’re a journalistic outlet that isn’t published in a newspaper or broadcast on the TV. Then you’ve got journalists who specifically work on the web but because it’s on a traditional media’s site it’s classified as journalism and not blogging.

Then you’ve got the bloggers who are definitely not journalists but know more about a specialist topic than journalists and have great contacts, so are essentially out-journalisming the journalists without even intending to.

Then you’ve got the bloggers who aren’t journalists or specialists but once in a while write something newsworthy or happen to be in the right place at the right time (or wrong time, depending on the event) and have something to say which is of interest to everybody.

This is without even touching on the likes of Flickr, Twitter and YouTube for newsgathering purposes. Often these are better than anything traditional media can gather, not because the journalists are bad at their job, but because they happen to be on the ground when the event starts. Jemima Kiss’s post on Twitter and the California Earthquake illustrates this nicely.

Right, so this is where we’re at. Journalism and the web as if painted by Jackson Pollack. Nobody really knows what they are any more, the whole system’s in some kind of blogistential crisis and really, we’d all probably be better off heading home for a cup of tea and a biscuit and forgetting about the whole thing.

But it’s not entirely shot and there a few levellers. Firstly, Citizen Journalism hasn’t killed the media, as was predicted a few years ago. If anything it’s enhanced the quality of news coverage. A Tweet or Flickr picture direct from the scene is invaluable no matter where you’re getting your news from.

Secondly, although you’ll get the odd person trying to make a living out of citizen journalism from the web, the majority of citizen journalists are a one-off. They happen to be by a newsworthy event, they take a picture, Tweet, make a blog post or take a video on their mobile phone. It’s news, and news organisations recognise it as such, even if the person behind it never does another newsworthy thing in their life. 

That its not yet successful on a large scale is not unexpected or necessarily a bad thing. While people appreciate that they can interact with journalists and submit their own ‘newsgathering’ not everybody’s going to want to do it all of the time.

Secondly, although there will always be bloggers and Twitterers writing around breaking news, although they’re not hard to search, it’s easier and less time consuming for the average person having it in a place they regularly visit and, largely, trust. Which is usually the website of traditional media.

Anybody who Tweets or blogs or posts photos about a newsworthy event they’ve seen or are part of are being citizen journalists, yet the term doesn’t quite fit them. They’re involved with the journalism process even if they don’t necessarily know it at the time.

For me, traditional media and citizen journalists have, for the time being, reached a reasonably happy medium. It will change. Things always change, especially when the web’s involved. Who knows, perhaps it will move closer to the traditional view of a citizen journalist. Perhaps it’ll shoot off in a completely different direction. Perhaps not.

But for the time being, we’re all now part of the newsgathering process, whether we like it or not, a journalism s a lot better of for it.


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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