Continuing the serialisation of the research underpinning a new Help Me Investigate project, in this fourth part I describe how one particular investigation took shape. Previous parts are linked below:
Case study: the London Weekly investigation
In early 2010 Andy Brightwell and I conducted some research into one particular successful investigation on the site. The objective was to identify what had made the investigation successful – and how (or if) those conditions might be replicated for other investigations both on the site and elsewhere online.
The investigation chosen for the case study was ‘What do you know about The London Weekly?’ – an investigation into a free newspaper that was, the owners claimed (part of the investigation was to establish if the claim was a hoax), about to launch in London.
The people behind The London Weekly had made a number of claims about planned circulation, staffing and investment which went unchallenged in specialist media. Journalists Martin Stabe, James Ball and Judith Townend, however, wanted to dig deeper. So, after an exchange on Twitter, Judith logged onto Help Me Investigate and started an investigation.
A month later members of the investigation (most of whom were non-journalists) had unearthed a wealth of detail about the people behind The London Weekly and the facts behind their claims. Some of the information was reported in MediaWeek and The Guardian podcast Media Talk; some formed the basis for posts on James Ball’s blog, Journalism.co.uk and the Online Journalism Blog. Some has, for legal reasons, remained unpublished.
Andrew Brightwell conducted a number of semi-structured interviews with contributors to the investigation. The sample was randomly selected but representative of the mix of contributors, who were categorised as either ‘alpha’ contributors (over 6 contributions), ‘active’ (2-6 contributions) and ‘lurkers’ (whose only contribution was to join the investigation). These interviews formed the qualitative basis for the research.
Complementing this data was quantitative information about users of the site as a whole. This was taken from two user surveys – one conducted when the site was three months’ old and another at 12 months – and analysis of analytics taken from the investigation (such as numbers and types of actions, frequency, etc.)
In the next part I explore some of the characteristics of a crowdsourced investigation and how these relate to the wider literature around crowdsourcing in general.
The Independent newspaper has introduced a fascinating new feature on the site that allows users to follow articles by individual writers and news about specific football teams via Facebook.
It’s one of those ideas so simple you wonder why no one else appears to have done it before*: instead of just ‘liking’ individual articles, or having to trudge off to Facebook to see if there’s a relevant page you can become a fan of, the Indie have applied the technology behind the ‘Like’ button to make the process of following specific news feeds more intuitive.
To that end, you can pick your favourite football team from this page or click on the ‘Like’ button at the head of any commentator’s homepage. The Independent’s Jack Riley says that the feature will be rolled out to columnists next, followed by public figures, places, political parties, and countries.
The move is likely to pour extra fuel on the overblown ‘RSS is dying‘ discussion that has been taking place recently. The Guardian’s hugely impressive hackable RSS feeds (with full content) are somewhat put in the shade by this move – but then the Guardian have generated enormous goodwill in the development community for that, and continue to innovate. Both strategies have benefits.
At the moment the Independent’s new Facebook feature is plugged at the end of each article by the relevant commentator or about a particular club. It’s not the best place to put given how many people read articles through to the end, nor the best designed to catch the eye, and it will be interesting to see whether the placement and design changes as the feature is rolled out.
It will also be interesting to see how quickly other news organisations copy the innovation.
*If I told you I said this deliberately in the hope someone would point me to a previous example – would you believe me? Martin Stabe in the comments points to The Sporting News as one organisation that got here first. And David Moynihan points out that NME have ‘Like’ buttons for each artist on their site.
More coverage at Read Write Web and Future of Media.
Earlier this year I and Andy Brightwell conducted some research into one of the successful investigations on my crowdsourcing platform Help Me Investigate. I wanted to know what had made the investigation successful – and how (or if) we might replicate those conditions for other investigations.
I presented the findings (presentation embedded above) at the Journalism’s Next Top Model conference in June. This post sums up those findings.
The investigation in question was ‘What do you know about The London Weekly?‘ – an investigation into a free newspaper that was (they claimed – part of the investigation was to establish if this was a hoax) about to launch in London.
The people behind the paper had made a number of claims about planned circulation, staffing and investment that most of the media reported uncritically. Martin Stabe, James Ball and Judith Townend, however, wanted to dig deeper. So, after an exchange on Twitter, Judith logged onto Help Me Investigate and started an investigation.
A month later members of the investigation had unearthed a wealth of detail about the people behind The London Weekly and the facts behind their claims. Some of the information was reported in MediaWeek and The Media Guardian podcast Media Talk; some formed the basis for posts on James Ball’s blog, Journalism.co.uk and the Online Journalism Blog. Some has, for legal reasons, remained unpublished. Continue reading
As part of an ongoing series on recent graduates who have gone into online journalism, Dave Lee talks about how he won a BBC job straight from university, what it involves, and what skills he feels online journalists need today.
I got my job as a result – delightfully! – of having a well-known blog. Well, that is, well-known in the sense it was read by the right people. My path to the BBC began with a work placement at Press Gazette – an opportunity I wouldn’t have got had it not been for the blog. In fact, I recall Patrick Smith literally putting it in those terms – saying that they’d never normally take an undergrad without NUJ qualifications – but they’d seen my blog and liked what I was doing. Continue reading
Here’s another collection of Q&As from a correspondent, published here to prevent repetition:
1. How do you feel about the opinions published in your blog being used by journalists in the news?
I’m not clear what you mean by this question, but broadly speaking if my opinions are properly attributed then I am fine with it.
2. Why do you blog?
I started blogging out of professional and creative curiosity – at that point it wasn’t an online journalism blog. I continued to blog largely because I started to feel part of a wider community – I particularly remember comments from Mindy McAdams and links from Martin Stabe. Now I blog for a combination of reasons: firstly, it is hugely educational to put something out there and receive other people’s insights; secondly, it leads to meetings and conversations with very interesting people I otherwise wouldn’t meet; thirdly, it’s a useful record for myself: forcing myself to articulate an idea in text means I can identify gaps and come back to it when I want to make the same point again.
3. Do you consider yourself a journalist when blogging in that you source news and broadcast it?
Yes. But how much I “source news” and how much I “broadcast” it are subject to further discussion.
4. What do you think about information put on social media websites, such as photos and personal details, being used in mainstream media?
I assume you mean without permission? I think there’s a lack of proper thought on both the part of the individual and the journalist. On a purely legal front, it’s breach of copyright, so media organisations and journalists are in the wrong. On an ethical front, journalists need to realise that a social network is not a publishing platform, but a conversational one. If someone puts information there it is often for an intended, personal, audience. The closest analogy is the pub conversation: it is being held in public, but if someone listens in and publishes what you’ve said to a much wider, different, audience, then that is unethical (public interest aside).
5. When blogging, are you aware that you are putting your opinions and thoughts out there for the world to see? Do you censor what you say because of this?
Yes. And yes. ‘Censor’ is probably the wrong word: I choose what I say; I generally don’t talk about my personal life or meetings which I assume are confidential.
6. Do you think a news piece sourced from blogs is as worthy as a piece sourced from investigative journalism?
To properly answer this I’d probably need lengthy definitions of what you mean by ‘worthy’, blogs, news, ‘sourced’ and investigative journalism. And even then I think to impose broad-brush distinctions like these is a flawed approach. A news piece sourced from blogs can be investigative; ‘investigative journalism’ can be ‘unworthy’. Judge each case on its own; don’t dismiss the value of something because of the packet it comes in.
This is just a bit of curious fun. I can think of a few stories I heard first on Twitter. They are:
- The assassination of Benazir Bhutto (via @martinstabe)
- The Chinese earthquake (via @scobleizer)
- The deaths of Bo Diddley and Ted Rogers
- The resignation of Roy Keane as manager of Sunderland
- Bank of England lowering interest rate to 2%
- Russian tanks moving into South Ossetia
- And, er, the Strictly Come Dancing voting scandal-that-then-became-a-fiasco (via @aarons)
It’s a curious mix of the general and the very specific. And I’m sure there are others I’ve since forgotten.
I asked the Twittersphere what events they first heard there, and the recent events in Mumbai featured highly, along with some of the above. Others included Michael Grimes hearing about the arrest of MP Damian Green via Twittering Labour MP @Tom_Watson before it hit the BBC, Dilyan Damyanov hearing about the death of Michael Crichton, and medeamaterial hearing about Ingrid Betancourt’s liberation from the FARC: “full five minutes after reading it tweeted by several people it was on TV”.
Conrad Quilty-Harper mentioned the OJ Simpson guilty verdict “and countless others first via @BreakingNewsOn“. Dana_Willhoit said “It’s amazing. I was a newspaper reporter – now I turn to Twitter for my news.”
What news stories can you remember hearing first on Twitter? Are there certain types that seem to spread better than others?
What happens when you bring together local journalists, bloggers, web publishers, online journalism experts and new media startups – and get them talking?
That was the question that JEEcamp sought to answer: an ‘unconference’ around journalism enterprise and entrepreneurship that looked to tackle some of the big questions facing news in 2008: how do you make money from news when information is free? Where is the funding for news startups? How do you generate community? What models work for news online? Continue reading