Hosting a session on news in the digital age recently at London’s high-profile Social Media Week, I was delighted to get three of the UK’s leading lights in digital newsgathering to join me. Rachel Rodriguez, CNN International’s senior social media producer in London; Hazel Baker, Sky News’s Digital News Editor; and Rob Owers, Twitter UK’s Head of News Partnerships, shared their thoughts from the front-line of the digital news world – and gave great insight on how social media is shaping way the news is gathered and the stories we all consume and share…
Here are the five top take-outs…
TWEETDECK – AND THE REST
While Tweetdeck has become the newsgathering tool of choice for news desks across the globe, there are many more digital platforms that help journalists find the news among all the noise online. CNNi’s Rachel Rodriguez referenced Crowdtangle – a content discovery and social monitoring platform – that now forms part of her company’s newsgathering armoury along with a host of other news organisations, from the BBC to BuzzFeed. It allows news organisations to see in real time what impact their content is having on social media and, crucially, how their rivals’ content is performing.
SOCIAL MEDIA MEANS SO MANY MORE STORIES
With around two billion people on the planet now carrying round a smartphone we now have around two billion potential walking news bureaus with people able to capture HD quality video and pictures on their mobiles. This has led to many, many stories that simply would not have seen the light of day in years gone by – from the frivolous to the very serious. A great serious example of this was the recent video of Hillary Clinton collapsing in New York following the 9/11 ceremony – an incident that could shape the outcome of the upcoming US Election. The moment was captured on the phone of Democrat fan and bystander Zdenek Gazda who was quickly targeted by news organisations desperate to broadcast his pictures as soon as possible.
SORTING FACT FROM FICTION ONLINE
With the ever-growing deluge of information online, the panelists were asked whether that is leading to an increased danger of covering news that turns out to be bogus – either put out maliciously, mischieviously or mistakenly. Sky News’s Hazel Baker responded with a story showing how more technology is actually helping sort fact from fiction. She told of one hoodwinker who nearly made it on to their programming by claiming he was an injured victim of a devastating rollercoaster accident in Britain. But the photo of a bruised torso he gave as evidence raised Hazel’s suspicions and a quick reverse image search online revealed the picture was from a medical journal in the US. The fraudster, already on a train to London for his TV appearance, was immediately sent home in shame.
PROTECTING THE DIGITAL NEWSGATHERS IS PARAMOUNT
With the growing army of potential “citizen journalists”, digital newsgathers armed with smartphones, Rachel and Hazel talked about the growing duty of care news organisations have for those people on the ground, potentially putting themselves in harm’s way to get imagery of something such as an ongoing terrorist atrocity or the aftermath of a bomb blast. Hazel spoke of the time she was in direct contact via social media with a man witnessing the Peshawar school massacre in 2014 in Pakistan who feared for his life. Her response was to tell him to immediately stop talking online and get to a safe place. He did and got in touch to give his story.
DANGERS OF AN UNBALANCED NEWS DIET
News organisations can now see in real time what impact their stories are having on their audience. Shares, likes, views – news chiefs instantly know what’s interesting their viewing public – and what’s turning people off. Does that, I asked, lead to potential danger for news organisations increasingly focusing more on the more shareable visual, controversial or entertaining stuff rather than the potentially more stodgy but still important news stories? The panelists saw the danger in that – but said it was the responsibility of news organisations and journalists to adapt fast and tell serious news in more engaging ways.