Archive for category Tools of the trade

Creating Online News with Storify

Storify is a relatively new addition to an online journo’s toolkit.  Essentially, it’s a free online program that allows users to easily trawl various social media websites for comments, photos and and other material on any particular topic.  Just plug in your search term and away you go.  Once you’ve found a post or photo you think is relevant, you just drag it into your story.

Poytner Institute associate editor Mallary Jean Tenore has made a list of five different types of stories that can benefit from the Storify treatment – social movements (e.g. Arab Spring protests or the Occupy movement), breaking news, internet humour, reaction stories (public reaction to news events) and the weather.

Those who read my Brisbane Zombie Walk story will notice I used Storify to create the photo gallery at the end.  In fact, the story was actually written in Storify and then exported to this WordPress site.  While my story was neither breaking news or about a social movement, I still felt Storify would be a good tool to use.

As my story was written before this year’s event, and I didn’t attend last year’s, I would have been unable to create a photo gallery the traditional way (or would have had a much harder time).  However, a photo gallery (of some sort) was needed to liven up and help tell my story and Storify allowed me to go back in time and collect some interesting photos to use.

Unfortunately, while it worked out in the end, I’m not 100 per cent sold on Storify (yet).  It is definitely useful, I just feel it needs a bit more development work

The Storify Positives:

1. The program was pretty easy to use

Storify will search a wide range of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram etc) and a few simple keywords will pull up lots of results.  You can also search for a specific user/ username on the above media sites.  It also allows you to filter or search only for photos or information which have been released under a Creative Commons licence (this was very important for my story, to avoid copyright issues)

2. Published Storify creates a permenant record

All the media and photos you add to your story are actually copied into, and stored in, the story itself.  If a social media user later deletes one of their Facebook posts or photos, it will still show up in your Storify.  No hiding!

The Storify Negatives

Unfortunately, I ran into a few problems, which leads me to believe Storify still needs some development work.

1. It’s still a bit glitchy

The “Save” and “Publish” buttons frequently froze (if that’s the right word) and stopped working.  I had to restart the story a couple of times because these to functions just wouldn’t work.  My attempts to embed the Google map didn’t work either (despite carefully following the easy instructions).  I needed to leave space for it and then embed it in the WordPress version of my story (once it had been exported).

2. It doesn’t export to WordPress nicely (or easily)

It also took a while to to export my story to WordPress properly.  Also, the instructions for posting a story to WordPress are out-of-date.  The FAQ tells you to set this function up under the “auto-post” function/ menu.  As far as I can tell, this doesn’t exist anymore.  To export your story to WordPress, you need to:

  1. Publish your story
  2. Once published, at the top of the story, there will be three buttons – Export, Edit and Delete.  Select Export
  3. Tell Storify you want to post to either a self-hosted WordPress site, or one hosted on WordPress.com.  Fill in the required details (site address and login details) and then tell it to export  your story
  4. Pray it works properly!

There is a (free?) WordPress plugin that you can download, which allows you to create a Storify post from your WordPress dashboard, but it currently only works with self-hosted WordPress blogs.  Annoying, as I though WordPress.com hosted ones would have been more common.

3. No choice of fonts

The default WordPress font is ok (not sure what it actually is), but it would have been nice to have a choice.

4. No ability to (properly) preview photos and posts

Particularly when looking at photos, the search results box crams so many into the one area that they become tiny and hard to make out.  I had to add them to the story just to get a proper look.

5. Creative Commons filter doesn’t catch everything

While the creative commons filter was handy, it didn’t pick up all the creative commons material available – only about half the photos I used were found in a Creative Commons search.  And again, because it only shows you a tiny version of the photo, I needed to add images to my story and then click through to the original Flickr stream to see if the author had made it available under Creative Commons.

Please note – many of the above “faults” might not actually be problems.  My inability to use technology properly without half a dozen manuals and serious advanced planning  might have had some impact…

The Storypad Bookmarklet

I found this little feature to be Storify’s saving grace.  Drag the bookmarklet into your taskbar and it adds a permenant “Storify this” icon.  Then, next time you’re browsing social media and you see something that would work in a story, simply press the icon and a Storify tool is added to the page itself.  You can then Storify that post or photo and it will be saved to the user’s “StoryPad”, easily accessible next time you “create story”.

I used this feature for about half my photos.  I knew a particular user had released their images under a Creative Commons license, but they weren’t coming up in the search results (or were buried in the hundreds of results).  This feature allowed me to go straight to their Flickr account and add content.  So a great little tool if you know exactly where you want to look, or you stumble across something interesting.

So there we go – my brief look at Storify.  A useful little program, but with the potential to be a lot better (if they just ironed out the glitches…)

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Breaking news or bogus rumour – verifying online material

In the last few years, Twitter (and other social media) has become increasingly important for journalists.  It can be where news breaks; it can be used to for story sourcing (it allows direct, quick contact with potential sources and new information, as Spencer Howson pointed out many, many weeks ago) or even pressuring talent.

However, it can also be home to unverified rumour, misinformation or deliberate falsehood.  The plethora of “Celebrity XYZ’s death” hoaxes prove this, with Morgan Freeman the latest in a long line of people sent to an early and inaccurate grave via Twitter.  And, as I discussed in previous weeks, while journalists need to be speedy, they still need to be accurate and any mistakes are potentially very damaging to a journalist’s (and news organisation’s) credibility (and if they are correcting their errors properly, will be on public display for the rest of time).

Unfortunately, as Susan Hetherington discussed in the Week 8 lecture (the crowd sourcing one – blimey, I’m getting a lot of mileage from that 50 minutes), journalists can’t just dismiss Twitter out of hand – news of both Whitney Houston’s and Michael Jackson’s death did indeed “break” first via tweets.

So how can journalists ensure they don’t get caught in a Twitter (or other social media, or online source) trap?

Incorrect by default

A quick look through the Poynter Institute site pulled up this interesting quote from the New York Times social media producer Daniel Victor.

Essentially, Victor begins, when looking at breaking news, with a “default” assumption that “everything I see is full of crap.”  He says he will only tweet/ retweet it himself once it’s fully proven to be accurate.  “If I can poke any holes in it, I’m not tweeting it, and I do my best to needle it like hell,” he said.

He says he puts the info through a “verification gauntlet” – evaluating the account by number of tweets and followers, account verification, the poster’s spelling and grammar.  Links need to be to reliable website and tweets need to actually reflect the story.  There’s a couple of other things he does for quotes and videos as well (check the link for full details).

But is Daniel Victor the only one who does these things?  Or do these checks form some kind of “rule-set” for verifying online info?

Twitter rules, ok?

By the looks of it, Victor’s process for verifying online information is pretty similar to how other reputable journalists do it.  A quick search turns up a number of good checklists (which I’ll definitely be printing and sticking to the wall somewhere).

Paul Bradshaw, from the Online Journalism Blog, has written a comprehensive, three layer test/ checklist for verifying online information.  I won’t try and extensively quote from it, as it’s quite long, but it’s well worth a read.

Essentially, Bradshaw breaks it down into:

1. Content – is the information “too good to be true”?

Is the information recent and is it frequently updated – this might indicate it’s accurate.  Though watch out for photo and video manipulation

2. Context – how reliable is the author?

Age of the (Twitter) account, who the person is following (and being followed by), correlation with other accounts, reliability of any links are all relevant questions.

3. Code – how accurate are the websites; are they who they claim to be?

Check the website address and domain name (government departments are usually .gov and   sites with .com “offer no guarantees).  Run a Whois search and find out who the address is registered to.  Look at older, archived versions of any web pages and look for changes.

Obviously, this is quite a brief summary of Bradshaw’s points.  The full story has a lot of good examples to follow as well.

Former journalism educator Peter Verweij has written his own “Seven top tips for verifying tweets” – the suggestions are mostly the same, but also adds the idea of “crowd sourcing” the verification (asking your followers whether something seems genuine – I personally think this might be a bit risk), as well as thinking about “damage control” – the risk/ damage that could be caused by publicising or not.

Craig Kanalley, from Media Helping Media, also has a list for assessing tweet reliability (including checking the time stamp for the tweet in question).

Craig Silverman (from Poynter’s “Regret the Error”) has also put together a roundup of various journalists and news organisations’ (such as the BBC) social media verification practices (piece was written for the Columbia Journalism Review).

Between all these sources, I should have enough ideas about how to verify social media claims and information.  It might seem like overkill (and I am a perfectionist), but I think the ramifications of reporting incorrect information, or falling for the ever-traditional Twitter hoax, are too great to be ignored.

Talk to your sources (and nobody is foolproof)

A common piece of advice across all the above is to actually talk to your sources.  Try and get in contact with them, either physically (phone call etc) or directly through Twitter (if the person has broken some news).  Hopefully, communicating directly will give a better indication of the source’s validity.

However, saying that, I feel I must end on a cautionary tale.* Earlier this year, the BBC posted a photo to accompany a story about a massacre in the ongoing Syrian conflict.  However, the photo was actually from the Iraq war in 2003.  The article is well worth reading and provides an insight into the BBC’s “verification hub” and the thought processes and decisions around publishing information sourced from users.  But the fact even the BBC is making crucial errors just goes to show that, as hard as journalists may try to verify their material, mistakes can still be made.  We are all fallible.  Nobody is foolproof.

*Link retweeted weeks ago by Susan Hetherington, from one of my previous journalism tutors.

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