How one reporter used Twitter to help with sources

Daniel Victor provides a detailed account, ending with three key points for journalists to note:

1) If I were sitting in my cubicle thinking, “Who could help me with this story?”, none of the five people would have immediately popped into my mind, and I certainly wouldn’t have met them outside of Twitter since this story wasn’t on my beat. This is the power of Twitter for reporting: You can find help in unexpected places, from people you wouldn’t normally have access to.

2) But it only paid off because I’ve taken the time to build a useful local network. I’ve counted 415 Twitter users I follow in the Harrisburg area, though I suspect I follow more who I’ve neglected to add to the list. Every one of them could prove valuable in a pinch — we just never know when it’ll be.

3) You’ll notice Twitter didn’t replace fundamental reporting, it just facilitated it. I still needed to persist and call the chairman three separate times before I got the source on the phone.

Read more here [link]

ZDNet retracts story: one unverified source, key player not called

Some basic errors in our reporting, admits Larry Dignan, editor in chief of ZDNet:

"Overnight one of our bloggers, Richard Koman, reported that Yahoo handed over user names to the Iranian government. We’re retracting the blog post. Here’s what went wrong.

First, the post was based on a single source who had a clear agenda. That source wasn’t properly filtered and his charges weren’t verifiable by credible sources.

Second, we never called Yahoo to verify the report or get an appropriate response. Blog networks still need to follow journalism 101 and Yahoo should have been called. In summary, our checks and balances went awry. We put a lot of trust in our bloggers to get it right and frankly we let you down with this report.

The chain of events can be found on the post, but we wanted to do a separate item for the record. My apologies again and we will be taking corrective measures to prevent this breakdown."

Read more here [link]

Virologist interviewee linked to anti-flu funding drive — Media Guardian

Peter Wilby on swine flu coverage: "Several papers, and particularly the Daily Mail, gave prominence to Professor Nigel Dimmock, a Warwick University virologist, who warned "this has the potential to be bigger than Spanish influenza", the 1918 pandemic that may have killed 50 million worldwide. Dimmock, as no newspaper mentioned, founded a university spin-off company called ViraBiotech, which is seeking investment to develop "an entirely new method of protecting against flu" (I quote from a press release smartly issued by Warwick University last Monday, with a footnote admitting it was using "the current heightened global concern" to help raise funds). I do not suggest this influenced Dimmock's views in any way. But it would be helpful if newspapers informed us of these things."

Read more here [link]

‘Google will not replace shoe leather’

Veteran investigative reporter Andrew Jennings interviewed:
“Google has its uses. But let’s get serious. It is a fine research tool, but it doesn’t do what a journalist is supposed to do… Shoe leather is cheap. That’s how I get the story. If you walk down any suburban street, there is a story behind every door. There are people who work in factories, good people, that bad things happened to, and they are waiting for a knock on the door… […]
Many journalists think you get it from the Presidents or press releases. You get it from the janitor, the concierge, the guy who is a driver to Mr. Enron. It’s ordinary people who want to talk about it because they have to earn a living, but it’s shoe leather. Google can help, but you have to go out to get the story, and get people to trust you. Whether it is in any type of journalism: economy, sports, etc, people have stories. You have to persuade them.”

Read more here [link]

FT editor Lionel Barber: Why journalism wins my vote

"…the mainstream press lost touch with its audience at the very moment when technology, via the internet, was dramatically lowering the barriers to entry.[…]
…a shift in the balance of power towards new media, with wholesale repercussions for the practice of journalism.[…]
…whether this same journalistic rigour can survive the current maelstrom.
… the role of the trained journalist as trusted intermediary no longer holds. Some may argue that this privileged status was always precarious, even a fiction. […]
Yet to abandon the quest to write the first draft of history carries risks. There will always be powerful forces seeking to suppress injustice or inconvenient truths. For all their failings, newspapers, especially the well-financed family-owned newspapers, have served as a counterweight. On both sides of the Atlantic, the line between news reporting and comment is becoming increasingly blurred. That is something that should give everyone in the profession pause for thought."

Read more here [link]

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.