Category Archives: social media

Gagging orders old and new

The Minister giveth, and the Minister taketh away. Last week health secretary Jeremy Hunt ‘banned‘ gagging clauses in NHS contracts – even though they’d already been banned in 1999.

A week later his equivalent in the Ministry of Justice Chris Grayling was issuing a rather less generous directive, gagging probation officers from making any comments “in criticism or designed to undermine the justice secretary’s policy or actions”.

And in the police force Operation Elveden ‘crossed a Rubicon‘ as it expanded its scope to include police officers who had leaked information without payment – in other words, speaking to a journalist. (Outside of the operation itself, officers who have spoken to journalists were reported to have found themselves subject to disciplinary investigation, and two suspended.)

Tomorrow I chair a panel on whistleblowing, social media and accountability at an event on reporting the new health system. The last year has seen a raft of guidance on using social media in the NHS, including documents from NHS Employers and from the Royal College of General Practitioners to name just two. These are welcome – but I am sceptical they will have any more impact than that 1999 law.

More broadly, I am concerned about the ability to have an open public debate when sources feel they cannot express any opinion that is ‘off-message’, and journalists cannot protect their sources.

Doubtless a lack of trust in journalists is a factor, but also the desire for control exercised by PR departments and spin doctors documented by Heather Brooke. I know of one NHS trust, for example, which emailed all employees banning them from commenting publicly on a hospital docusoap.

PR is one thing, but many public sector employees are feeling co-opted into a media management campaign they neither support nor believe to be in the best interests of public health, justice, safety, or service.

The NHS is just the most visible example of how public institutions can confuse their own interest with the public interest. Disciplinary policies can set this out particularly barely. This one from United Lincolnshire Hospitals gives examples of “gross misconduct” that include:

“using social networking sites or similar, where employees in their own time using personal computer equipment can be identified as NHS employees and make comments relating to the Trust or the wider NHS which bring the Trust into disrepute.”

You hear the same conflation of institutional interest with pubic interest in statements from the Ministry of Justice:

“If you associate yourself with London Probation Trust through the publication of details about your role as an employee, or Board member, you must not make or endorse any postings or tweet that may bring LPT, the secretary of state for justice or officials acting on his behalf into disrepute.”

Even retweeting such sentiments from others would, apparently, be taken as “incitement or approval” and lead to possible disciplinary action.

Defenders argue that “There are channels for people to express their views”. Presumably a quiet corner of a blacked-out room. The experiences of health workers and whistleblowers are not promising in this regard.

We are living through the first flushes of a new form of public life where the newfound ability to distribute information is tempered by the growing awareness that anything we say (or the connections we make even in private) may be used against us.

As institutions seek to control their employees’ social expression, journalists will have to work harder to establish trust, to protect sources, and establish private channels of communication. A 1999 West Wing episode saw it coming:

A guest post on dealing with whistleblowers written by a Staffordshire whistleblower is here on Help Me Investigate.

Interactive journalism for students – on air

Around this time last year I wrote on this blog about ‘Generation Audioboo’ and the opportunities for anyone entering the field of digital journalism.  A year on, there are more free tools, and more editorial choice. Google Hangouts are now ‘On Air’ for all, for example.

Students on the Interactive Journalism MA course at City University London have been setting up their own live events. Yesterday’s group ran a Google Hangout, themed around social media use for journalists. It was live on air; you can view it – and the class discussion below the video – here.

Rob Grant, a student on the course, led the discussion with to Sarah Marshall, technology editor at Journalism.co.ukAdam Tinworth, journalist and consultant (and a visiting lecturer at City) and Nick Petrie, social media and campaigns editor at The Times about journalism and social media in a Google+ Hangout. Continue reading

A lesson from Superstorm Sandy: How to find sources using social media

By Ian Silvera

In a world where an extraordinary amount of people own smartphones, it’s easier than ever to connect instantaneously with those affected by significant news events wherever you happen to be based. But what tools can help reporters find those affected?

Simple searches on Twitter or Facebook may present too many ‘junk leads’ to wade through. Tools like TweetDeck are better, but what if you were able to find social media users more quickly through geolocation? Surely that would be a much more efficient method?

There are numerous websites out there that offer this functionality.

Continue reading

Is Facebook Advertising charging more to ‘mugged profiles’?

Are Facebook quoting different prices for the same ad based on your profile? Guest contributor Desi Velikova thinks so. In a cross-post from her own blog, she writes how the same ad campaign would have cost her employer 8 times more depending on which user account it was purchased from.

Continue reading

FAQ: Social media and journalism: dehumanising?

As part of my semi-regular FAQ series, here are some answers to a series of questions posed by someone as part of their research.

To what extent do you believe social media has removed the barrier between journalists and the public?

Significantly. Journalists are trained to find regular sources of news – that mostly means formal organisations such as government bodies, unions, press officers, and a few community figures such as the local vicar, postmaster etc. Continue reading

Schofield’s list, the mob and a very modern moral panic

Someone, somewhere right now will be writing a thesis, dissertation or journal paper about the very modern moral panic playing out across the UK media.

What began as a story about allegations of sexual abuse by TV and radio celebrity Jimmy Savile turned into a story about that story being covered up, into how the abuse could take place (at the BBC too, in the 1970s, but also in hospitals and schools), then into wider allegations of a paedophile ring involving politicians.

Continue reading

Hurricane Sandy: how does the media serve the public interest?

This tweet from Daniel Bentley deserves a post all on its own:

 

While some news organisations take down paywalls and others help sort hoax images from the genuine article, what role should ‘common carriers’ like Instagram play? Any at all?

A reading list for studying online journalism

As a new semester nears, I thought I would anticipate the ‘What should I read?’ enquiries by sharing an aggregated reading list from the classes I teach at both Birmingham City University and City University London. Here are 10 key topics with varying numbers of books for each – I’d very much welcome other suggestions:

  1. Working in networks: Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks; Richard Millington, The Proven Path (PDF)
  2. Content strategy: John Battelle, The Search; Bill Tancer, Click; David Kirkpatrick, The Facebook Effect
  3. Platforms: Mark Luckie: The Digital Journalist’s Handbook
  4. Live and mobile journalism: Mark Briggs, Journalism Next; Dan Gillmor, Mediactive
  5. Multimedia: Janet Kolodzy, Convergence Journalism and Practicing Convergence Journalism; Atton & Hamilton, Alternative Journalism; Wilma de Jong, Creative Documentary
  6. UGC, social media and community management: Axel Bruns, Gatewatching; Andrew Lih, Wikipedia Revolution; Jeff Jarvis, What Would Google Do?
  7. Data journalism: Bradshaw and Rohumaa, The Online Journalism Handbook; Andrew Dilnot, The Tiger That Isn’t; Darrell Huff, How to Lie With Statistics; Dona Wong, The Wall Street Guide to Information Graphics; Nathan Yau, Visualize This; Paul Bradshaw, Scraping for Journalists
  8. Law, ethics and online journalism: Friend and Singer, Online Journalism Ethics; Lawrence Lessig, Code; O’Hara and Shadbolt, Spy in the Coffee Machine; Curran, Fenton & Freedman, Misunderstanding the Internet
  9. Experimentation: Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody (ch10: Failure for Free); Michalko, Thinkertoys chapter 9; Ian Bogost, Newsgames; Matt Mason, The Pirate’s Dilemma (ch5: Boundaries)
  10. Enterprise: Ken Doctor, Newsonomics; Simon Waldman, Creative Disruption; David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellaneous

You might also find previous posts useful:

Hyperlocal Voices: Matt Brown, Londonist

The fifth in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices explores the work done by the team behind the Londonist. Despite having a large geographic footprint – Londonist covers the whole of Greater London – the site is full of ultra-local content, as well as featuring stories and themes which span the whole of the capital.

Run by two members of staff and a raft of volunteers, Editor Matt Brown gave Damian Radcliffe an insight into the breadth and depth of the site. Continue reading

How do you navigate a liveblog? The Guardian’s Second Screen solution

I’ve been using The Guardian’s clever Second Screen webpage-slash-app during much of the Olympics. It is, frankly, a little too clever for its own good, requiring a certain learning curve to understand its full functionality.

But one particular element has really caught my eye: the Twitter activity histogram.

In the diagram below – presented to users before they use Second Screen – this histogram is highlighted in the upper left corner.

Guardian's Second Screen Olympics interactive

What the histogram provides is an instant visual cue to help in hunting down key events.

Continue reading