Tag Archives: BBC

Are Sky and BBC leaving the field open to Twitter competitors?

At first glance, Sky’s decision that its journalists should not retweet information that has “not been through the Sky News editorial process” and the BBC’s policy to prioritise filing “written copy into our newsroom as quickly as possible” seem logical.

For Sky it is about maintaining editorial control over all content produced by its staff. For the BBC, it seems to be about making sure that the newsroom, and by extension the wider organisation, takes priority over the individual.

But there are also blind spots in these strategies that they may come to regret.

Our content?

The Sky policy articulates an assumption about ‘content’ that’s worth picking apart.

We accept as journalists that what we produce is our responsibility. When it comes to retweeting, however, it’s not entirely clear what we are doing. Is that news production, in the same way that quoting a source is? Is it newsgathering, in the same way that you might repeat a lead to someone to find out their reaction? Or is it merely distribution?

The answer, as I’ve written before, is that retweeting can be, and often is, all three.

Writing about a similar policy at the Oregonian late last year, Steve Buttry made the point that retweets are not endorsements. Jeff Jarvis argued that they were “quotes”.

I don’t think it’s as simple as that (as I explain below), but I do think it’s illustrative: if Sky News were to prevent journalists from using any quote on air or online where they could not verify its factual basis, then nothing would get broadcast. Live interviews would be impossible.

The Sky policy, then, seems to treat retweets as pure distribution, and – crucially – to treat the tweet in isolation. Not as a quote, but as a story, consisting entirely of someone else’s content, which has not been through Sky editorial processes but which is branded or endorsed as Sky journalism.

There’s a lot to admire in the pride in their journalism that this shows – indeed, I would like to see the same rigour applied to the countless quotes that are printed and broadcast by all media without being compared with any evidence.
But do users really see retweets in the same way? And if they do, will they always do so?

Curation vs creation

There’s a second issue here which is more about hard commercial success. Research suggests that successful users of Twitter tend to combine curation with creation. Preventing journalists from retweeting  leaves them – and their employers – without a vital tool in their storytelling and distribution.

The tension surrounding retweeting can be illustrated in the difference between two broadcast journalists who use Twitter particularly effectively: Sky’s own Neal Mann, and NPR’s Andy Carvin. Andy retweets habitually as a way of seeking further information. Neal, as he explained in this Q&A with one of my classes, feels that he has a responsibility not to retweet information he cannot verify (from 2 mins in).

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. But both combine curation with creation.

Network effects

A third issue that strikes me is how these policies fit uncomfortably alongside the networked ways that news is experienced now.

The BBC policy, for example, appears at first glance to prevent journalists from diving right into the story as it develops online. Social media editor Chris Hamilton does note, importantly, that they have “a technology that allows our journalists to transmit text simultaneously to our newsroom systems and to their own Twitter accounts”. However, this is coupled with the position that:

“Our first priority remains ensuring that important information reaches BBC colleagues, and thus all our audiences, as quickly as possible – and certainly not after it reaches Twitter.”

This is an interesting line of argument, and there are a number of competing priorities underlying it that I want to understand more clearly.

Firstly, it implies a separation of newsroom systems and Twitter. If newsroom staff are not following their own journalists on Twitter as part of their systems, why not? Sky pioneered the use of Twitter as an internal newswire, and the man responsible, Julian March, is now doing something similar at ITV. The connection between internal systems and Twitter is notable.

Then there’s that focus on “all our audiences” in opposition to those early adopter Twitter types. If news is “breaking news, an exclusive or any kind of urgent update”, being first on Twitter can give you strategic advantages that waiting for the six o’clock – or even typing a report that’s over 140 characters – won’t. For example:

  • Building a buzz (driving people to watch, listen to or search for the fuller story)
  • Establishing authority on Google (which ranks first reports over later ones)
  • Establishing the traditional authority in being known as the first to break the story
  • Making it easier for people on the scene to get in touch (if someone’s just experienced a newsworthy event or heard about it from someone who was, how likely is it that they search Twitter to see who else was there? You want to be the journalist they find and contact)

“When the technology [to inform the newsroom and generate a tweet at the same time] isn’t available, for whatever reason, we’re asking them to prioritise telling the newsroom before sending a tweet.

“We’re talking a difference of a few seconds. In some situations.

“And we’re talking current guidance, not tablets of stone. This is a landscape that’s moving incredibly quickly, inside and outside newsrooms, and the guidance will evolve as quickly.”

Everything at the same time

There’s another side to this, which is evidence of news organisations taking a strategic decision that, in a world of information overload, they should stop trying to be the first (an increasingly hard task), and instead seek to be more authoritative. To be able to say, confidently, “Every atom we distribute is confirmed”, or “We held back to do this spectacularly as a team”.

There’s value in that, and a lot to be admired. I’m not saying that these policies are inherently wrong. I don’t know the full thinking that went into them, or the subtleties of their implementation (as Rory Cellan-Jones illustrates in his example, which contrasts with what can actually happen). I don’t think there is a right and a wrong way to ‘do Twitter’. Every decision is a trade off, because so many factors are in play. I just wanted to explore some of those factors here.

As soon as you digitise information you remove the physical limitations that necessitated the traditional distinctions between the editorial processes of newsgathering, production, editing and distribution.

A single tweet can be doing all at the same time. Social media policies need to recognise this, and journalists need to be trained to understand the subtleties too.

Location, Location, Location

In this guest post, Damian Radcliffe highlights some recent developments in the intersection between hyper-local SoLoMo (social, location, mobile). His more detailed slides looking at 20 developments across the sector during the last two months of 2011 are cross-posted at the bottom of this article.

Facebook’s recent purchase of location-based service Gowalla (Slide 19 below,) suggests that the social network still thinks there is a future for this type of “check in” service. Touted as “the next big thing” ever since Foursquare launched at SXSW in 2009, to date Location Based Services (LBS) haven’t quite lived up to the hype.

Certainly there’s plenty of data to suggest that the public don’t quite share the enthusiasm of many Silicon Valley investors. Yet.

Part of their challenge is that not only is awareness of services relatively low – just 30% of respondents in a survey of 37,000 people by Forrester (Slide 27) – but their benefits are also not necessarily clearly understood.

In 2011, a study by youth marketing agency Dubit found about half of UK teenagers are not aware of location-based social networking services such as Foursquare and Facebook Places, with 58% of those who had heard of them saying they “do not see the point” of sharing geographic information.

Safety concerns may not be the primary concern of Dubit’s respondents, but as the “Please Rob Me” website says: “….on one end we’re leaving lights on when we’re going on a holiday, and on the other we’re telling everybody on the internet we’re not home… The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home.”

Reinforcing this concern are several stories from both the UK and the US of insurers refusing to pay out after a domestic burglary, where victims have announced via social networks that they were away on holiday – or having a beer downtown.

For LBS to go truly mass market – and Forrester (see Slide 27) found that only 5% of mobile users were monthly LBS users – smartphone growth will be a key part of the puzzle. Recent Ofcom data reported that:

  • Ownership nearly doubled in the UK between February 2010 and August 2011 (from 24% to 46%).
  • 46% of UK internet users also used their phones to go online in October 2011.

For now at least, most of our location based activity would seem to be based on previous online behaviours. So, search continues to dominate.

Google in a recent blog post described local search ads as “so hot right now” (Slide 22, Sept-Oct 2011 update). The search giant launched hyper-local search ads a year ago, along with a “News Near You” feature in May 2011. (See: April-May 2011 update, Slide 27.)

Meanwhile, BIA/Kelsey forecast that local search advertising revenues in the US will increase from $5.1 billion in 2010 to $8.2 billion in 2015. Their figures suggest by 2015, 30% of search will be local.

The other notable growth area, location based mobile advertising, also offers a different slant on the typical “check in” service which Gowalla et al tend to specialise in. Borrell forerecasts this space will increase 66% in the US during 2012 (Slide 22).

The most high profile example of this service in the UK is O2 More, which triggers advertising or deals when a user passes through certain locations – offering a clear financial incentive for sharing your location.

Perhaps this – along with tailored news and information manifest in services such as News Near You, Postcode Gazette and India’s Taazza – is the way forward.

Jiepang, China’s leading Location-Based Social Mobile App, offered a recent example of how to do this. Late last year they partnered with Starbucks, offering users a virtual Starbucks badge if they “checked-in” at a Starbucks store in the Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. When the number of badges issued hit 20,000, all badge holders got a free festive upgrade to a larger cup size. When coupled with the ease of NFC technology deployed to allow users to “check in” then it’s easy to understand the consumer benefit of such a service.

Mine’s a venti gingerbread latte. No cream. Xièxiè.

2011: the UK hyper-local year in review

In this guest post, Damian Radcliffe highlights some topline developments in the hyper-local space during 2011. He also asks for your suggestions of great hyper-local content from 2011. His more detailed slides looking at the previous year are cross-posted at the bottom of this article.

2011 was a busy year across the hyper-local sphere, with a flurry of activity online as well as more traditional platforms such as TV, Radio and newspapers.

The Government’s plans for Local TV have been considerably developed, following the Shott Review just over a year ago. We now have a clearer indication of the areas which will be first on the list for these new services and how Ofcom might award these licences. What we don’t know is who will apply for these licences, or what their business models will be. But, this should become clear in the second half of the year.

Whilst the Leveson Inquiry hasn’t directly been looking at local media, it has been a part of the debate. Claire Enders outlined some of the challenges facing the regional and local press in a presentation showing declining revenue, jobs and advertising over the past five years. Her research suggests that the impact of “the move to digital” has been greater at a local level than at the nationals.

Across the board, funding remains a challenge for many. But new models are emerging, with Daily Deals starting to form part of the revenue mix alongside money from foundations and franchising.

And on the content front, we saw Jeremy Hunt cite a number of hyper-local examples at the Oxford Media Convention, as well as record coverage for regional press and many hyper-local outlets as a result of the summer riots.

I’ve included more on all of these stories in my personal retrospective for the past year.

One area where I’d really welcome feedback is examples of hyper-local content you produced – or read – in 2011. I’m conscious that a lot of great material may not necessarily reach a wider audience, so do post your suggestions below and hopefully we can begin to redress that.

The strikes and the rise of the liveblog

Liveblogging the strikes: Twitter's #n30 stream

Liveblogging the strikes: Twitter's #n30 stream

Today sees the UK’s biggest strike in decades as public sector workers protest against pension reforms. Most news organisations are covering the day’s events through liveblogs: that web-native format which has so quickly become the automatic choice for covering rolling news.

To illustrate just how dominant the liveblog has become take a look at the BBCChannel 4 News, The Guardian’s ‘Strikesblog‘ or The TelegraphThe Independent’s coverage is hosted on their own live.independent.co.uk subdomain while Sky have embedded their liveblog in other articles. There’s even a separate Storify liveblog for The Guardian’s Local Government section, and on Radio 5 Live you can find an example of radio reporters liveblogging.

Regional newspapers such as the Chronicle in the north east and the Essex County Standard are liveblogging the local angle; while the Huffington Post liveblog the political face-off at Prime Minister’s Question Time and the PoliticsHome blog liveblogs both. Leeds Student are liveblogging too. And it’s not just news organisations: campaigning organisation UK Uncut have their own liveblog, as do the public sector workers union UNISON and Pensions Justice (on Tumblr).

So dominant so quickly

The format has become so dominant so quickly because it satisfies both editorial and commercial demands: liveblogs are sticky – people stick around on them much longer than on traditional articles, in the same way that they tend to leave the streams of information from Twitter or Facebook on in the background of their phone, tablet or PC – or indeed, the way that they leave on 24 hour television when there are big events.

It also allows print outlets to compete in the 24-hour environment of rolling news. The updates of the liveblog are equivalent to the ‘time-filling’ of 24-hour television, with this key difference: that updates no longer come from a handful of strategically-placed reporters, but rather (when done well) hundreds of eyewitnesses, stakeholders, experts, campaigners, reporters from other news outlets, and other participants.

The results (when done badly) can be more noise than signal – incoherent, disconnected, fragmented. When done well, however, a good liveblog can draw clarity out of confusion, chase rumours down to facts, and draw multiple threads into something resembling a canvas.

At this early stage liveblogging is still a form finding its feet. More static than broadcast, it does not require the same cycle of repetition; more dynamic than print, it does, however, demand regular summarising.

Most importantly, it takes place within a network. The audience are not sat on their couches watching a single piece of coverage; they may be clicking between a dozen different sources; they may be present at the event itself; they may have friends or family there, sending them updates from their phone. If they are hearing about something important that you’re not addressing, you have a problem.

The list of liveblogs above demonstrates this particularly well, and it doesn’t include the biggest liveblog of all: the #n30 thread on Twitter (and as Facebook users we might also be consuming a liveblog of sorts of our friends’ updates).

More than documenting

In this situation the journalist is needed less to document what is taking place, and more to build on the documentation that is already being done: by witnesses, and by other journalists. That might mean aggregating the most important updates, or providing analysis of what they mean. It might mean enriching content by adding audio, video, maps or photography. Most importantly, it may mean verifying accounts that hold particular significance.

Liveblogging: adding value to the network

Liveblogging: adding value to the network

These were the lessons that I sought to teach my class last week when I reconstructed an event in the class and asked them to liveblog it (more in a future blog post). Without any briefing, they made predictable (and planned) mistakes: they thought they were there purely to document the event.

But now, more than ever, journalists are not there solely to document.

On a day like today you do not need to be journalist to take part in the ‘liveblog’ of #n20. If you are passionate about current events, if you are curious about news, you can be out there getting experience in dealing with those events – not just reporting them, but speaking to the people involved, recording images and audio to enrich what is in front of you, creating maps and galleries and Storify threads to aggregate the most illuminating accounts. Seeking reaction and verification to the most challenging ones.

The story is already being told by hundreds of people, some better than others. It’s a chance to create good journalism, and be better at it. I hope every aspiring journalist takes it, and the next chance, and the next one.

20 recent hyperlocal developments (June-August 2011)

Ofcom’s Damian Radcliffe produces a regular round-up of developments in hyperlocal publishing. In this guest post he cross-publishes his latest presentation for this summer, as well as the background to the reports.

Ofcom’s 2009 report on Local and Regional Media in the UK identified the increasing role that online hyperlocal media is playing in the local and regional media ecology.

New research in the report identified that

“One in five consumers claimed to use community websites at least monthly, and a third of these said they had increased their use of such websites over the past two years.”

That was two years ago, and since then, this nascent sector has continued to evolve, with the web continuing to offer a space and platform for community expression, engagement and empowerment.

The diversity of these offerings is manifest in the Hyperlocal Voices series found on this website, as well as Talk About Local’s Ten Questions feature, both of which speak to hyperlocal practitioners about their work.

For a wider view of developments in this sector, you may want to look at the bi-monthly series of slides I publish on SlideShare every two months.

Each set of slides typically outlines 20 recent hyperlocal developments; usually 10 from the UK and 10 from the US.

Topics in the current edition include Local TV, hyperlocal coverage of the recent England riots, the rise of location based deals and marketing, as well as the FCC’s report on The Information Needs of Communities.

Feedback and suggestions for future editions – including omissions from current slides – are actively welcomed.

Data Journalists Engaging in Co-Innovation…

You may or may not have noticed that the Boundary Commission released their take on proposed parliamentary constituency boundaries today.

They could have released the data – as data – in the form of shape files that can be rendered at the click of a button in things like Google Maps… but they didn’t… [The one thing the Boundary Commission quango forgot to produce: a map] (There are issues with publishing the actual shapefiles, of course. For one thing, the boundaries may yet change – and if the original shapefiles are left hanging around, people may start to draw on these now incorrect sources of data once the boundaries are fixed. But that’s a minor issue…)

Instead, you have to download a series of hefty PDFs, one per region, to get a flavour of the boundary changes. Drawing a direct comparison with the current boundaries is not possible.

The make-up of the actual constituencies appears to based on their member wards, data which is provided in a series of spreadsheets, one per region, each containing several sheets describing the ward makeup of each new constituency for the counties in the corresponding region.

It didn’t take long for the data junkies to get on the case though. From my perspective, the first map I saw was on the Guardian Datastore, reusing work by University of Sheffield academic Alasdair Rae, apparently created using Google Fusion Tables (though I haven’t see a recipe published anywhere? Or a link to the KML file that I saw Guardian Datablog editor Simon Rogers/@smfrogers tweet about?)

[I knew I should have grabbed a screen shot of the original map...:-(]

It appears that Conrad Quilty-Harper (@coneee) over at the Telegraph then got on the case, and came up with a comparative map drawing on Rae’s work as published on the Datablog, showing the current boundaries compared to the proposed changes, and which ties the maps together so the zoom level and focus are matched across the maps (MPs’ constituencies: boundary changes mapped):

Telegraph side by side map comparison

Interestingly, I was alerted to this map by Simon tweeting that he liked the Telegraph map so much, they’d reused the idea (and maybe even the code?) on the Guardian site. Here’s a snapshot of the conversation between these two data journalists over the course of the day (reverse chronological order):

Datajournalists in co-operative bootstrapping mode

Here’s the handshake…

Collaborative co-evolution

I absolutely love this… and what’s more, it happened over the course of four or five hours, with a couple of technology/knowledge transfers along the way, as well as evolution in the way both news agencies communicated the information compared to the way the Boundary Commission released it. (If I was evil, I’d try to FOI the Boundary Commission to see how much time, effort and expense went into their communication effort around the proposed changes, and would then try to guesstimate how much the Guardian and Telegraph teams put into it as a comparison…)

At the time of writing (15.30), the BBC have no data driven take on this story…

And out of interest, I also wondered whether Sheffield U had a take…

Sheffiled u media site

Maybe not…

PS By the by, the DataDrivenJournalism.net website relaunched today. I’m honoured to be on the editorial board, along with @paulbradshaw @nicolaskb @mirkolorenz @smfrogers and @stiles, and looking forward to seeing how we can start to drive interest, engagement and skills development in, as well as analysis and (re)use of, and commentary on, public open data through the data journalism route…

PPS if you’re into data journalism, you may also be interested in GetTheData.org, a question and answer site in the model of Stack Overflow, with an emphasis on Q&A around how to find, access, and make use of open and public datasets.

When will we stop saying “Pictures from Twitter” and “Video from YouTube”?

Image from YouTube

Image from YouTube

Over the weekend the BBC had to deal with the embarrassing ignorance of someone in their complaints department who appeared to believe that images shared on Twitter were “public domain” and “therefore … not subject to the same copyright laws” as material outside social networks.

A blog post, from online communities adviser Andy Mabbett, gathered thousands of pageviews in a matter of hours before the BBC’s Social Media Editor Chris Hamilton quickly responded:

“We make every effort to contact people, as copyright holders, who’ve taken photos we want to use in our coverage.

“In exceptional situations, ie a major news story, where there is a strong public interest in making a photo available to a wide audience, we may seek clearance after we’ve first used it.”

(Chris also published a blog post yesterday expanding on some of the issues, the comments on which are also worth reading)

The copyright issue – and the existence of a member of BBC staff who hadn’t read the Corporation’s own guidelines on the matter – was a distraction. What really rumbled through the 170+ comments – and indeed Andy’s original complaint – was the issue of attribution.

Continue reading

How a musician and a Sikh TV channel dominated coverage of the Birmingham riots

Man holding bag of Tesco value rice

One image from last night guaranteed not to have made it onto the front page - via Birmingham Riots 2011

It’s one thing to cover rioting on the doorstep of the national press – it’s quite another when squeezed regional newsrooms have to do the same. And as rioting in the UK spread from London to Birmingham and then other cities, some unlikely suspects showed how to cover a riot online even when you don’t have a newsroom.

Dominating online coverage in Birmingham was not a local newspaper or broadcaster but a Tumblr site – Birmingham Riots 2011 – set up by musician Casey Rain. Over dozens of entries Casey posted countless reports of what was taking place, and a range of photos and video footage which dwarfed the combined coverage of regional press and broadcast.
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Q: Who owns a journalist’s Twitter account? A: The users

Screengrab of Laura Kuenssberg's Twitter settings renamed to ITV

image from Tom Callow's Wall blog

When Laura Kuenssberg announced she was leaving the BBC for ITV, much was made of what might happen to her Twitter account. Was @BBCLauraK owned by her employer? (After all, it was branded as such, promoted on TV, and tweets were ‘processed’ by BBC producers). Or should Laura be able to take it with her? (After all, it was Laura that people were following, rather than a generic BBC political news feed).

The implications for the ‘journalist as brand‘ meme were well explored too, while newly empowered journalists may have been concerned to read that companies are inserting social media clauses into contracts:

“To keep hold of the good will created by a brand personality. Recruiters, for example, are often required to hand over their LinkedIn accounts upon leaving, so their contacts remain with the employer.”

Amidst all the speculation, Tom Callow stood out in offering some hard facts:

“When she had earlier tweeted the details of a new separate ITV account to her then 59,000 followers, only around 1,000 of them started following the new account.”

This sounds compelling until you remember that tweets are only seen for a relatively brief period of time by those followers who happen to be watching at that moment, and that a significant proportion of followers of celebrity/high profile accounts are likely to be idle or spam.

Still, it also highlights the fundamental weakness in all the debates about who ‘owns’ a Twitter account. One very important party is not being represented: the users.

Much of the commentary on Laura Kuenssberg’s move treated her 60,000 followers as an “audience”. But of course, they are not: they are users.

Some will be personal acquaintances; some will be fans of the BBC’s political coverage; and yes, some will be spam accounts or accounts set up by curious BBC viewers who forgot their password the next day. Some will follow her to ITV, some will follow her replacement at the BBC, and some never worked out how to click ‘unfollow’. (Kuenssberg’s successor – @BBCNormanS – had 5,824 followers after she tweeted a link, according to Paul Gregory, which means that only around 10% of her followers read either of those tweets and acted on them.)

Whether an employer claims ownership of a social media account or not, they cannot ‘own’ the relationship between users and that account. And there will be as many relationships as users. Some passive; some collaborative; some neglected; some exploitative.

It is those relationships that we should be concerned with developing, not the small print of an employee’s contract.

FAQ: How can broadcasters benefit from online communities?

Here’s another set of questions I’m answering in public in case anyone wants to ask the same:

How can broadcasters benefit from online communities?

Online communities contain many individuals who will be able to contribute different kinds of value to news production. Most obviously, expertise, opinion, and eyewitness testimony. In addition, they will be able to more effectively distribute parts of a story to ensure that it reaches the right experts, opinion-formers and eyewitnesses. The difference from an audience is that a community tends to be specialised, and connected to each other.

If you rephrase the question as ‘How can broadcasters benefit from people?’ it may be clearer.

How does a broadcaster begin to develop an engaged online community, any tips?

Over time. Rather than asking about how you develop an online community ask yourself instead: how do you begin to develop relationships? Waiting until a major news event happens is a bad strategy: it’s like waiting until someone has won the lottery to decide that you’re suddenly their friend.

Journalists who do this well do a little bit every so often – following people in their field, replying to questions on social networks, contributing to forums and commenting on blogs, and publishing blog posts which are helpful to members of that community rather than simply being about ‘the story’ (for instance, ‘Why’ and ‘How’ questions behind the news).

In case you are aware of networks in the middle east, do you think they are tapping into online communities and social media adequately?

I don’t know the networks well enough to comment – but I do think it’s hard for corporations to tap into communities; it works much better at an individual reporter level.

Can you mention any models whether it is news channels or entertainment television which have developed successful online communities, why do they work?

The most successful examples tend to be newspapers: I think Paul Lewis at The Guardian has done this extremely successfully, and I think Simon Rogers’ Data Blog has also developed a healthy community around data and visualisation. Both of these are probably due in part to the work of Meg Pickard there around community in general.

The BBC’s UGC unit is a good example from broadcasting – although that is less about developing a community as about providing platforms for others to contribute, and a way for journalists to quickly find expertise in those communities. More specifically, Robert Peston and Rory Cellan-Jones use their blogs and Twitter accounts well to connect with people in their fields.

Then of course there’s Andy Carvin at NPR, who is an exemplar of how to do it in radio. There’s so much written about what he does that I won’t repeat it here.

What are the reasons that certain broadcasters cannot connect successfully with online communities?

I expect a significant factor is regulation which requires objectivity from broadcasters but not from newspapers. If you can’t express an opinion then it is difficult to build relationships, and if you are more firmly regulated (which broadcasting is) then you take fewer risks.

Also, there are more intermediaries in broadcasting and fewer reporters who are public-facing, which for some journalists in broadcasting makes the prospect of speaking directly to the former audience that much more intimidating.