London suffered its first, large-scale terrorist attack since the 7/7 bombings this week. Tragically, three innocent lives were taken, and the attacker was shot and killed by the police.
At the time, no one knew if another attack was on its way, or if this was a one-off. Amid the confusion, it was clear that London was facing a crisis. And Facebook was quick to respond, activating their Safety Check feature for the first time in the UK.
The communication system was introduced by Mark Zuckerberg in October 2014 “to serve everyone in the world”, though it was designed with Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in mind.
In the two and a half years since its implementation, the Safety Check feature has been activated 35 times, giving users near an incident the chance to ‘mark’ themselves safe for their friends and family to see.
It could not have been anticipated that just seven of the activations would turn out to be for natural disasters, with most of the other crises ‘man-made’.
In fact, the majority of system activations were catalysed by some sort of attack, often terror-related, with shootings, bombings, and even hand grenades causing the feature to be activated.
The chart below shows how many times Safety Check has appeared after different types of disaster.
The ‘other’ category includes miscellaneous events such as a building collapsing in Tel Aviv, Israel, and a train crash in New Jersey, US in September 2016.
It’s not uncommon for events that are not globally-recognised to trigger the safety check. It was activated after a fire in Massachusetts in December last year. No one was hurt, but the community were concerned after 60 people were displaced.
Ultimately, Safety Check is a community tool, and it’s no surprise Facebook wants to err on the side of caution when it comes to declaring a crisis.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer appeared on Fox News on Tuesday evening, comparing his “alternative facts” regarding Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd to reading different weather reports.
“The press was trying to make it seem like we were ignoring the facts when the facts are that sometimes… in the same way you can look at a weather report,” Spicer said. “One weather report comes out and says it’s going to be cloudy and the next one says there’s going to be light rain. No one lied to you.”
Spicer had told a press conference that the number of people who had attended and tuned into Trump’s was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period” — despite multiple side-by-side shots of Trump’s 2017 and Obama’s 2009 inauguration crowds indicating otherwise.
Obviously, telling untruths to the public and reading differing weather reports are apples and oranges. Weather reports concern uncertain events in the future, whereas Spicer was reflecting on a past event for which there were photographs and viewership ratings.
With this in mind, here are three useful tips for journalists who wish to produce verified reports amid the proliferation of fake news.
1. Remember that not all data is gospel
A key reason the EU referendum and US election came as such a surprise was because journalists and pundits had, quite simply, misused data.
Forecasters, such as FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times Upshot and HuffPost Data, had put Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the US election between 70 to 99 percent — because many of them had relied too heavily on opinion polls, and forecasters had failed to explain fully the concept of margin of error.
In Spicer’s case, it seems obvious that WMATA data on rider statistics cannot be enough to prove that Trump had the largest crowd in the history of inauguration ceremonies, even if the numbers he stated were true.
What if more people had chosen to take the underground on Inauguration Day because half of the city had shut off its roads for the ceremony? And, even if those people had gone to Trump’s inauguration that day, where did the thousands more people photographed attending Obama’s inauguration come from?
2. If a news source says something fishy, find another one
Journalists are arbiters of truth, not political mouthpieces. Reporting claims by the White House, 10 Downing Street or any other powers-that-be is insufficient. If official sources won’t provide truthful quotes, journalists should feel free to punish them by ignoring the quotes and going elsewhere for the truth.
After Trump invited Sheri Dillon, a self-appointed federal tax lawyer to justify the then-president-elect’s plans to solve conflicts of interest over his business conglomerate, The New York Times invited government ethics experts to rebut Dillon’s remarks. The experts, which included former White House ethics lawyers and the current director of the Office of Government Ethics, found at least 15 flaws in her argument.
CNN also refused to air a White House press conference one day after Trump’s inauguration, revealing the cable network’s misgivings about broadcasting false statements to its viewers.
3. Call out untruths
On 2 January, veteran US journalist Dan Rather published a lengthy Facebook post calling for journalists to call out the Trump administration’s untruths as bald-faced lies. As the media industry blog Mediaite noted, major publications don’t tend to refer to inaccurate statements as lies, but rather as “unsubstantiated claims” or similarly euphemistic language.
Many major news outlets have also adhered to this line of thinking. Some have even gone as far as referencing Trump’s lies in their headlines, perhaps as a reflection of a 2016 study that estimated that 59 percent of URLs shared on Twitter had never been clicked.
And, in perhaps the boldest headline of all, New York Magazine published a story back in December investigating Trump’s “War Against Facts”.
Of course, there has been wide debate among major news outlets regarding this new journalistic policy. Earlier this year, Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker advocated against referring to Trump’s statements as “lies”, noting:
To refrain from labeling leaders’ statements as lies is to support an unrelenting but not omniscient press, one that trusts readers’ judgments rather than presenting judgments to them. If we routinely make these kinds of judgments, readers would start to see our inevitably selective use of a moral censure as partisanship… We must be seen to be objective to continue to earn our readers’ trust.
Ultimately, it’s up to individual journalists — and subeditors — what language they should use to frame statements that just aren’t true. But whatever you choose to do, it’s increasingly important to call out fake news and hoaxes, and to implement rigorous verification practices to do so. To quote Rather:
A lie, is a lie, is a lie. Journalism, as I was taught it, is a process of getting as close to some valid version of the truth as is humanly possible. And one of my definitions of news is information that the powerful don’t want you to know.
In other words, it’s time to call a spade a spade.
The New York Times has released a report, written by a group of seven of their journalists called ‘The 2020 Group’, outlining “the newsroom’s strategy and aspirations”.
This is part of the paper’s ambition to dramatically increase its number of subscribers and build a true digital business by 2020.
For any journalist hoping to work for the Times, or even just embody its values in their own journalism, there are some crucial lessons to be drawn here.
1. We must defeat the single block of text
Despite the leaps and bounds that have been made in attitudes towards digital journalism, the report acknowledges that too many articles on the website are still “dominated by long strings of text”.
Indeed, it notes that only 12.1 per cent of stories include deliberately placed visual elements. With the proliferation of digital tools available to the modern-day journalist, there is no excuse for this lackadaisical approach to storytelling.
A journalist ought to care about the readability of their copy, and few things encourage readers to click away more than an intimidating wall of text with nothing to break it up. One reader, the report says, mocked the Times for not including in a story about subway routes even a simple map of the disputed train line.
You don’t even need a picture to break up text — a block quote will do the job.
The report bemoans the lack of expertise in this regard in the Times newsroom. Aspiring journalists should perhaps take note, and take it upon themselves to build these skills.
2. Digital means constant innovation
The potential of digital techniques for distributing journalism is huge, and yet the instincts of many journalists are still overwhelmingly traditional.
Most reporters seem focused on writing up and filing 300-word pieces to the exclusion of all else. But if a journalist’s focus is on their story, their choice of medium should not be so rigid.
Instead, we should allow the medium to serve the story. This is the thinking that has led to successful podcasts, email newsletters, and social video.
Multimedia, then, should not just be part of a young journalist’s arsenal, but should be the primary way they think about stories, always with an eye out for new formats.
3. Expert knowledge is digital gold dust
In the Internet Age, experts abound. If I want to find an authoritative voice on a subject, any subject, I can do it fairly easily. What is more, that voice is probably on Twitter, and doesn’t even need me to find it.
This development of human interaction means that journalists can no longer get away with rough knowledge of a topic, or the social media reaction will be brutal.
Therefore, an aspiring journalist should find a beat they can become an expert in, and make it their own. Whether that means keeping up with healthcare journals, following the stock market, or reading every policy briefing on the environment, being a leader in one field is now a key task for any journalist.
Note: This man is not Prime Minister.
4. The paywall is working
The report trumpets the success of the Times’ digital subscription model, with a graph indicating that their revenue from consumers is growing, and continuing to exceed advertising revenue.
How much this indicates the value of subscribers and how much it merely reflects the decline of advertising is an open question, but it is clear that about a third of the Times’ lost advertising revenue has been replaced by subscription fees.
Not only that, but the model helps to fight the fall in advertising fees. “Advertisers,” the report explains, “crave engagement: readers who linger on content and return repeatedly.”
The path to creating engaged readers is very different to the modern urge to create clicks and pageviews. A reader who feels betrayed by a headline they perceive as clickbait is less likely to return.
This is good news. Journalists now have a reason beyond their own professional integrity to pursue quality, and an effective retort to an editor complaining that their story isn’t attention-grabbing enough.
5. It’s time to think about success
The availability of detailed and sophisticated analytics of audience engagement, pageviews, and so on, means that success can be defined and vigorously pursued.
Pageviews, of course, should not be the defining metric, but it is important to have a sense of important analytics.
The Times report encourages news desks to set themselves tangible goals, so that journalists know what success looks like, and can pursue that.
This is not about making journalism subservient to business, but about creating content that gets read: effective journalism.
6. We should all learn to code
Good visuals don’t just come from nowhere, and presenting a story well online is sometimes about more than just an embedded YouTube video.
The report boasts that the Times has more journalists who can code than in any other newsroom in the world.
There will be some journalists who don’t understand why this is something to boast about. These journalists are still creating articles dominated by big blocks of text.
It may be intimidating, but perhaps the time has come for journalism students to sacrifice the time spent learning shorthand and get some lessons in coding.
Facebook is putting cash in your hands for using its new live streaming service. Not only is this a sign the social media giant is wholeheartedly backing Facebook Live to the hilt, but it also presents huge opportunities for digital journalists. As word spreads that Buzzfeed is set to earn $3.05 million from facebook Live before March 2017, Newsrooms and media companies will be looking for people with the skills to capitalize and a journalist who know’s how to work with Facebook Live will likely be an asset. It won’t be a surprise to anyone who has visited the Facebook Live video map, however, that a decent stream can often be a diamond in the rough. Live anything has always been something of an art form, and when the format doesn’t work – it really doesn’t work. Our Interhacktives team have collated 17 different types of Facebook Live video to make sure budding journalists don’t poison the well. We’ll show you what we think works, and what we think is borderline animal abuse.
1) The Political Broadcast.
“What really took me by surprise was the comment stream: it was unintelligible. A live video has no real time moderation.” – Ryan Watts At one point before the election, four of the top ten Facebook Live videos of all time are Donald Trump related. The Donald brings in the views because of the salience of the US election, but it’s not just doing him a favour. A political speech like this one being broadcast, for free, to thousands across the world is good for democracy – and a perfect use of Facebook Live. It’s relevant, but don’t read the comments.
2) The Alternative Political Broadcast.
“500,000 people watching one hour of snaps of Joe Biden with a funny caption every now and then, too long and boring, not interesting at all.” – Matteo Moschella. Popularised by the likes of Charlie Brooker and Channel 4, content that provides an alternative to mainstream politics is a good use of both the internet and Facebook’s streaming platform. When a Vice Presidential debate isn’t that appealing, physically-printed pictures of Joe Biden, softly presented in a (seemingly) endless expression of admiration is a natural alternative. Just learn from BuzzFeed and don’t let the joke run stale. People didn’t stay for long, but you only need to watch for 3 seconds to count as a view.
3) The Interview.
“The video is highly visual, with closeups of beautiful dresses and various accessories. Despite this, it relies on sound – the curator tells us all of the background context” – Harriet Pavey Sure – interviews are good fun. Do they work on the interactive Facebook Live? Yes! The live element means no checking the copy, no “scratch that, I meant to say…” It works as far as live TV does, but there’s a way to make it better for your audience.
4) The Interactive Interview.
With this one in particular, rather than just doing a Q+A with the subject, it’s sort of ‘gamified’ so that it becomes more interesting for the subject and the people who are watching.” – Jasper Pickering Gamification can make the news far more palatable for some younger consumers, so Dan Wooton is capitalising by 1) interviewing an Instagram celebrity and 2) Making his humble viewers do the heavy lifting, by pitching questions and responding with intent. This is a use of Facebook Live that is sure to gain traction in a major way.
5) The Web Cam.
“This got a bit dull at one point, no viewer interaction. I wanted to see more expert info on the hurricane and a point to all those high-tech screens” – Mimi Lauder Ever since a couple of Cambridge caffeine nuts lifehacked their way to a perfectly observed brew, the live webcam has been something of a mainstay online – and it works with Facebook Live too. Watching a condor hatch its eggs, or paint dry, might not be the most fascinating feeds but by allowing people to simply check up on something interesting, at this raw level, is a sure to be both therapeutic and popular.
6) The TV Show.
“A compilation of interviews with Leave and Remain campaigners before the EU Referendum. Buzzfeed did really well with this afterwards too, as they made it into a series of vines, articles and shareable content.” – Bridie Pearson-Jones “Hey, you know what should basically be Channel 5? The internet.” No one has ever said this, yet perhaps content creators are so capable that they can go beyond the production value of your typical TV show. Buzzfeed smothered proceedings with their own branding, made little twists to make a political grilling internet ready, and built something interactive and sharable that they could feed into vines, articles and more. Your move, TV.
7) The Reality TV Show.
“Kind of ridiculous but funny and clever way of engaging commenters – something that I think would benefit Buzzfeed in Facebook’s algorithms for generating newsfeeds” – Megan Gurney Another of those pesky TV formats, but with a Buzzfeed twist. Crowdsourcing dance moves made for interesting viewing, and when combine it with a self-deprecating and awkward sense of humour – you have a decent Facebook Live post.
8) The Experiment.
“Gets pretty repetitive after a while, we just want to see the watermelon explode.” – Alexandra Ma Buzzfeed seem to be throwing everything at the wall and hoping something is as sticky as listicles. Facebook Live is showing us that you can take one of the most viewed YouTube videos of all time, stream it live, and still be providing decent content. The suspense, the simplicity, the fact you can’t predict how long the video will take to conclude – all preventing the user closing the tab. Just one more band…
9) The Simple Long Form.
“To be honest, I’m not sure the puppy is really enjoying it by the end.” – Luke Barratt People watch ‘boring’ things on the internet. Case in point, an intersection in Jackson, Wyoming. Perhaps boring is a disservice, as people find entertainment in the discussions that surround these simple viewing experiences. Controversy struck when Buzzfeed massaged a puppy for an hour and a half – with arguments surrounding whether the dog was enjoying himself dominating the feed. Facebook Live benefits from a simple script, and a little bit of controversy will attract some fleeting views (or the RSPCA) for sure, just make sure you’re getting the attention you want.
10) The Complicated Long Form.
“It was curious enough to attract more than 400 thousand viewers, but the fact that AI couldn’t learn the game nearly as fast as a human being started to annoy most of the viewers, who started to criticize the transmission and argue amongst themselves about the point of the whole experiment as Mario died over and over again.” – Francisco Mares Twitch played Pokemon, and it was a global phenomenon, in part because people love an underdog. Watching Mario dive off cliff faces is heartbreaking, but the tech behind this display captured people’s imaginations and, while the Facebook live stream set the stage, people stayed to debate Asimov’s laws of robotics. The lesson here is to think about your audience, and the commenters you wish to host.
11) The Good Information Piece.
“This video got more than 60,000 views which shows its significance in the social media sphere. I personally thought this video was quite descriptive and helped me understand the situation better than what I understood after reading a piece on NYtimes” – Ayushman Basu On the odd occasion, a bit of Journalism can sneak onto a Facebook Live feed. Taking to the streets and simply interviewing people, as this reporter did, worked to an extent because the subject he was reporting on was important, divisive and, most importantly, happening now and happening around him. Take the streets and just film yourself doing your work, at the very least the Journalists will be watching.
12) The Bad Information Piece.
“It didn’t really work as a live video, however. The FT essentially tried to translate directly the television format (a bunch of people sitting down and talking) onto Facebook Live, which I think is the wrong strategy.” – Luke Mintz Sit everyone down in a Newsroom and talk finance for 50 minutes, however, and you won’t be letting Facebook Live be all it can be. Formats that once defined news are no longer so relevant. Roosterteeth are (bluntly) heralding the death of the local anchor, whilst delivering tech news with a show that emphasises community interaction. Facebook Live is a different beast and the FT will need to adapt. The number of views these videos consistently have does not reflect the true reach of the publication.
13) The No Information Whatsoever.
“Just a big advert. It was dull because it never led to anything.” – Ella Wilks-Harper A hypeman for local weather reports, this presenter never actually said anything of substance. NBC are treating live streaming on your facebook feed as a novelty, almost as a marketing tool. With a tool such as this, Journalists are hoping to be able to play the long game, and we won’t know exactly how Facebook Live matures until it does. Until then, tips on how to use the platform shouldn’t be seen as scripture (says the guy writing an article on how to use Facebook Live.)
14) The High Production Value.
“It’s basically a TV show. The problem with this video is that it looks like a TV package which ignores the facets of a social-only product” – Matteo Moschella Omnidirectional camerawork from a world famous media institution, presenters with such high pay it’s at risk of being publicised, the kind of stable camera work you’d find effortlessly tracking leaping Salmon on an esoteric nature documentary – 100k views. Eh. If you can keep the production value high, then all the better. We feel doing this to the detriment of audience engagement/innovative content – is best avoided.
15) The Medium Production Value.
“Pros: capitalises well on the behind-the-scenes element of Facebook Live, giving people a first glimpse of the new gallery before it was open to the public. It’s basically like getting a private gallery tour. Cons: It’s appeal is to a specific section of facebook users.” Niamh McIntyre Facebook Live can be used to give us access to behind the scenes in ways we never expected. It’s a way of sneaking backstage, a way of rewarding those genuinely interested in a certain subject, of paying service to the fans. Keeping that authenticity is the name of the game, however, and as one of the world’s greatest businessmen always says, keep it simple stupid (hurts my feelings every time.)
16) The Raw and the Viral
“Pros: Candice’s loveable, down-to-earth nature invites us to explore the Chewbacca mask with her. We want to keep watching because the noise that the mask makes is so weird and unfamiliar we want to listen to it over and over again. Cons: I literally cannot think of any” – Alexandra Ma Recommended by two interhacktives, and a firm favourite for most of the rest of us, Chewbacca mom tops our list. This type of video is effortless, genuine and caught fire. Facebook can capture personality in a way other platforms can’t, by combining the culture of a social behemoth like Facebook – with such an instant medium
17) The “Who says polling data is wrong?”
“I used a smiley face to tell the world my favourite Disney movie, an angry face to show my appreciation for cats (over dogs) and endorsed a candidate in the US election with a heart. Welcome to 2016.” – Jasper Pickering
Now that electoral polling doesn’t seem to work anymore, some sites have jumped at the opportunity of hosting their own. Using Facebook Live and cleverly demarcated emojis, news sites are holding their own public polls. They may have a humorous spin, with many people voting for Harambe in the majority of polls, but with official polling as unhelpful as ever – could this be a more effective method?
What works for you? Do you agree with our typology? Horrified at the idea of ‘chewbacca mom’ being future-proof entertainment? Let us know in the comments below and please share your Facebook Live videos – we’re always looking for inspiration.
All eyes were on the United States two short weeks ago when it elected its next president. Many digital publishers used the opportunity to explore some creative new ways to cover the event as election and polling results rolled in throughout the night.
The Interhacktives team tuned into some live online coverage intently across the pond. Here were some that stood out:
Vox’s Election Day emotion tracker
Vox’s Election Day emotion tracker is a perfect example of finding human stories from data. The site encouraged its audience to input their emotions throughout polling day, so that they could see how many other Vox readers were feeling the same way.
You can now seehow emotions varied over the course of the day, filtered by the respondent’s preferred candidate.
CNN’s Politics app
CNN worked hard throughout the election cycle with an entire section of its website dedicated to election-related news, pushing out interactive series on its website such as “Global Headaches,” which invited readers to vote on the 45th president’s biggest foreign policy issues, and so on.
Throughout Election Night, CNN updated “CNN Politics,” its iOS app dedicated to data-driven election news releasedearlier this year, in real time. Whenever a candidate won a state, the app published a graphic of the winning candidate superimposed on a map of the state, along with the number of EC votes each candidate had tallied up, and exit/opinion poll results if available.
The app is divided into three main sections: “Insights,” featuring short stories driven by polling data; “Latest News,” with election-related CNN stories loaded directly on the app; and “Who’s Winning” (later renamed “How He Won”, and then “The Transition”) containing the results of national and state polls when possible. Since 8 November the app has continued to update with data and news-driven stories reflecting on the election’s outcome.
CNN also published updates to its Kik, Snapchat Discover channel and Amazon Echo channels throughout the night.
AJ Plus’ Facebook Messenger bot
AJ+, Al Jazeera’s social publishing arm, created a Facebook Messenger bot on 5 November that would act as the subscriber’s’ “guide” over the course of Election Night. The bot, named Mila, provided graphical visualisations, gifs and ajplus.com articles of the candidates’ positions and election outcomes, depending on what the reader asked to see. Here’s how AJ+ managed the interaction between the bot and readers, per Journalism.co.uk:
If they [readers] typed in “immigration” or “abortion”, Mila would return a fact card, profiles of the candidates, or an AJ+ video that could be watched inside Messenger. They could also send AJ+ photos reflecting their experiences on voting day.
As Quartz’s coverage pays attention to, but doesn’t typically break news, the publisher forwent a standard live feed and elected instead to promote its Slack channel.
Editorial staff sent qz.com content to the Slack channel fairly regularly, but the conversation that ensued wasn’t exactly sparkling.
It was fun to see emojis feature heavily in the conversation, and to take part in a journalist-heavy Slack channel, but the conversation as a whole read like an unmoderated Facebook comment thread — fast-paced and repetitive.
A redeeming moment, however, was when a fellow user uploaded an entire spreadsheet featuring historical and current election outcomes of every single state:
The Google Trends team gathered data from Google searches, released in real time, to see what people were asking about the US election throughout the night. It combined search terms around five main topics and charted spikes in searches for these topics across the US:
The geolocated search terms hinted at election trends that we should have perhaps picked up on sooner. For example, markers for long wait times at polling stations, which began to spring up across the map, suggested that the long-ignored white working class was turning out en masse for this election.
BuzzFeed teamed up with Twitter to live-stream an Election Night show, which took on the style of a TV broadcast — so much so that the digital outlet had hired a TV producer to oversee the production.
The video was clearly aimed at millennials as it featured BuzzFeed’s classic “WTF” yellow stickers, emoji reactions and special appearances including Tony Goldwyn, the actor who plays President Fitzgerald Grant in Scandal, Ken Bone, and even a pre-recorded interview with President Obama.
The livestream wasn’t shy of political analysis, either, with BuzzFeed News journalists reporting live at locations across New York and London.
Some 6.8 million unique viewers, 83 percent of whom were under 35, tuned in to the special livestream, per Twitter statistics. BuzzFeed’slive blog, however, was disappointingly simple compared to their previous Election and Referendum coverage.
The Washington Post’s live map
WashPost debuted a map that showed the number of electoral colleges won in each state and changed colours as results came out throughout the night. In most cases, WashPost seemed to update its map faster than many other news publishers like the Guardian and some Indian publications.
WashPost also launched a geo-targeted “live email newsletter” containing content that changed according to the time the reader opened it.
The Huffington Post’s electoral live tracker
HuffPost created a descriptiveelectoral live tracker that was easy to follow. The map was divided into ‘Electoral Votes’ and ‘Geography’. Hovering over each state gave an idea of who was winning. There was an additional index beside the map which stated who won/led and the percentage of votes counted.
On Election Day, HuffPost also launched a live blog with short news updates, videos and UGC updated regularly. It posted a Facebook Live video featuring a lit wax candle shaped as Donald Trump, inviting viewers to watch the candle melt. Some people might have felt a bit odd watching the Trump candle melt and then see him win the election…
The New York Times’ live updates
While the New York Times Upshot’s election tracker has now become infamous for swinging its prediction from a 80+ percent chance of a Clinton victory to a 95 percent likelihood of a Trump win, its live blog was fantastic.
Live updates on the nytimes.com website included statistics on the number of Electoral College votes each candidate had gained, and the candidate’s chances of winning each state and the country overall.
The blog also had a great user interface, with colour-coded maps and ticks next to the winning candidate’s name whenever he/she won a state. It was a fantastic example of how to break down information-heavy issues in an accessible way.
The BBC, who dedicated an entire landing page to the elections coverage, experimented with a range of different ways to tell the story, including breakdowns of voter demographics and explainers for its predominantly British audience of how the election worked. BBC presenters, including Andrew Neil, Emily Maitlis and Jeremy Vine, also reported live from New York.
On a night that was saturated with coverage, one of the most useful things was the BBC’s live Electoral College vote counter, which was a searchable interactive map that allowed users to find the results of each state easily.
The landing page has continued to update with news and analysis on the election’s aftermath.
Helen Chandler-Wilde, Alexandra Ma
The Guardian’s app
The Guardian’s app sent out push notifications after every development, which anchored its alerts to many lock screens, but the content it loaded was the same live blog featured on its website.
The app’s 8-bit depictions of mini pixelated Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump guarding the app’s live blog were a great touch, though.
Being able to access the number of states called, the popular vote toll, percentage of precincts reporting, and electoral college votes counted with one swipe was also useful.
No one – not even Instagram queens, national newspaper editors or that weird guy from school who inexplicably has thousands of Twitter followers – fully understands social media. And isn’t that exciting?
Journalists increasingly value the analytics and audience connection offered by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and who-knows-what-next. Together, we’re learning how best to use each platform to build our brand, reach new audiences and make our content the best it can be.
So how are journalists tackling the modern mystery of social media? To find out, we’ve rounded up the most helpful social media must-dos and must-don’ts we could find, each from a different website. Spoiler: social media is a mixed bag.
Luke Barratt: “The tone of their tweets is similar to the headline voice on the website, focusing on explanation. However, there is also an elliptical quality to it: a question is usually implied but left unanswered. For example, ‘The timing of our current Election Day shows how antiquated our voting system is.’ How?”
It seems obvious, but it is easy to forget: if you give your audience too much information, they have no reason to click and add to your sweet, sweet page views. But nor do you want to incense your audience with a tantalising tweet leading to a mind-draining article. Only if your content is quality is teasingly holding back information deserved. Thankfully, Vox has quality on its side.
The Telegraph: Know your audience
Harriet Pavey: “Their Twitter feed doesn’t get much engagement at all, despite having 700k followers. It seems to be still figuring out who it is…. Their Instagram uses lot of hashtags on every picture, suggesting that the likers are probably not avid Telegraph readers, and are likely just to be browsing Instagram. Despite the high engagement rate, the account has about 51K followers.”
‘Audience’ may be a generic, beige term but they are a varied, colourful spectrum. While millennials tend to lap up #hashtags, GIFs and a chummy writing style, the middle class, middle-aged audience of The Telegraph might be more inclined to think ‘GIF’ is a made-up word.
Even The Telegraph’s comparably brilliant audience engagement on Instagram might be problematic. It seems likely that most of the love is from people who just enjoy photos of dormice, instead of the more helpful and likely intended audience of potential and existing subscribers.
The Financial Times: Forget the rules of print
Luke Mintz: “The FT uses the common Facebook tactic of making each post’s caption different from the headline. Often the captions will display an interesting, quirky quote from the article, or a nugget of insight which might not be conveyed by the headline.”
How would you sum up the story if you were talking to a, you know, normal person rather than a newspeak-infested, formal editor? The Financial Timesare not going all Buzzfeed on their readers. They keep their serious style, but draw your eye just as you would in normal conversation – starting with the most interesting bit of the story. In the example above, the caption is a direct, personal quote with attention-grabbing emotion.
The Daily Mail: A picture is worth a thousand words
Francisco de Souza: “Very bad use of images, mostly montages that are very hard to see in smaller screens, not attractive at all…. Daily Mail stories with good images tended to fare better than those with bad images.”
We’re journalists – and therefore all freakishly obsessed with words. But an image does the same job in a fraction of the time, which is key in the fast-paced world of social media. What makes the choosing the best picture even trickier is that our social media scrolling takes place on screens of hugely varying sizes, from the heftiest desktop to the most minuscule phone.
Breitbart: Stick to your beat
Ryan Watts: “They’ve built a specific audience. They’re active and they don’t want to be distracted. This Facebook post demonstrates that, of the 1,200 people who liked this fairly innocuous article, 1/4 as many as people liked the top comment. A more ‘on-brand’ comment too.”
If you spam your readers with irrelevant content they did not sign up for, they may not stay signed up.
VICE: Take advantage of loopholes
Niamh McIntyre: “VICE take a strategy I’ve seen used by lots of other places to get round the difficulty of hyperlinking in Instagram. They choose one piece to push, and link to it in their bio, which is updated on a daily basis. This seems to work reasonably well for them, as their like:follower ratio is much better than on other platforms.”
Instagram’s quirk of not letting you hyperlink in the caption forces publications to find other ways to promote an article.
This way, though, your audience must go all the way to your bio to find the link. That’s a lot of exercise for the internet. Concentrating on one image-rich article and pushing it intensely must be a great traffic-booster for VICE – and using different social platforms is innovative, reminding its readers that its journalism is up-to-the-minute.
Matteo Moschella: “Hourly tweets, live retweeting…No Clickbaiting… Few hashtags but effective.”
Bloomberg acquiring the @Brexit Twitter handle is key to their Brexit-only Twitter feed: it is clear, will do well on search and, of course, is right on-topic. The account was only launched on 22 October, yet 6 November sees it at 12k followers. Separating its Brexit analysis from its main account means an influx of new readers, who are particularly interested in Brexit, without alienating its usual audience.
The Hindu: Followers are not everything
Ayushman Basu: “Has 4 million page likes. But, contrastingly not many likes and shares on individual articles. Quite odd as Indians are more active on Facebook than Twitter… With that big a population, they should definitely be getting more people engaged with their content.”
A serious look at analytics can reveal the – probably multiple – reasons why The Hindu is struggling on social media. Analytics, though, can be overwhelming. To simplify seemingly endless figures, pick a few key metrics to look at week-in-week-out and determine what you want to discover.
The Independent: Bad journalism gets clicks too
Alexandra Ma: “On Facebook, The Independent posts old articles as if they were new, even though they’re not stock articles. MYSTERY: still gets a ton of shares, comments and reactions.”
The story shown above is from June 2016. Posting stock articles that remain relevant helps the reader; posting old news as if it is happening now does not, even if it rakes in the likes. Digital journalism has not veered away from print so much that good journalism does not matter – and, at its most basic, good journalism means not misleading your audience.
Ella Wilks-Harper: “Quartz’s Twitter is very picture-heavy and tends to use funny photos that draw quite a few likes.”
Almost everyone is interested in humour, which cannot be said for many beats. And, given the positive outlook, light-hearted laughs are also highly shareable in comparison to hard, often downbeat and depressing news.
Helen Chandler-Wilde: “The Sunday Times doesn’t engage on Twitter with readers. Their engagement is low for 370,000 followers.”
Ask questions, engage in intelligent debate and don’t be scared to have a chat. Social media offers an admittedly terrifying – but simultaneously wonderful – new world of discussion that print could not. If you are not trying to promote buzz in the comments and shares surrounding your content, you are missing a trick to better your brand and audience understanding.
Bridie Pearson-Jones: “Buzzfeed is really interesting because it has so many sections and accounts. Its language on social media reflects its editorial content: conversational and easy to read. Interestingly, their writers have much higher engagement than their official accounts.”
Multiple accounts mean social feeds can be curated with more care. And – from Buzzfeed News to Buzzfeed Food – Buzzfeed has every topic covered. Even if posts do not directly lead to page views, the Buzzfeed name is always very visible. Likewise, Buzzfeedjournalists are often big names with a following of their own. Just by tweeting about the brand, they promote it (shown above).
With these 12 easy tricks, you can now go out into the virtual world, and speak with confidence and (if you’re lucky) insight.
Journalists aren’t used to taking advice from tech companies. Indeed, the row between Facebook and the journalism industry has intensified over the last two months. A Vox article published earlier this month attacked Mark Zuckerberg, who has been called “the world’s most powerful editor” for abandoning his editorial responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Google seems to have been moving in the opposite direction. Its News Lab has now been around for over a year, and has the explicit intention of collaborating with and empowering journalists. The Lab, which is run by former Boston Globe reporter Steve Grove, frequently works alongside journalists.
News Lab hosts a monthly Data Visualisation Round-Up in the form of a live YouTube discussion between Simon Rogers, the Google Trends Data Editor and former Guardian journalist, and Alberto Cairo, the Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the School of Communication of the University of Miami.
From their 31 October discussion, here are some key points:
1. Graphics need a human side
Data journalism sometimes gets a reputation for being cold and calculating, as a place where statistics matter more than humanity. But data journalists are more than just automated counting machines, who often bring their emotions and convictions to bear on their work, and it is vital for data journalism to reflect that.
In the video, Simon Rogers recommends the September 2016 book Dear Data, by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. These two information designers, physically separated by the Atlantic, spent a year befriending each other by sending weekly hand-drawn data visualizations on postcards back and forth.
The cards contain many examples of innovative ways of displaying data, but the project was about more than that. Rogers calls it “a reminder that graphics should feel human and warm”.
2. Imprecision is fine
The era of Big DataTM has encouraged the growth of imprecise data analysis. In days gone by, sampling was the only game in town, and it was necessary for data to be incredibly precise, since datasets were relatively small. Now that data analysis and data journalism is starting to use big data, the sheer sizes of today’s datasets eliminate any problems that might arise from occasionally imprecise points.
Google News Lab teamed up with Accurat, a data research firm, to create World Potus, a project that uses Google Trends to look at how people in countries around the world were discussing the US election, by analysing their Google Searches.
Naturally, when using data from every single Google Search, some data points will be unhelpful. Someone might misspell ‘Clinton’ in an unpredictable way, or search while on holiday, making their geographical data misleading.
But since Google Trends uses big data, this doesn’t matter. There are so many points in this dataset that imprecision pales into irrelevance.
3. Data journalism should be collaborative
While more traditional journalists jealously guard their scoops, and are full of stories about the ruthless methods they’ve had to employ to get to the scene of a story first, data journalists can often be seen asking for (and receiving) help on Twitter from their colleagues. What’s more, articles often come complete with a link to the original data, so that other data journalists can dig for their own stories.
This is why all the code used in projects like World Potus is available on the Google Trends Github page.
4. We have to think more about our audience
Data visualisation is no longer the insurgent force it once was in the journalism industry. These days, infographics are pretty much par for the course, so much so that Giorgia Lupi has described our current period as “post-peak infographic”.
Sure enough, the New York Times has announced that it will now be producing fewer huge visuals. Does this mean that we’ve got over our initial enthusiasm for data visualization?
Rogers has a more nuanced view: “People are fussier about what they’ll love.” In other words, because of the recent glut of infographics, there is more importance on ensuring that the visualization serves the story and serves the audience.
5. Print can be more powerful than online
It is often assumed that data visualization is native to the Internet. While it is true that the online medium brings with it huge potential for interactive features, print can still play a vital role in visualization.
Alberto Cairo explains that he still buys print newspapers, and enthuses about the New York Times’ double page spread listing people who have been insulted by Donald Trump. The online version is impressive, and gives the reader the ability to click through to specific insults, but the size and physical presence of a double page spread in the New York Times really brings home the extent of Trump’s vituperative qualities.
Cairo also cites the National Geographic magazine as a perfect example, specifically highlighting sketches by the artist Fernando Baptista, made for a large pictorial illustrated infographic about the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona.
“It’s gonna be like people listening to music on vinyl.” This remark from Simon Rogers perhaps betrays nostalgia stemming from his journalistic background, but probably chimes with the views of many modern journalists.
6. Data journalists must think about posterity
Excitingly, Rogers and Cairo seem to be planning some kind of grand archive for data journalism. One pitfall for visualization is the expiration of online programmes. For this reason, when Google starts a new initiative, it always has a plan for making sure that projects made using that programme will survive even if Google discontinues it.
As with much online journalism, data visualizations can be ephemeral, fading away after their first publication. Data journalists need to think about preserving their work, much of which will remain relevant for long periods of time.
Every journalist of the future will be dependent on technology and social media to tell and share their stories, whether they like it or not.
Gone are the days when readers read the news by solely picking up a newspaper on the way to work. In fact, chances are that we get our news from push notifications and Snap stories that we receive before getting out of bed every morning.
Newsrooms like the New York Times and Independent are investing more — if not all — of their time and resources in expanding their digital and social-led storytelling capabilities, and rightly so. Such investments have brought about fascinating new changes into the way stories are told and shared. Through swipes and taps on their devices, readers in London or New York can easily get real-time information on what’s happening in places like Rio de Janeiro or Aleppo.
One theme at HacksHackers London’s (HHLdn)October meetup was how journalists can use technology to make local stories available to a global audience. Two presenters that stood out in particular were CNN’s digital team and BBC Pop Up, a self-defined “mobile bureau” that crowdsources and reports stories at a “hyper-local” level.
Both CNN and BBC Pop Up rely heavily on digital tools and social media to tell and share their stories. CNN, for example, used Facebook Live to report a rally onHong Kong’s Establishment Day, Kik to take readers on awalking tour of Rio de Janeiro during the 2016 Olympics and a bot to ask readers what they consider to be the next US president’sbiggest foreign policy obstacle. BBC Pop Up, primarily makes videos ranging in length fromVine loops to long-form documentaries for TV, and share them on social media and theirBBC.com live blog.
These outlets have devised incredibly innovative ways to useemerging technology and social media platforms to make underreported local reporting accessible to a global audience. In a time of shrinking newsrooms and tightened budgets, having a team like BBC Pop Up — which consists of just a handful of people — thatsources, reports, shoots, edits and social video stories— makes sense. (BBC Pop Up’s model, admittedly, does set a terrifyingly high bar for journalists who may interpret this portfolio of skills as a new job requirement for working in digital video.)
Local reporting gone global or global reporting done locally?
One challenge that CNN and BBC Pop Up may face in its work, however, is how to make what they call their “local reporting”, truly local.
The idea of globalising local journalism — and journalists’ calling themselves mobile local reporters, as BBC Pop Up does — is unique and incredibly ambitious. BBC Pop Up does a great job at crowdsourcing ideas from locals at town hall meetings and callouts onsocial media. Theirwebsitehas received thousands of story suggestions since it was established in 2014, per editor Benjamin Zand.
What I found odd, however, was the fact that the pop up bureau spends just four to five weeks in a given area.
Four to five weeks seems barely enough time for an intern to understand the layout of a new office, let alone for a group of journalists to understand and find balanced stories in a new community. Given the fact that BBC Pop Up does much of its news-gathering, reporting and editing on the ground, how can its journalists get to know the lay of the land — literally and figuratively — when there is limited time?
Peter Yeung, an interactive journalist at the London Times and former Interhacktive, also alluded to this issue in hisanalysis of BBC Pop Up on Medium:
By its very nomadic nature, BBC Pop Up has little capacity for super-users or influencers, nor indeed for languages, cultures, rules and practices to emerge.
These news-gathering and reporting practices sound dangerously similar to those ofparachute journalism, where reporters go to an area already with a general idea of what they want to cover and meet a limited pool of people (contacts of contacts, as opposed to literally everyone). BBC Pop Up, as mentioned above, calls itself a champion of “hyperlocal” journalism.
Whatever the benefits and challenges that face digital-first outlets like CNN and BBC Pop Up, it will be interesting to see how new digital tools and social media trends influence the way we report the news in the future, particularly with the advent of virtual reality and 360 video.
Outlets like CNN and BBC Pop Up are ahead of the curve in the way that they tell and share stories online, and I’m excited to see what comes next in their innovative and experimental news-gathering and storytelling strategies.
Technology and social media are not spelling the end of journalism — as many people have feared — but are marking a beginning of a new era of it.
Two years ago, Buzzfeed leaked a graph showing a steep decline in visitors to the New York Times’ homepage. Almost immediately, Quartz and the Atlantic pronounced the homepage dead.
In 2014, The Columbia Journalism Review noted, “Less than half of visits to nytimes.com start on the homepage.” Poynter described the flatlining frontpage as “a previously dominant force” which had lost influence. Forbes were a little more optimistic, yet still issued a warning to publishers who ignored change.
Look here though, and what do you see? Why, It’s a rather traditional-looking, not-even-slightly dead homepage.
Did this sharp rise in criticism from Poynter et al, bury the homepage alive?
Martin Belam, the social and new formats editor at the Guardian, offered a more nuanced explanation on his personal blog. He said:
“It seems to me that what we’ve been saying for years is that homepage traffic is going down as a proportion of your overall traffic. Sadly it seems to me, it looks like this leaked graph is going to be taken for evidence that ‘the homepage is dead’ – but for the wrong reasons.”
So, has the homepage been clawing at the doors of its tomb for two years? What do the figures say now, in 2016?
The digital marketing company Quantcast offers a slight insight into how people access Buzzfeed, with a storming 80% of unique visits coming from mobile. Homepage traffic, however, is kept behind closed doors. Of course, at Interhacktives we have access to our own stats – and we have nothing to hide.
The peaks and troughs of our most popular article, as unpredictable as they may be, are a world away from the slow hum of our homepage traffic – it’s a different class.
Over the course of that month, 38% of our traffic came from our top article. It’s encouraging that it’s the content of our site that people are reading, but people aren’t using the homepage to get there. Facebook shares, the power of search and the nefarious rhythms of dark social form a complicated union, and a new gateway to Interhacktives articles.
So what do we do?
Interhacktives are at a crossroads. Our fledgling new website, and the contents of our home.php file, are up for debate – debate that has seen choice words launched like barbs and oranges used as missiles.
On the one hand, if the two years since Quartz sounded the death knell haven’t marked the end of the homepage, why get rid of it now? On the other, we have the shifting sands of analytic trends driving us to make dramatic changes, in an arena where social drives more traffic than ever before.
We took the leap, and the homepage is dead. For now.
It’s only 150 characters, but it’s the first thing people will see when they come to your profile, and it’s a great way to pop up in people’s searches. Here’s how to make it as good as it can be:
Keep your audience in mind
Yes, your mates are on Twitter. But potential employers, networkers, and new followers are too. You need to impress by being professional. The real trick is doing this without lapsing into the tone of a corporate droid. Keep it polished, but let your personality shine through.
Mention your interests
Everyone is interested in something. If nothing comes to mind, look at your recent tweets. What have you been tweeting about? Politics? Feminism? Moths? No matter how broad or how niche, be sure to include something to indicate that you are a human being. For inspiration, look at LinkedIn’s list of causes you might care about. What makes you different to every other tweeter?
When mentioning your interests, include the hashtag in your bio. For example, if you’re a keen birdwatcher, say it with a hashtag: #twitcher. When users search the hashtag, your profile will pop up at the top of the page.
Use Twitter handles
State who you work for/which university you go to, using their handle, e.g. @cityjournalism. This gives your audience the chance to get to know your organisation, just by clicking on your bio.
Include contact details
People can only direct message you if you follow them back, so it’s worth including your email address as a fallback. It makes you seem approachable.
Include your website
It goes without saying, but linking to your website in your bio will automatically get you more hits. Do this in Twitter’s specific ‘website’ box – this appears when you edit your profile.
Keep your picture smart
Your picture should be of you, preferably a clear photograph without any other people. Selfies are fine, but it’s better to have a smile than a Kylie Jenner pout, if you want to seem friendly.
The last time I checked, WhatsApp was not one of the most popular social media apps among journalists.
It was trailing Twitter, Facebook, Messenger, and Line by far.
Many a journalist have written off this chat app with a disputed 800 million monthly active users after efforts to broadcast through it proved to be a herculean task— adding phone numbers to chat groups and broadcast lists.
Yes, pushing out information through hard-to-make and limited WhatsApp broadcast lists is neither efficient nor economical but this world’s most popular messaging application is still useful in journalism.
It unleashes its power when you reverse the newsroom-audience information flow— from broadcasting to newsgathering.
What’s more, WhatsApp’s latest addition of end-to-end encryption (above) has made it safe for internal newsroom communication— including managers’ top-secret chats, planning, story assignment to reporters and content filing, including scoops.
“When you and your contacts use the latest version of the app, every call you make, and every message, photo, video, file and voice message you send, is end-to-end encrypted by default, including group chats,” WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton said in their announcement of the new privacy features.
Unlike Telegram where users have to start a secret chat to enable encryption, WhatsApp’s new security feature, Signal Protocol designed by Open Whisper Systems, is enabled by default in the app’s latest version.
“Once the session is established, clients do not need to rebuild a new session with each other until the existing session state is lost through an external event such as an app reinstall or device change,” Koum and Acton said.
However, there are concerns that the encryption fails in chats between Android and iPhone phones. It should also be noted that the Big Brother may be able to snoop on encrypted messages if the security of your gadget is compromised.
So, how can you effectively use WhatsApp for internal newsroom communication, content-generation and newsgathering?
The app that was acquired by Facebook at $16 billion (£10.6 billion) in 2014 uses standard cellular mobile numbers to send information— photos, texts, audio, videos and user location — over the internet, across platforms.
Its web feature, WhatsApp Web, which is installed by scanning a QR reader, makes it easier to type and download information onto a computer for processing.
Once this system is set up, WhatsApp is not only fast in breaking news but also more reliable in receiving and verifying eyewitness media and User Generated Content (UGC).
To begin, it is advisable to set up a WhatsApp group for your reporters and correspondents, with editors as admins who issue instructions and plan day-to-day business
As the newsgatherers post content on the platform, editors have to monitor updates, download, process, package and publish the information.
The app’s chat function allows conversations between the senders and receivers, including clarifications and requests for more information in real time.
Kenya’s Daily Nation has successfully used WhatsApp to receive breaking stories from its reporters and correspondents around the world in the last two years.
It runs a closed group where newsgatherers, online subs and editors are ever conversing— gathering and publishing information as part of the newspaper’s digital strategy.
The BBC has expanded beyond closed newsroom groups and now uses WhatsApp to receive eyewitness media and general UGC, according to Journalism.co.uk.
The Wall Street Journal and the Guardian, reports Journalism.co.uk, have also run successful crowd-sourcing projects using WhatsApp.
While Facebook, Twitter, Line, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat and Viber are equally reliable in delivering UGC, verification of content delivered via WhatsApp is quicker, courtesy of country phone codes.
For instance, if a user claims to be a resident of Garissa in Kenya where Al-Shabaab killed 148 students last year and their phone number’s country code reads +27, you have every reason to be skeptical because +27 is the country code for South Africa. Kenya’s is +254.
Mark you, it is not impossible for people to download content from the internet and pass it as their own on this ‘dark end’ of the internet.
As such, content delivered via WhatsApp should treated with the scepticism all UGC deserves and passed through the normal verification process.
The success of WhatsApp in delivering UGC is solely dependent on the popularity of the app in the targeted region.
It can work wonders in a country such as India that has over 65 million active users but may not be as successful in the United States where WhatsApp is still struggling to get users’ attention.
Photo credits: — Harry Misiko, El Taller del Bit, iphonedigital, Microsiervos and Syed Ikhwan | Creative Commons.
Double the amount of food currently produced will be needed, the UN predict, as more people in more countries are lifted above the breadline.
But producing this volume of food using current practices is environmentally dangerous.
Nine billion palates reared on a meat addiction means higher CO2 emissions from cattle, pigs, poultry and sheep farming. The livestock industry is already responsible for 15% of global CO2 emissions. We can’t afford to watch this figure increase.
As more people grow more hungry, experts fear the environment may buckle under the pressures of traditional agricultural methods.
Land is scarce, water scarcer.
Humanity needs to fix its food problem, and fast.
Current farming practices are environmentally stressful. From the energy and water needed to make animal feed to the gases produced from animals’ digestive systems, the livestock industry costs the planet dearly.
Figures from the UN suggest that many countries will not change their meat-eating habits any time soon. Although per capita consumption of meat is not projected to change, the increase in population means many more thousand tonnes of meat will be produced.
Beef consumption in the US, China and India in 2024 is projected to be around almost 22 million tonnes, which adds up to 1.5 trillion kg of CO2 emissions, more than three times as much CO2 as the EU produced in 2010.
For the western world, the idea of insects being the next great world food founders on a cultural revulsion (see our video below), but for many in the developing world they already provide a sustainable, nourishing and cheap food source.
Dr Sunday Ekesi, Principal Scientist at Nairobi’s International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) says that insects are an ideal replacement for traditional livestock.
“The livestock sector is a great contributor to carbon-related problems. We are are hoping that insects should be another way of minimizing greenhouse gas emissions from the sector.”
“Production of insects is not really energy-consuming, as such. When we look at the feed, for instance, to produce 1kg of beef you need 25kg of feed while, for the cricket production system that we’ve established here in Kenya, we need 2.5kg maximum to produce 1 kg of crickets.”
Insects are cheap to rear, easy to prepare and comparably nutritious as meat. For developing countries, they are a useful export. A greater number and variety of insects can be grown and harvested in hot, wet countries compared to the cold of Europe.
Dr Ekesi says that the entry barriers for new insect producers are low.
“To start a cricket colony, for instance, especially the domestic one that we have been promoting, you need just between two and five pairs of males and females. That is sufficient. The cost of that is very minimal compared to livestock.
“The momentum that we have, especially with interest from the private sector and the youth and their demand for employment, we see ourselves being overwhelmed by demand.”
University students, under the guidance of The Times’ journalists, coders, developers and data analysts, set out to build and tell their stories in the most effective ways possible.
Our City University team (above)’s story “Grub’s up: the future of food” story won, while Cardiff, with an investigative data piece on how government dictates citizens’ love life, was declared runner-up.
These are the lessons we learned from the two-day event at The Times’ News Building:
i. Story comes first: Before succumbing to the temptation of fancy tech and visualisations – what’s your story? What’s new and why does it matter?
Judges at the event (above) reminded participating student journalists to keep in mind the five Ws and one H questions while telling their stories. Who cares? Why? How?
Journalism, they emphasised, comes first. New technologies only enable us to do it better. Not the reverse.
Like other creative arts, build something first – a strong story – then use visualisations and other aesthetic devices to enhance reader experience. Don’t build a decoration— pointless, fancy visualisations.
For instance, in the winning project— Grub’s up: the future of food— we built a case as to why people should eat insects. Using data analysis and visualisations, we established that the world may not be able to feed the projected nine billion-plus mouths by 2050.
We also showed how insects are a viable source of protein and minerals because they emit less greenhouse gases compared to livestock, and are easy to farm.
ii. How you tell a story matters: It might be with text, video, audio or a chart, but just make sure the reader get the message easily.
As The Times News Editor Katie Gibbons advises in her post, “be innovative, but not for the sake of it — the simplest, cleanest way of getting your message to your audience is almost always the best”.
Thinking about the medium (print or online), nature of the story, demographic and psychological make-up of the target audience can help you arrive at the best way to tell it.
During the competition, The Times developers and coders were at hand to help teams because many lacked experienced techies.
The event laid bare the need for journalists to get the hang of web design, content management systems, data scraping and coding.
In the same vein, the need for journalists to learn how to generate stories hidden in data became an open secret for success. Going forward, we should be able to scrape, analyse, visualise, generate and tell data stories.
iv. Collaborate with coders: Build the News, once again, confirmed the need for writers without technical knowledge to collaborate with developers, coders and programmers in data projects.
But as we said earlier, there is every need to watch and learn what the techies do, because they may not be there for you all the time. Many media houses in fact don’t hire them, and the onus is on reporters and editors to write code.
v. Innovate, innovate and experiment: While video, text and photos remain the most preferred storytelling methods, experimenting with new forms of journalism is key to going into the future.
Birmingham City students (above), whose project focused on The Investigatory Powers Bill (Snooper’s Charter), got a honourable mention at the event for their innovative use of bots and virtual reality.
The Interhacktives team would like to congratulate three of our own for winning The Times’ Build The News competition.
Charlotte Beale, David Knowles and Harry Misiko beat off competition from Birmingham, Cardiff and other universities across the country.
Build The News’ aim? To tell a digital story beautifully.
Charlotte Beale, David Knowles and Harry Misiko’s Bug project
Beale, Knowles and Misiko’s story, “Grub’s up: the future of food”, showed how edible insects can help solve our global food shortage.
Almost nine billion mouths will need feeding by 2050. But the livestock industry already accounts for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, insects are environmentally friendly, as well as cheap, nutritious, and accessible to the 800m people in the developing world who do not have a secure food source.
To tell the story, the team spoke to UN-backed researchers and showed with data how and why insects offer a solution. They made a Buzzfeed-style taste test video of their peers trying worms, crickets and grasshoppers.
The story also included a Tinder-style function for users to find their edible insect match.
‘Funny, engaging’ journalism
“I’m very proud of what we achieved”, said Knowles.
“This project means a lot to me. We told an important story in a funny, engaging way. I feel like I can share the story with friends and they will feel happy, not obliged, to read it.” (David Knowles on Twitter).
Misiko said: “as a Kenyan, I had only heard about Build The News from my classmates. I took part to learn more about the programme. Winning came as a big surprise.” (Harry Misiko on Twitter).
“Winning was unexpected”, said Beale, “as we were up against teams who had built some great tools, but the judges said they were impressed by our innovative idea, wide reporting and use of data.” (Charlotte Beale on Twitter).
We, as the winning team’s coursemates, are proud that the Interhacktives ethos brought them victory.
We wish to congratulate Beale, Knowles and Misiko and wish them success for the future.
Periscope has a number of benefits. It is owned by Twitter, therefore allowing you to benefit from its social graph and it already has 10 million users (the highest out of the competition). A great aspect of it is the geolocation functionality, allowing you to search a map of Periscope streams up to 24 hours after they have been broadcast. It is the fastest growing of the options, and it now auto-plays of Twitter timelines, giving it a leg up against the competition.
Meerkat was once Periscope’s great competitor, and although it has a smaller number of users, it does offer some unique benefits. You are able to schedule a broadcast and generate a URL before it has happened – meaning you can build interest in a live-stream and possibly even SEO ranking ahead of time. Although it’s not possible to re-watch broadcasts, you can – for now – stream to Facebook, which is a significant advantage.
Facebook Live, however, is catching up quickly. Lot’s of publishers have begun to experiment with it recently, especially as Facebook have given Live posts a big boost in their algorithm – meaning that more users should see it than others posts, and it also sends a notification to your account when a stream begins. But Facebook Live is very much limited to on-platform only viewing.
Blab is the young upstart in the room, and it could be a game-changer. It allows you to have up to four simultaneous streamers as well as unlimited viewers, lending itself well to discussion-based streams or simply those looking for added dynamism. But Mashable have described it as “Periscope for groups of friends”, and with that potential for huge growth in social usage, it could gain a very engaged user base.
“We started building our database based on information from NGOs that had done a terrific amount of work on the topic already,” said Kayser-Bril.
So the team extracted and aggregated data from open sources to build the database that would allow them to track each of the migrants dying everyday around Europe and the coast of Africa.
The data is visualised on a bubble map that indicates the number of dead migrants in Europe and Africa. The user gets information on the number of refugees and migrants that died between 2000 and 2015 by clicking on a specific spot in the map.
A detailed explanation of the project can be found on the same website under the article “counting the dead.” The team still updates the information and has since written another article on the amount of money the European Union spends to keep migrants out.
Kayser-Bril said that the map was still being updated to this day and that he and his team will not stop until international organisations like the UNHCR start doing the work themselves.
The jury described the project as an “excellent example of journalists intervening to put a largely neglected issue on the political agenda […] this is data journalism at its best. We need more projects like these.”
Kayser-Bril said it was a nice feeling to have the project recognised by peers.
And as for the data journalist awards? “They’re a great opportunity to review what has been done in a given year.”
Currently, Kayser-Bril is working on several cross-border investigations where “we follow the same goal of measuring the unmeasured.” One of them is The Football Tax, which measures the flows of public money spent on professional football. The other project is Rentwatch, which measures the prices of rent everywhere in Europe.
If you are a data journalist who wants to submit a project, the submission deadline is 10 April 2016. This year’s ceremony will take place at Vienna City Hall on 16 June.
The aim of the model, christened Neutron, is to help detect “churnalism”— reproduction of press releases sent to newsrooms by scientists and research institutions.
“Neutron will help to detect this problem by inserting a quote from a news article and searching other articles in which it appears,” said Katah Karáth, a member of The Neutrons team.
“With another software BBC News Labs is building, we can extract the names and, with data visualisation, we can see the connection between the researcher and other people quoted in the articles.”
The goal, she said, is to stop a trend where a small clique of scientists is being quoted by news organisations all the time, some on their own researches, which results in poor quality science journalism.
If developed, the tool would also help measure how much researchers are quoted on their own work and how they are related to other sources in articles.
“With the names of researchers and institutions, we can geocode them and map their influence on scientific news coverage in a given region,” said Karáth, MA Science Journalism student at City.
Organised by BBC News Labs & Connected Studio in collaboration with City, the event brings together 23 participants from the university’s Journalism and Computer Science programmes.
The goal, according to BBC News Labs data scientist Sylvia Tippmann, is to build a tool that will help journalists dive deeper into topics and do meta-analysis on news articles.
She said the task for the student journalists and computer scientists will be to come up with different front-ends for the Juicer— the BBC’s experimental news aggregation tool.
“The challenge will be to find novel and interesting ways to present the data that grows by 15,000 articles a day at the moment,” Tippmann explained.
Working in groups of four to five, Tippmann said, the participants will be required to “build something”— a prototype that works.
“If your project is convincing, we would love to invite you to work with us in News Labs for a while to make it happen and move your prototype to a beautiful and fully functional tool for journalists.”
Director of City’s Newspaper and Interactive Journalism MA Jonathan Hewett described the event as a “happy convergence,” adding that City was excited to play host.
Journalism and technology, Hewett said, are increasingly converging and the hackathon would help journalism students learn how to collaborate with coders and programmers in news projects.
“A project can progress much more quickly when both the journalist and computer scientist know what is possible and what is needed rather than having a dialogue where the journalist is a few steps behind,” he said.
The BBC News Labs’ University Challenges seeks to engage the talents of student innovators and help universities use their collaborative potential to build innovative news tools.
Hailing from a tiny Californian town, where the main mode of transport takes the literal measurement of horse power, Megan Lucero is quite the outlier. The energetic 27-year-old – who was remarkably promoted from intern to data editor at The Times and The Sunday Times in just four years – would certainly stand out if you found her in a spreadsheet. At their shimmering Thames-side offices, Lucero talked to Peter Yeung about the importance of open data, the inherent plurality in data teams, and how her paper was the only one to correctly reject the polling data about the UK’s 2015 General Election.
Can you talk about your rise through the ranks at The Times?
I was interning for a week on the foreign desk, and I was just finishing up my MA in International Journalism at City University. It was my first time in a massive newsroom, which is funny to look back on now. Towards the end of that, I started taking a lot more on for the desk, and suggesting a lot more we could be doing digitally. I was very fortunate that at the time Richard Beeston– who unfortunately passed away a couple of years ago – was very on board with this and gave me a lot of free reign to do that. But at the end of that, they were cutting researchers and my job came up for the axe. I went up to the editor and deputy editor at the time, James Harding and Keith Blackmore, and I pitched a job to them, which we later called a “story producer”. I invented the job and they said: “Let’s see what you can do”. It was a one-woman show for a year. I taught myself a bit of coding, built some interactives, I started our first Soundcloud account doing podcasts, I was running live-blogs and finding stories online. But another review came up. They asked me to apply as a data journalist, and at the time I didn’t feel qualified by any means. But once I took on the role, I wanted to own what data journalism meant, so I just started teaching myself. I was trying to learn as fast as I possibly could because I saw this as a massive opportunity – the future of journalism. After a while, I basically running the team, so I became data editor.
What role will data journalism play in future newsrooms?
One day data journalism won’t be data journalism – it’s just going to be journalism. This sexy term that everybody throws around will disappear. Every single journalist should and will be digging into all of the digitisation and data around their beat, finding their own exclusives. I think there will always be a specialised team that will need to help with really advanced machine learning, perhaps algorithms that look at modelling, but I really think that data journalism as we know it now won’t exist.
Do you ever need to convince others about the value of data journalism?
I’ve worked pretty hard to make sure that other journalists understand the value of it. We had a front page exclusive out about charities’ expenses recently, and every journalist knew exactly that the story was a combination of a data journalism approach and an investigative approach. Everyone recognises the value of data, but it’s a matter of whether they’d be equipped to do it themselves. Sure, there is a gap with what other journalists can currently do, but they still recognise that data is important and valuable.
Does the paywall affect The Times‘ approach to data journalism?
If there was a paywall, or there wasn’t, we would be approaching it as we do. If anything, there’s much more of an argument for what we do at The Times, because our business model is that we produce news worth paying for. You’re trying to give your audience and your reader something exclusive, something they can’t get anywhere else, something that is worth subscriptions. A lot of people are willing to pay to support foreign correspondents around the world, advanced sports coverage, access to premiere clips. And I think that there’s a value in someone who’s looking out for accountability in public interest reporting, by advancing data manipulation and data analysis. I think every journalist should be thinking about how they can tell the full picture, looking at all of the information available. If you shut the door on data journalism, or limit yourself on how to access data, you’re really limiting the depth of what your story can tell.
Are there ever clashes between the editorial stances of a paper and what the data says?
I think your question doesn’t even necessarily need to apply to journalism. If you look at academics, if you look at anyone who analyses data, they can tell you that it’s possible to torture a data set to tell you whatever you want it to say. You’ll read one study that says drinking red wine helps you, you’ll read another that says it will kill you. This is because people twist numbers and they will twist it to tell you want they want. But I think we’ve never been pressured to deliver a certain angle, or to intentionally twist the data.The great thing about having a data team is that you’re not relying solely on a single individual – a team requires, for us, a peer review. Each of us check each other’s processes, we really do make a moral and ethical decision whenever we’re looking at it. We try to be open and challenge each other if we find ourselves if we going down a certain angle, or not doing something as robust as it should be. The classic example is how we treated the 2015 General Election – we rejected the polling data that was in front of us – no other paper did that. It wasn’t robust, the margins were too wide, the data was skewed. That couldn’t have happened if it was just individual people going after a story.
What is more valuable, open data or freedom of information?
If there was truly open data, you wouldn’t need FOIs. If truly every government body and every organisation that is public, opened their data, you wouldn’t need to do that to begin with. The fact that FOI is under threat is a travesty, and it’s absolutely unacceptable, because this is an affront to a public service. This is a right being taken away from citizens. But if you look at the source of the problem, it is that the data isn’t open. It’s the fact that public information should be easily accessible and it should be able to be accessed. My argument would be that open data is more important, because it is the bigger picture that encompasses FOI issues. But, of course, I wouldn’t say that FOI doesn’t matter – it matters a lot. It was created because of the lack of transparency and the lack of openness. But hopefully we can get to a space where that won’t really be necessary.
Is it difficult working for both The Times and The Sunday Times, which are competing papers?
We’re the only editorial team that does this. There’s no one else who has a data team that works across two titles. It’s kind of like contracting, in that sense, but it doesn’t feel like that here, it definitely feels like two separate titles. We’re quite lucky that there’s very different focusses on what we do for each title – what we can bring to them. But at times, there’s obviously data that both titles will want, and it would be quite silly to replicate our work. But I think we’ve been finding a good balance in how we share that. Luckily, the way that data journalism works across the board is that it’s quite an open space and an open community –The Guardian, The FT– I know the editorial teams across the board here. Most of all try to open up our data. If I did something for The Times, it would be quite natural for us to open up our FOI requests and the data on that story. That’s what is quite unique about the data community. But it is challenging.
What do you want The Times data team be known for?
I’d love to expand my team even more as I get more resources, and as that’s allocated to us. Basically: I want our team to continually be breaking really great stories, and we want to be doing it in a way in which you couldn’t be doing without computing. Our team is really is brought in to be an investigative team, and we find our best use is when we are doing advanced algorithms, machine learning, modelling – when we’re handling big data, doing things that a human really couldn’t do without computing. That what I want to be known for. We’re still kind of working in an area in which we’re doing some journalism that other journalists could do, so I’d like it to really move further along that line. Doping is one of the biggest examples, but obviously we’ve done a lot of stuff on charity finances, on footballers’ accounts. I’d like to continue that, and I’d like us to get more into visualisation – our team doesn’t do enough due to resources – and I want to focus on stories. But also I’d like to help contribute to the data community and to this paper about creating those journalists that are empowered to be data journalists themselves.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.