Tag Archives: Sky News

Journalism Technologies: 22. Hyperlocal

Week 22 of Journalism Technologies brought me back to a subject I know a bit about, hyperlocal journalism. I was very closely involved in this area during my time setting up and running Saddleworth News in 2010 and 2011, and I’ve maintained an interest in it ever since.

It’s probably true to say that the hyperlocal sector has, in general, not lived up to some of the expectations which certain commentators ascribed to it back then. With some very honourable exceptions, it hasn’t really replaced some of the declining ‘district’ coverage offered by local newspapers. Experiments conducted by legacy media companies in this space, such as Guardian Local and Sky Tyne & Wear, have been scrapped despite some critical acclaim. Nor has there been much outside cash, whether through investment, grants or advertising, for UK hyperlocals, which has left our sector looking rather impoverished when compared with the US.

But on the other hand, I don’t think many of us involved in hyperlocals really believed the hype back then. Hyperlocals at their best, then and now, and whether on a WordPress site or a Facebook page, offer information which helps bind communities together, information that may not be readily available anywhere else. Sometimes this is journalism, and research by Andy Williams, Dave Harte and Jez Turner shows that council coverage is a key part of many hyperlocal sites, while at other times it’s probably not – that same research demonstrates the eternal popularity of posts about community events and local history. Hyperlocals may not be the flavour of the month these days, but they are a part of the media landscape and will certainly remain so.

In the workshops this week, I got students to find a hyperlocal from their hometowns and discuss their strengths and weaknesses, before searching for new ones to add to the Local Web List directory. This is the best online resource available to navigate the UK hyperlocal sector. There are more than 600 entries, and after a bit of work from my students this week, there’s a few more on there now.

The Enduring Power Of Twitter Lists

My Hootsuite. I'm afraid I do look at this screen quite a lot.

My Hootsuite. I’m afraid I do look at this screen quite a lot.

Here’s a story about what Twitter used to be like, what it’s like now, and how it’s still more or less as useful as it ever was.

After a couple of false starts in 2008, I finally started to get it in early 2009. There wasn’t all that much you could do with Twitter itself back then, especially when it was interrupted by the all-too-familiar Fail Whale. But one of the things you could do was make a Twitter list of useful tweeters to follow. Import the list into a third-party application and suddenly you had an updating feed of tweets, a bit like the news wires familiar from all those hours spent in newsrooms.

I had a go at creating one of Formula 1 journalists, stuck it into Tweetdeck on my laptop, and kept an eye on it during one of the early Grands Prix that year. As the race went by I noticed I was looking at the list more and more, as reporters (James Allen’s was particularly good) passed on bits of information the TV commentators hadn’t spotted. Some people might remember it as the year when Jenson Button won the title, but in my house 2009 is fondly recalled as the ‘Summer of Second Screening’. Glory days, indeed.

I started to create a list of tweeting journalists to use at work. Local and national, newspaper, TV and radio, every time I spotted a new reporter on Twitter I’d add them. Soon, this list overtook everything else as my main source of news. As an early warning system for breaking stories, and a filter of the best stuff to read online, I found it was remarkably useful. After a while, I even worked out how to turn off the little chirrupy sound Tweetdeck used to make when it updated (I actually switched to Hootsuite and have stayed loyal ever since – evidently I change my bank more often than my social media management tool).

I used various Twitter lists extensively as a tool for gathering hyperlocal news when I did Saddleworth News. I noticed that one of my former employers, Sky News, was really getting into it, too. When I started teaching journalism students at the University of Leeds in 2011, one of the first things I would show them would be how they could use Twitter like professional journalists were starting to.

And all these years later, even though you’d have thought something else would have come along by now, I’m surprised how little has changed. I still add the odd name to my master list of journalists, and a tweet arrived the other day from Electoral HQ telling me it was now the biggest, and second-most popular, list of its kind on all of Twitter. I still look at it every day, several times a day, on mobile, tablet and desktop.

Growing up I found myself impulsively loading up Ceefax all the time, probably to check whether something catastrophic had happened since I last checked. Later when I worked in newsrooms, I was forever casting my eyes down the wires. At one level the Twitter list has really just filled this particular hole in my media consumption. But it’s not because of the technology itself, rather it’s the fact I’ve taken the time to interact with it and curate a list of users who are particularly useful to me that makes it so indispensable.

You can subscribe to the list here.

Lecture: Trolling

sackbrunt

Having exposed a troll in ultimately tragic circumstances, Sky’s Martin Brunt is now himself being trolled.

I gave today’s lecture in the second year Digital Cultures module here at the University of Huddersfield. The presentation I gave can be found here.

I showed the students some of the most recent high-profile examples of trolling and related behaviour, from the ultimately tragic case of Brenda Leyland to the row involving Dapper Laughs and what happened after he was called out by UsVsTh3m. I then discussed some of the academic research into the motivations that lie behind trolling, before considering the various ways in which government, the police and others have responded to trolling.

I took as the starting point of the lecture a definition of trolling outlined in a paper published this year by Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell and Delroy Paulhus, called Trolls Just Want To Have Fun. It suggests: “Online trolling is the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.”

It’s not bad as definitions go. Some have suggested that Brenda Leyland wasn’t really a troll, because as the parents of Madeleine McCann aren’t on Twitter themselves, her tweets about them weren’t aimed at them personally. However, I’d say her tweets could probably be considered “deceptive, destructive, or disruptive” – and possibly all three – and certainly existed in a social setting online, so would fall under that definition.

However, the case of Dapper Laughs and the apparent trolling of UsVsTh3m journalist Abi Wilkinson and others by his fans which took place on Snapchat, pushes this definition to its limit. Snapchat is more of a private than a social setting, and you although you access it using the internet, any trolling on Snapchat is done in the form of direct messaging not open to the general public. I suppose the same would go for Twitter DMs or anything sent by Facebook Messenger. It’s not even a year old, but perhaps it’s already time to stretch that definition a bit.

What I’m Reading: WWI Anniversary Coverage, Phil Collins and The Alamo, And More

The picture shows Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo in June 1914, minutes before they were assassinated in an incident which ultimately sparked off World War I. The 100th anniversary has been much in the news lately, and some of the best coverage I’ve seen has been provided by the BBC.

It used a very 21st century tool, the liveblog, to tell the story of that day in real time, including some new videos shot by BBC correspondents pretending they were reporting at the time. This sounds all a bit worthy-but-dull-schools-programme, but actually worked really well. NPR’s newish London correspondent Ari Shapiro is well worth a follow on Twitter for his perceptive insights on Britain, and he was in Sarajevo for the anniversary too.

Sky News has started its own ‘real time’ WWI Twitter account, although it’s been a little disappointing so far – just a daily tweet with no links to anything to put it in any context, let alone a mini-site to rival the BBC’s. Hopefully it will improve as time goes on. Reuters looked into its own archive for this fascinating piece on how close it came to confusing the assassination with the result of a French horse race.

An eye-catching story from the WTF department was this one about Phil Collins (yes, that one) and his obsession with The Alamo. The story behind the story is well told by Texas Monthly here.

On the subject of curious obsessions, this Newsweek article on the tunnel king of Brooklyn is great. Guardian-backed collaborative journalism project Contributoria is well up and running, and this Jon Hickman article on social capital is well worth a read this month. And, joy of joys, this classic 2011 Vanity Fair piece on how Chad Harbach’s modern classic baseball novel, The Art of Fielding, came to be published is now free to read online. It’s the best insight into the world of publishing I’ve ever read.

Blackburn Lecture On Journalism And The Internet

I did some teaching at Blackburn College’s University Centre just before Christmas, including this lecture which I gave to a group of first and second year students.

It’s a quick introduction to some of the current themes surrounding the current state of journalism. I thought it was important to emphasise to the students that, although newspapers are generally in decline, there are many factors at work and it’s not just “because of the internet”. I also wanted to stress that the skills they are learning on their course will be useful to them regardless of what they end up doing, whether it’s working for a traditional media company, in some related industry such as PR, or doing their own thing.

Here’s the full presentation.

Leeds MA International Journalism Course, Lecture 1

Today I gave the first of five lectures to MA International Journalism students at the University of Leeds. I’m also taking them for eight practical sessions, and it’s all part of a module aimed at giving them multimedia journalism skills, to go with some of the more academic work they’re doing in other modules.

The students are from several different countries, so I decided to use the first of the formal lectures to give them a bit of background on a few of the major challenges and possibilities facing journalism. I’m a journalist and not really an academic, so it was more of a personal perspective on some key issues rather than an in-depth critical analysis, but hopefully it’ll help put the practical skills I’m teaching them into a bit of context.

You can have a look at the presentation here: http://prezi.com/kgmt_p-4zioc/ma-lecture-1-university-of-leeds/

Getting It Right When Tweeting Breaking News

Oops.

News companies now routinely use Twitter to publish breaking stories, often before those stories have made it onto websites or even the rolling news channels.

These breaking news accounts such as BBCBreaking or SkyNewsBreak are usually controlled by journalists rather than automated bots, because real people can use their expertise to condense events into pithy, readable and accurate tweets. However, in the rush to break news ahead of the competition, real people can make mistakes too.

Although not a breaking news tweet as such, the one above from Sky News caught my eye recently. It confused child murderer Robert Black with the former athlete Roger Black, and inadvertently linked the ex-400m runner with a series of unsolved crimes. After I and others pointed out the error the tweet was soon deleted. Although it was retweeted a few times, it wasn’t exactly broadcast widely, so it was more mildly embarrassing for Sky News than legally serious. But it shows how easily blunders can happen when one person is under pressure to deliver tweets quickly, and those are published without being checked.

I know a bit about this sort of thing. In a past life I was a text producer at Sky News, between 2002 and 2004. That involved putting breaking news graphics directly onto the channel, although instead of 140 characters I had about seven or eight words to play with.

Here’s an example of my work, taken from the night of the “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad near the start of the Iraq War in 2003:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neDgVb9YHcA]

Sometimes text straps could and can be used to add extra information to what the viewer can see on the screen, although I’d accept “Large Explosions In Baghdad” (at 1:06) was rather unnecessary in this case.

Being a text producer is similar to controlling a breaking news Twitter feed. Your job is to distil stories into as few words as possible, in a fast and accurate way, while under pressure. There’s the time pressure from your bosses to get it done ahead of rivals, and the pressure of turning often-complex stories into brief snippets without changing the meaning, all the while making sure you don’t do a typo. Nobody else looks at your stuff before it goes on air because it would take too long, so you’d better make sure you get it right.

I became a textprod straight out of university, and in those days Sky would usually employ graduates to do the job, presumably because it was then a completely new area of TV news and management assumed more experienced journalists would baulk at it.

One thing I quickly noticed was that whenever a new textprod joined, the most important factor in whether they’d prove to be a success was not their experience, or which journalism course they’d done, but their temperament. Talented young journalists sometimes failed because they found the unusual pressures of the job too much, and did bad work (notorious errors included Somerset mis-spelt as ‘Summerset’). Others with less obvious pedigree thrived, not least because they could concentrate for hours at a time in the Sky News gallery, and could take a bollocking when things went wrong.

I imagine the Black mistake was laughed off in the newsroom, and filed under Sky’s unofficial motto of ‘never wrong for long’. But the danger posed by a mistaken tweet is arguably greater than that from an errant TV graphic. A Twitter blunder can be shared and reproduced quickly, and can be saved and seen long after a brief error on rolling news has been long forgotten about.

Those in charge of breaking news Twitter feeds would do well to bear that in mind. And to make sure the journalists they put in control have got the right temperament for the task. The next mistake could always be a lot worse than the last one.