Tweeting headlines for breaking news

Getting breaking news out quickly but also accurately has long been a key challenge for news journalism. Given the volume of news items that some news organisations publish on their Twitter feeds, and the time pressures involved — particularly for breaking news — it is perhaps surprising that more mistakes don’t occur.

This is one error that highlights what can go wrong — and also raises an issue about auto-tweeting published headlines. It came at the end of the trial (for fraud) of the former personal assistants of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi. The Grillo sisters were found not guilty on 20 December 2013 — as the main Associated Press (AP) Twitter account accurately noted in its initial ‘BREAKING’ tweet.

Following up around 14 minutes later with a further tweet that linked to an AP story, however, it inadvertently cast Lawson and Saatchi as those cleared of fraud — in a case in which they had appeared only as witnesses (and they had not faced any charges):

The situation was particularly confusing because the story to which that inaccurate tweet linked was correct  — as the Twitter card preview showed (below). So although the wording from that headline would have made for a less effective tweet than the first ‘BREAKING’ tweet, it would have been accurate.

The mistake was corrected about 20 minutes later:

In general, news tweets work best when written specifically for the medium rather than simply replicating headlines written for a website story, say. But this is a counter-example in which tweeting the headline from the web version (as some accounts are set up to do automatically) would have ensured it was at least accurate.

Are data journalism and online engagement coming of age?

It’s more complicated than a one-word answer, of course, but data and online community work (developing communities and engaging users) seem to be moving from niche ‘extras’ to core essentials in much of journalism.

The word ‘data’ has been creeping into advertisements for reporters. “Experience of data journalism” in a vacancy on Health Service Journal and Nursing Times, for example. A reporting role at Times Higher Education asked for “skills to handle large data sets to identify trends and spot stories, and the ability to use the data to create news graphics”.

Data journalism and social media are not only for specialists

My point is that these are not specialist “data journalist” roles: breaking news stories lies at the core of both jobs. My colleague Paul Bradshaw offers two reasons why every journalist should know about web-scraping, a key part of data journalism.

Similarly, using social media in reporting — to find stories and sources, for example — is now an accepted part of the skill-set for most journalists, I hope. At least for those now entering journalism.

It’s no surprise that The Huffington Post UK, online-only of course, expects that applicants “will already be utilising and fully understand the power of social media to promote content” for a blogs assistant editor role. But — as with data — social media and engaging users online seem increasingly to be an explicit element.

Channel 4 News advertised for a political correspondent who would “use social media to maximise the impact of your stories and engage with our audience”, for example. A junior writer on The Sun’s Fabulous Magazine online will be “helping to manage our strong community of Facebook and Twitter followers”. A reporter on Farmers Weekly will be “using social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and forums, to engage with readers”.

Again, these are not specialist social media or community roles – but jobs that require skills and experience in these areas.

Specialist jobs growing alongside ‘integrated’ roles

Fortunately for those coming into journalism, specialised roles appear to be thriving alongside those in which online community, social media (and/or data journalism) are ‘integrated’ into reporting or other roles. Engaging communities and building networks lie at the heart of a new Thomson Reuters project — with *nine* new jobs — for example. Metro has been recruiting for a social media executive as well as a head of insight and social.

This picture of specialised plus ‘integrated’ roles is reinforced by two other sources. First, discussions at the news:rewired event last month, where data journalism and online communities were key themes. Many people were there to learn how to do things better, and/or to benchmark their (or their publication’s) own activities.

Jobs in interactive journalism and online

Second, it’s an impression consistent with the jobs gained by students from the first year of our MA Interactive Journalism (at City University London). One is working as a data journalist at The Guardian, for example – while two others there are in content coordinator roles in which community and social media are part of a broader brief that includes writing, editing and commissioning. Others again have gone on to more specialised web analytics and social media work – as well as more ‘traditional’ journalism jobs, reporting on a regional paper and sub-editing for a national newspaper.

PS: Anyone unconvinced by the importance of mastering online/digital skills should look at some current job advertisements. A business reporter at The Telegraph will be managing the flow and placement of web content. An assistant features editor at The Sun will be “keen to adapt to digital platforms”. “An interest in digital publishing/social media would be an advantage” for a senior editor at The Economist group. And so on. [NB The job ads on Gorkana will to be taken down at some point.]

It is also worth noting that data, multimedia and technology topped the list of skills in a survey about journalism training, undertaken by the Poynter Institute.

PPS: I have resisted expanding this post to take in another key area, mobile platforms (also a focus at news:rewired), where news organisations are expanding their activities. Nor have I mentioned the demand beyond journalism for people with a good grasp of data, social media engagement and online/digital skills more generally…

Andrew MacKay MP told local paper ‘nothing in expenses stood out’

Spot the contrast:

Andrew MacKay tells his local paper:

I have checked through all my expense claims over the past four years and there is nothing that stands out – I am confident there is nothing unreasonable in there at all.

Andrew MacKay resigns as Cameron’s aide, the BBC reporting that:

he now realised the arrangement did not pass Mr Cameron’s “reasonableness” test and he felt it was “wrong” to remain in his position.

Does it come down to what is “reasonable”?

Mr MacKay and his wife claimed second homes allowances on two separate properties, with Mr MacKay saying they had done so “for eight or nine years”.

Why journalists failed to predict the banking crisis

The developments that led to the current banking crisis seem to have been incremental, took place over a number of years, and together affected the whole system. Is that why journalists failed to see its demise?

I wonder about the role of human psychology, as one of many possible factors that worked against the reporting on developments that contributed to the current crisis.

…the most important “defaults” of the human mind are to look for discrepancies in the world, to ignore what is going on constantly, and to respond quickly to sudden shifts, to emergencies, to scarcity, to the immediate and personal, to “news”.

So wrote psychologist Robert Ornstein and biologist Paul Ehrlich in New World, New Mind nearly 20 years ago. They argue that the human brain is poorly equipped to tackle many modern challenges: still primitive, it responds primarily to dramatic sensory changes (fight or flight and all that). In contrast, contemporary issues that tend to be evident mostly through gradual changes are seen as less significant or urgent.

For millions of years these “defaults” of the mind have worked well. They do not work well in a world where 2 billion people could be killed by a simple misjudgment, and our defaults do not even work so well in the day-to-day world of modern life…

Ornstein and Ehrlich focused on environmental change — but perhaps their theory applies validly to other areas, too. A psychology of news values in journalism? You read it here first. Probably.

There’s a tenuous link with some of the more familiar factors being put forward. Alex Brummer, the Daily Mail’s City editor, says few financial journalists understood the systemic problems that were piling up. He also highlighted the difficulties for journalists in dealing with powerful PR and threats of having access withdrawn:

Brummer says that too many financial journalists are bamboozled by the ‘manipulative’ PR operations of big companies, and some are too fearful that they will lose access if they are too critical. ‘The duty of a journalist is always to be sceptical. But they are up against very powerful institutions who lie and cheat.’

James Robertson, who wrote the piece, also quotes Dan Bögler, the FT’s managing editor, on why his paper didn’t do better:

Why didn’t we spot it? Unfortunately, financial journalists — and the FT has better-trained financial journalists than others — don’t really understand this stuff, and they join a long list of people that starts with bank regulators, central bank regulators and money managers.

No journalists appear on the list of ten people who “predicted the financial meltdown”, compiled by the Money Central blog at Times Online (tagline: Advice you can bank on). Perhaps no surprise there, although there are some honourable exceptions, such as those mentioned in the comments on that post.

Liverpool Daily Post liveblogs Rhys Jones trial and banking crisis

It’s nearly a live broadcast of the trial — an impressive exercise in liveblogging by the Post (below), particularly given the legal restrictions on court reporting with which the paper’s reporters and editors have to comply. Reporter Ben Rossington seems to be including lots of details and quotes.

As the page notes at the top of the liveblog section,

Submitted comments cannot be published for legal reasons throughout the trial

(Are comments being submitted anyhow — to be published after the case, perhaps?)

I imagine there’s also a risk of having to edit material already published if, for example, the judge decides during the proceedings that a particular defendant must not be named.

Then there are the logistics, which must be easier where it’s a high-profile case (such as this) and proceedings are video-linked to a separate press area. Otherwise — assuming laptops are not permitted in the court itself — it would probably need a reporter to duck out of the gallery every so often and post from his shorthand notes.

Post editor Mark Thomas hasn’t had any responses so far to his blog request for feedback on the paper’s liveblogging. Deputy editor Alison Gow posted some interesting reflections on her experience of liveblogging at the Post last month, with some dos and don’ts. (If either of you would like to say more here about the Rhys Jones trial or bank crisis liveblog, please add comments.) The paper has used the technique to cover different events this year, including football matches and the giant spider robot La Machine.

The liveblog on the banking crisis (below) seems to be a joint effort with the Birmingham Post and The Journal (Newcastle), among others. Looking at the liveblog on the Post’s dedicated business site, I can see it’s been attracting a few comments — it would be fascinating to know the impact of either liveblog on the sites’ hits/pageviews. Both use the Cover It Live software.

The liveblog of the Rhys Jones trial isn’t the first time a UK paper has covered a case live (or as live as possible) — the Evening Star in Ipswich and the East Anglian Daily Times used similar methods earlier this year to report the trial of Steve Wright, with brief live updates.

Nick Robinson: ‘I got too close to government in reporting Iraq’

The BBC’s political editor regrets:

The biggest self-criticism I have was [that] I got too close to government in the reporting of the Iraq war. I didn’t do enough to go away and say ‘well hold on, what about the other side?’ It is the one moment in my recent career where I have thought I didn’t push hard enough, I didn’t question enough and I should have been more careful.

Robinson offered this candid self-assessment in a debate on political campaigners and reporters at City University last night — as reported by one of my journalism students, Michael Haddon, for journalism.co.uk, and on his own blog. Michael also wrote about Iain Dale’s comments on political reporting (and on his blog).

As for the government line on weapons of mass destruction, Robinson said:

I don’t think the government did set out to lie about weapons of mass destruction. I do think they systematically and cumulatively misled people.

What’s the distinction? It was clear to me that Alastair Campbell knew how what he was saying was being reported, knew that that was a long way from the truth, and was content for it so to be. They knew it was wrong, they wanted it to be wrong – they haven’t actually lied.

Footnote to Michael and someone at Journalism.co.uk: check spelling — it’s Alastair not Alistair (corrected in quote above). Bring back the subs!

The news about Robert Peston: meta-reporting?

Update: Michael Howard has asked the FSA to investigate the alleged leaking to Peston/the BBC of sensitive information about the bank rescue package, reports Guido Fawkes.

—–

The BBC’s business editor is becoming the news, and not just as in the spoof article I bookmarked previously.

The House of Lords communications committee asks whether he’s setting the agenda:

“Well, I think there is an argument for that. One can’t deny that Robert Peston has been playing an instrumental role in the story and anyone in the news business has to pay close attention to what Robert Peston reports,” the Daily Mail political editor, Ben Brogan, told the committee.

“He is well informed, well connected and he has on a number of occasions broken the news it would be foolish in the extreme to ignore him. That, in some ways, gives him an enormous degree of power. But more power to his elbow, if he’s the journalist that is leading the charge on this, then good for him.”

More people want to find him online, says Robin Goad of Hitwise…

while he reports on falling markets, his own stock is looking like a good bet. As the chart below illustrates, UK Internet searches for ‘robert peston’ have shot up over the last month.

…which prompts a Media Guardian article on a similar theme, followed by a light piece about Peston’s potential rivals.

Journalists and media-watchers have also had the chance to read interview profiles of Peston in The Independent and The Guardian. Both allude to his contacts and brilliant scoops, of course — but don’t address directly how far he’s managing to steer the narrow course between reporter of scoops and cypher.

Footnote: Yesterday I read Peston’s blog post and not much later listened to his analysis piece on the 6pm Radio 4 news, and realised they were the same thing. So posting scripts is one way to do it, to answer Robin Goad’s query of how Peston was broadcasting frequently and

somehow also finding time update his blog daily with analysis of the latest episode in the ongoing saga of the financial crisis

I doubt I’m the first to realise this.

Is crowd-sourcing edging into mainstream journalism — or is it just an online survey?

How far did asking readers for their input help Jay Rayner with his Observer article on genetically modified foods, published last Sunday? He found it a mixed bag — and a lot more work, he says.

It involved digesting hundreds of emails and online comments, says Rayner, including 159 comments on the original request online — but:

In the end, although I didn’t set out to do it this way, almost every single research paper I consulted came via our call to arms, as did three of the four main interviewees (two from each side).

My impression is that this kind of crowd-sourcing has been edging more into mainstream journalism — but often in a different way from Rayner’s “exercise in open-source journalism” (as he calls it).

Take another current example: the BBC’s iPM asking for readers/listeners to flag up what element of their spending has been hit hardest by the ‘credit crunch’, which it’s plotting on a map. Similarly, the Times Online sought readers’ comments on its 2008 Budget Survey, plotting them on a Google mapAndy Dickinson helped out. This survey-style approach is automated, of course, and so can handle large numbers of responses — clearly essential when we’re talking about more than 22,000 responses, as with iPM.

There may be a trade-off. Go for as many responses as possible, with a narrow set of questions and possible responses (so it can be readily automated). A large response might make results more reliable and/or representative. But it’s still essentially a survey, even if it has the online equivalent of bells and whistles.

On the other hand, a Rayner-style invitation to contribute is more blog-like and open-ended — which means a human has to read and digest the responses. But a ‘click here’ survey wouldn’t get you research papers and interviewees.

In the end I suspect there’s a place for open-ended crowd-sourcing, surveys, and much in between. Including pointers that help to produce a scoop.

Taking Twitter reporting to the edge

The latest reporting use of Twitter that’s caught my eye is to cover a funeral, as undertaken (wordplay intended) by the Rocky Mountain News.

I make it 28 Tweets in just over 90 minutes — “pallbearers carry out coffin followed by mourners”, “people are viewing the body, which is lying in casket with teddy bear. some people falling on knees to pray”, for example. The texts are reproduced in one of the comments on the article linked above (no direct link; scroll down to the tenth comment).

Most of the comments are negative, perhaps not surprisingly — as was Michelle Ferrier on the Poynter blog.

More journalists seem to have been experimenting with Twitter over the last year or so. Paul Bradshaw provided a useful overview on his Online Journalism Blog and Jeff Jarvis weighed in here. It was only a question of time before theses on Twitter started to appear…

Geographic news filter goes live: Holovaty’s EveryBlock

Fascinating to see EveryBlock up and running, filtering material from databases, news articles, Flickr, blogs etc by neighbourhood and zip code. It launched yesterday for Chicago, New York and San Francisco. From my first quick look, building permits, crime reports and Flickr photos seem to dominate coverage of some areas.

In their launch announcement, Adrian Holovaty and the team make clear they see this as news:

We like to toss around the word “news” to describe all of this, and that might surprise you at first. Isn’t news what appears on the front page of the New York Times? Isn’t news something produced by professional journalists?

Well, it can be — and we include as much of that on EveryBlock as possible. But, in our minds, “news” at the neighborhood or block level means a lot more. On EveryBlock, “Somebody reviewed the new Italian restaurant down the street on Yelp” is news. “Somebody took a photo of that cool house on your block and posted it to Flickr” is news. “The NYPD posted its weekly crime report for your neighborhood” is news. If it’s in your neighborhood and it happened recently, it’s news on EveryBlock.