Reviews of a variety of journalism-related tools

Originally published 21/10/2015

  1. Open-sourcing promises a rich future

Different to crowdsourcing, open-sourcing opens the door for non-journalists to get involved in the journalistic process. It’s a concept which allows members of the public to write news stories about what’s happening around them, and contribute those stories to the workload being published by newspapers and websites.

Open-sourcing works by allowing members of the public write about their community. More news is good news, so where would the sense be in not offering to publish it? Local news is important news – and free local news is even better.

Open-sourcing opens up journalism institutions to the public, allowing them to contribute their own work to increase the output and relevance of media organisations. Programmes such as CNN’s iReport invite people to provide their own images or videos, or even entire news stories, offering the chance that it may be aired on national television.

This type of journalism, known as pro-am (professional-amateur) reporting has become immensely successful. iReport has garnered nearly 230,000 followers on Twitter since 2007. Similar projects have been supported by Reuters.

These days some websites depend entirely on open-source journalism, and invite members of the community to create all (or most) the content on a website. Websites such as BleacherReport.com and GiveMeSport.com both invite members of the public to write news, reviews and features on sport – all for free. Exposure, the websites say, is the payment for their hard work.

Open-source journalism is the way of the future for journalism. Journalists are no longer a step closer to the action than members of the public – any Tom, Dick or Harry can open a blog in a few minutes and begin writing. By inviting keen members of the public to try their hand at having their own news published, the outcome can only be a greater spread of news and – with greater public participation – a better understanding of journalism and a taking back of any preconceived ideas about journalists and journalistic motives.

However open-source reporting must be moderated. It’s important that all publicly-submitted work is reviewed to meet a particular standard. While it might be beneficial for a media company to have more reporting, it is important that all reports maintain the quality of professional journalism. Sloppy, poorly-written works will only turn readers away from an online news site, but engaging, well-written pieces will have readers asking for more.

For institutions, the secret to unlocking the potential of open-source reporting is in moderation: finding the perfect operating system which allows professional and amateur journalists to create newsworthy articles for a single publication. The more articles and news available to the public, the richer the fourth estate.

Overall, if done correctly, a news publisher’s journalism can only be strengthened by using open-source reporting.

 

  1. Developing work through crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing has become a major part the news process for some news organisations. The internet allows easy communication between journalists and their audience – and getting the audience involved in an investigation has in modern times sometimes played a key role in developing stories for media outlets.

Briggs states, “In a world where one person can ask hundreds, or even thousands, of people to lend a hand with an investigation or data collection, crowdsourcing becomes a powerful new tool for reporting news.”

Crowdsourcing is the act of a journalist or an organisation reaching out to the community for people who have a background or extensive experience in a specific topic or subject, but who would not necessarily be listed officially as experts. Instead of quoting business owners, academics or professionals for stories, journalists often find themselves reaching out to members of the public who have a personal background in the area being reported instead.

A good example of crowdsourcing in popular journalism would be Triple J’s Hack programme, which largely relies on members of the public phoning in to tell of their own experiences in relation to a set topic. This is talkback radio to a new level – not just retiree-age men and women phoning in to say how things aren’t like they were ‘back in my day’ but people across a nation telling their stories to form a narrative. With Hack charted as the top-rating show during it’s “Drive” timeslot in 2014 (securing 13.6% of the entire radio-listening audience on average), it’s hard to deny the format works.

However, crowdsourcing can backlash. As stated by the Columbia Journalism Review, the days following the 2014 Boston bombing saw innocent men falsely identified as suspects in the attack after photos of supposed suspects were used on a New York Post front-page.

Thus, it is important to always remember crowdsourcing can bring great benefits but can also bring great negatives. By all means contact members of the community who have experience in topics you’re discussing through Facebook and Twitter and send out information you hope can be clarified by the public – but do so with caution. The public are as mistake-prone (perhaps even more so) than journalists. For work such as that done on Hack, crowdsourcing is an effective way to produce news and features. For identifying members of the public as terrorism suspects when no confirmation has been given by the police, perhaps (I’m sure you’ve worked this one out for yourself by now) crowdsourcing isn’t the way to go.

As stated by CJR, “Good journalistic crowdsourcing takes into consideration the validity, quality, and ownership of the data journalists are accessing. When used effectively, it is a unique way to engage audiences and gather information that paints a more comprehensive picture of what’s going on in the world.

“But just because it is easy to reach out doesn’t mean it is always the answer.”

 

  1. RSS is the Twitter of news websites

RSS (Rich Site Summary, or Really Simple Syndication) feeds bring together headline stories from any news website you nominate into a single manageable panel on your computer, tablet or smartphone. It’s a system which allows users to stay in touch with the latest stories from across the web and allows users to customise feeds to suit their own interests. RSS feeds save users time by bringing news to them, meaning users aren’t required to visit each news site individually for stories. For journalists, RSS can be an invaluable source of breaking news.

RSS feeds have been around since 1997, but while they offer a similar format with breaking news that Twitter does, the service has never seen the widespread adoption by the community that Twitter did]. It’s a simple process that provides news headlines from selected news outlets as they are published. As a tool for keeping online journalists up-to-the-minute with news, RSS feeds provide an opportunity for journalists to form a live catalogue of breaking news. While Twitter usually requires stories to be deliberately shared to followers for it to gain attention, RSS takes news straight from websites meaning they provide a user with the whole news and not just those stories which are “trending”.

For online journalists, the benefit of an RSS feed is that it provides them with news headlines as they break. While on Twitter this service is conducted amid potentially unrelated tweets from other users, RSS targets news headlines and only news headlines for the consumption of that feed’s user. The end result is a cleaner, clearer and more concise layout for the user.

Constructing an RSS feed in 2015 is a very simple process. Most news pages carry the RSS logo on the page (seen right) for the convenient addition of a news page to any feed.

To read RSS feeds you will need an RSS reader. These take the form of browser extensions and programmes. Popular readers include:

  • RSS Feed Reader (Google Chrome extension)
  • Digg reader
  • Feedly
  • NetNewsWire (Available for OS X)

For the purpose of this tutorial I will use RSS Feed Reader for Google Chrome.

 

  1. All the TV reporting tools in your pocket

In bygone days, a television journalist would require a video camera, a microphone (perhaps with a boom), artificial lighting, a cameraman, accompanying bulky, heavy cases for all that equipment and a car to travel it all from location to location.

While the car has remained a staple in most journalists’ day-to-day reporting, the rest faces a sudden extinction.

  • Where there were once TV-quality video cameras, there are mobile phones with video recording.
  • Where there were microphones, there are mobile phones and voice recorders which can capture similar quality.
  • Where there was artificial lighting, there is natural light.
  • Where there were camerapersons, there is a tripod – or just the journalist and their phone.
  • Where there were bulky, heavy cases for carrying equipment, there is a pocket.

Hannah Waldram, of the Guardiancommented on the change of setup for TV journalists in the field as follows:

“I was recently covering the English Defence League protest in the city centre – I was live tweeting, using Audioboom to get short clip interviews with police, using Bambuser to live stream some video when the protesters broke the police line, while also taking still video on a Kodak HD camera which I knew I could edit and upload later using iMovie and Youtube.

“I took pictures on my phone and sent them out on Twitter using twitpic and I was also taking notes using shorthand in a notebook so that I had some extra quotes to write up in a more considered report later – I carried my laptop in a rucksack on my back and cycled to the nearest place with Wi-Fi to upload anything I couldn’t do live. There I’d also write up a couple of pieces while responding to comments, looking for reaction tweets, videos, confirming numbers with the police and so on.”

In a pre-digital age, Waldram would’ve needed to return to the news desk before she could construct and publish her story; in 2015 she had with her all the appliances and accessories necessary to create a news report to a professional standard while out in the field.

Waldram’s effort is an example of the growth of responsibility on individual journalists with technological development. With so many expectations placed on journalists nowadays, whether an institution hires you or the person next to you could be dependent on your experience with mobile reporting.

Journalism is becoming increasingly technology-focused. It will be necessary for journalists of the not-too-distant future to be literate with digital technology, and be able to utilise all the applications of their “smart” devices to develop their work.

If you haven’t started yet, pick up your camera-enabled phone or tablet and get filming; as a TV journalist you’re going to be doing a lot of it in the future.

 

  1. The world in 140 characters or less

Twitter was founded nearly a decade ago and has since become a staple for all kinds of journalists, not only online. The website (now with a mobile site and an official app, as well as many third-party apps) is reportedly home to more than 300 million active users, collectively tweeting up to 500 million times a day. It’s used by celebrities, politicians, sports teams, and – you guessed it – journalists. It’s centered on “following” and “following back” (akin to Facebook friends), with public “tweets” (akin to Facebook status updates) powered by “re-tweets” (akin to Facebook post sharing) and tweet “favourites” (akin to Facebook likes). If all this seems overwhelming, the platform itself is visually quite simple.

Twitter, like most social media, is a popularity contest. The number of followers you have dictates the number of people who read your tweets. There are few people in the public eye who operate without the service, and well-known figures thrive in the popularity stakes. Katy Perry, Twitter’s current record holder for most followers, has more than 75 million Twitter users hanging onto her every 140-character thought; Justin Bieber has nearly 68 million and United States President Barack Obama is followed by more than 64 million Twitter users worldwide. In a relative sense, Avril Lavigne (Remember her? A big punk-rock star during the early 2000s before she faded out quicker than Myspace) garners the attention of a mere 19 million users.

As said, Tweets are limited to 140 characters, a technique that prizes succinct wit and only fuels the public’s thirst for no-nonsense news and catchy headlines. But while it may seem to be the catalyst for an online click-bait news culture, Twitter also presents various opportunities for online journalists to develop their connections with the public and for institutions to broaden their readership. Every journalist should have a Twitter account.

Twitter has become a staple for breaking news, allowing news outlets and journalists to send out a headline or a story for followers to pick up. The service has become so quick to report information from newsworthy locations that following an earthquake in Virginia, news on Twitter of the incident reached The Washington Post faster than the shockwave.

As stated in a feature on the speed of Twitter, “[earthquake shock] waves travel at around 3 to 5 kilometres per second, whereas fiber signals [(online communications, including Tweets)] travel about 200,000 kilometres per second”.

Twitter is an easy-to-use, functional platform that only serves to create a greater connection between journalists and news organisations with their readers. The service allows live responses to news stories, contact between journalists and sources sharing information and creates a more personal relationship between readers and journalists.

 

  1. LinkedIn: The 21st century Roladex

Founded in 2006, business-focused social network LinkedIn is an invaluable way for journalists to find, organise and maintain professional contacts. As of 2015 the social media website has more than 380 million registered users, with 97 million of those ‘active’.

Connections between users is much like that on Facebook, wherein one user must ‘request a connection’ (akin to Facebook friend requesting) to create an online connection with another user. Once a user has confirmed a direct connection with another, they are considered “first degree” connections, meaning each party can send the other messages or view any contact information provided on their profile. As the ability to communicate or find information about people you aren’t connected with is limited, it is only advantageous to have a wider personal network than a smaller one on LinkedIn. Any person not connected with is considered a ‘second degree’ connection if you share a familiar connection, or ‘third degree’ if you share no tangible connection at all. The amount of information you can find on somebody who is a second- or third-degree connection is greatly restricted when compared to first-degree connections, so it pays to develop your LinkedIn network.

For journalists the service represents an enormous database of sources or business contacts. The search function allows users to search for specific people, people in specific jobs or companies and even for job openings at specific companies.

Signing up to the service is as easy as signing up to any other social network, and for a journalist either looking to organise their contacts or searching for contacts it’s an invaluable convenience. When there is a service which provides background for business people and their contact details, how could any organised journalist reject it?

LinkedIn Premium gives users the chance to refine their business image for job applications, gain insights into user trends and to contact up to 15 people whom they have no connections with – but that’s if you can fork out A$600 p.a. for it. In the United States LinkedIn has been offering premium service free to journalists if they attend a seminar, but to the best knowledge of this blogger no such offer has yet reached Australia.

LinkedIn provides a database of sources, business contacts and background information which all journalists should consider. With users updating their own personal information, it’s a digital Roladex which won’t go out-of-date and have you calling up an old phone number – as long as your connections are committed to keeping their professional online profiles up-to-date.

To show how easily the website is navigated, view for yourself the tutorial below. If I wished to connect with a journalist-cum-academic for their broad knowledge on media, I would simply have to follow the steps below. Once the user had accepted my request, I can locate their contact details and find more information on their background and experience.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s