#ONALondon ‘When news breaks bad: UGC in the newsroom’ session 

Panel: Mandy Jenkins, VP ONA board, head of news, Storyful; Fergus Bell, ONA Ethics committee, and Dig Deeper Media 

Ok, so for this blog post to make much sense you probably need to head straight to http://toolkit.journalists.org and have a look at that, because this is what we’re talking about.

Done that? Good – the roundup from the session starts… now:

In 2012 the first discussions around UGC and eyewitness protection began.

FB we didn’t have the luxury of several years to develop; we needed to come to a level of understanding quite quickly, and so we set up a working group and many conversations have ben held over theyears.

MJ: We are constantly dealing in a world of unknowns and what we have learned has meant we’ve started to figure out the day to day world of news.

The ONA Social Newsgathering Ethics Code is a document to gather the support of news and journalism organisations internationally to endorse a set of standards and practices.

Here’s a quick screen grab:

ONA Social Newsgathering Ethics Code – ONA s Digital ToolkitExample: ‘The Eiffel Tower has gone dark’ – many news organisations were posting on social in the aftermath of the Paris attacks that the tower was switched off out of respect. Actually, the lights are switched off every night.

Example: The video bandied around as being of the Brussels terror attack that turned out to be Moscow, 2011.

MJ: Readers and journalists are coming to standard terms that indicate where we are in a breaking news story. We will say ‘confirmed’ and how we know what we know, or ‘unconfirmed’ or ‘checking’ which says ‘we are looking into this right now’. The transparency is there and our audience can see what our status is with regards to verification of a story.

FB: For journalists, thinking of how we say we are reaching conclusions around stories is an alien concept but what we need to get our heads around is that the audience is now searching social media themselves, and if it doesn’t look as though you are going through a verification process as a professional journalist they may well question why.

Considering the emotional state and safety of contributors is about the way we deal with people who are creating content we need, and who we are using to tell stories.

FB used the example of a campus shooting eyewitness who was asked by hundreds, if not thousands, of media for her experiences – while it was still going on.

Journalists were getting abuse from other people who could see them asking for content.

Storyful approaches it like this:


FB: Be aware there is a difference between getting that story when someone is in fear of their life, and when they are safe. If you are communicating with someone who is hiding from a gunman, as in this case, what happens if their phone is not on mute and it makes a noise when they receive a notification?

Or if there is a particular geographic reference point or angle on a photograph that shows where they are?

MJ within your own newsroom there needs to be communication to say if someone has reached out to an eyewitness, so they are not getting bombarded.

Assignments v discovery – asking people to create content for you is different to finding content they have made. A snowy day photo shout out is low risk – a hurricane pic shout out is not.

MJ: during the Kenyan mall attack you could see people hiding while journalists reached out to them asking them to shoot video. These people were being asked to put their lives at risk to film for a news organisation. It was very ethically unsound.

Storyful works with content that exists and does not create assignment situations (i.e. asking for content to be created rather than provided post-creation)

FB: I worked with UGC on various uprisings in Libya and other areas and we would never ask them to capture anything that was live. What they captured informed the reporting rather than vice versa. We had a responsibility to their safety.

It is not only about protecting the source who provides the content but also protecting those who are featured in it – like making sure witnesses captured in a video are not identifiable.

Embedding can also be an area that needs negotiation: Sometimes people also don’t realise their content is public – they think it is contained within their network and don’t expect to see if in other media.

In breaking news if you are asking for permission to use something, do you have archive rights? Use beyond one time? Multi-platform? What if people later change their minds? If someone retracts at any point, if you’ve negotiated use on Twitter, you have to comply.  (This is a key point that newsrooms need to understand, as far as I am concerned)

If you throw a bunch of legalese at someone around usage, you aren’t likely to get anywHere.

By being more ethical you can also be more effective.

Keeping journalists safe online

MJ: I have had a member of staff stalked by someone they reached out to in pursuit of a story. We have to know that we are not supermen and superwomen when it comes to dealing with this.

FB: I know investigative journalists who will meet some potentially unsavoury contacts in public places with colleagues nearby. If you have a junior staffer reaching out through social to people, as newsroom managers do you know that staffer’s exit route? Do they know how to protect themselves?

Not everyone is bad out there of course but perhaps if you are able to speak to a source on the phone or company email rather than expose your personal account is useful in some cases.

*Also see the work by the excellent Eyewitness Media Hub. I’ve been some small involvement with this, and and blogged about it here and here.

Dealing with witnesses: Why the Eyewitness Media Hub’s guidelines are so important for journalism


A while ago I was asked to join a group of journalists assembled with the aim of providing some input into Eyewitness Media Hub’s principles for journalists working with UGC* – user generated content (or ‘other people’s words and images’, as non-journalists might say).

It was a privilege to be involved in the discussions and workshop around such important issues, and as a mainstream journalist it’s really important to me that my world view of our working practices gets stretched and challenged regularly.

Anyway, EMH took on an enormous piece of work and, from a bazillion clauses, sub-clauses and “yes, but…” moments, has distilled the best practice down into 6 simple steps.

Go and look at them with full context on the EMH website, and do please read the version on Medium with lovely sharable graphics because they explain things beautifully, and succinctly.

However, as I’ve got your eyeballs for a moment, here’s a pared-down version, with my input in (these):

  1. Consider the physical and emotional welfare of the eyewitnesses you speak to during breaking news events (I have spoken to people who were so shaken by what they’d just been involved in, they didn’t even know I was media, despite me telling them. I imagine a stranger saying “hello, this is my name and title” is classed by the brain as extraneous information compared to the WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING information it’s trying to process. Try to publish footage already captured (Again, it’s often amazing how obliging your average member of the public can be. They will unthinkingly and unwittingly put themselves in, or back in, harm’s way just to be co-operative, helpful and show the story. Others do it because they want that brush with fame – both are equally damaging, potentially). Appreciate the eyewitness may be completely overwhelmed. (This is an opportunity to be a human being, and not take advantage of them. I think probably Vivien Ayling, who witnessed the Shoreham tragedy and then drove on, obviously in deep shock, to her workplace. I caught a radio interview with her a few days later, and a) she was getting a huge amount of social media abuse for driving on to work – instead of what? Staying and getting caught in the fire? Being in the way of the rescue services? – and b) reporters were allegedly waiting for her at home, have steamrollered her son to get into the house. She didn’t even think of asking them to leave, poor woman).
  2. When you’re asking people if you can use their content, do explain how it will be used, and where and what you’re planning to do with it. Also, tell them about syndication, including the who and where. (I’ve explained the syndication opportunity to Liverpool people who have, for example, given us videos, and the stipulation comes back that they’re fine for it be bought by other organisations but it cannot go to The Sun. Also, historically, people have had no idea what syndication of their content means: I think that will change, especially as more organisations like Storyful appear; but in the meantime, if they don’t ask, we should make sure they’re told).
  3. If you’re embedding content, without speaking to the creator, think about reasonable expectation of where it might appear. (But, tbh, get explicit permission every time, if you can. It just saves a heap of problems later and, frankly, if someone doesn’t want you to use their stuff, and finds out you have, you could find the ensuing Tweetstorm and drain on your time trying to right a wrong outweighs the click value. Also, TinEye and Google Reverse Image Search are commonly used nowadays; it can also cost you more financially, once you’ve annoyed someone through non-communication).
  4. When it comes to images, think about the impact of what you’re publishing might have on people pictured/broadcast, or their family. (Blur isn’t a cop-out; it’s a mature way of telling a story while acknowledging the impact of what you’re publishing can have. We can be so terrified of bottling it, or not using the same photo in the same way as another publication, sometimes. Competition is a good thing, and being bold and brave as journalists is generally the right way to go. All I’m saying is: It’s rare you can cause harm by shielding people)
  5. Ask how someone who has created the content you’re publishing wants to be credited. This may mean you need to explain the potential pros and cons (like, you’ll get a lot of social media kudos and follows – you’ll also get deluged by other media wanting to use it, and they will contact you directly instead of going through our syndication department (see #2). And, no, Photo: Twitter, or Video: YouTube is not a byline.  Sometimes people will choose pseudonyms, or request anonymity, often they won’t. What they do need is a choice.
  6. Treat people fairly; ask them if they would like recompense if their content is being used to make money for the publisher. And here we are at the delicate business of finance, at which point most newsrooms will twitch their skirts around their ankles and dither because UGC IS FREE, ISN’T IT? Not always, and not if you want a relationship with your audience, and a reputation for fair dealing. Often people don’t want money but it’s a conversation that should be had.

*I think Other People’s Content is probably the honest way of putting things, because it doesn’t set the Wo/Man In The Street on a different footing to a freelance photographer. If you want what they’ve made, you need to treat them both well and fairly, whether payment is requested or expected or not. Because, well, ethics. And not being a dick.

The end of ‘behind closed doors’ journalism

There are times in a journalist’s career when you are going to have to approach someone who is not having the finest moment of their life, and ask them to help you.

It might be calling on a grieving family, or approaching witnesses to an accident, or asking someone who has just emerged the loser in a tussle with Justice to talk about How They Feel.

The outcomes are sometimes unedifying, occasionally unpleasant but – more often than the non-journalist might credit – can also be mutually successful and beneficial. These interactions were also largely unwitnessed, except by those participating.
They happened behind closed doors, or, more accurately, on doorsteps – whether you got inside said door or not hinged, no pun intended, on how you conducted yourself, and represented your intentions.

I called it the Black Edged Voice and it would be employed for death knocks (low, respectful tone, apologetic demeanour for intruding, much stressing of the fact that I would leave  if the door-answerer wished, and would not return) and I was more often than not invited in.

I would interview the person or family; I would do my utmost to do justice to their dear one with a tribute. My goal was to give them a cutting that they would come to regard as a mini-memorial. Every newsroom had reporters who were ‘good on the knock’ – I suspect it comes down to empathy… and luck.

Things started to change in… I’m going to go out on a limb and say 2008, because that was when the first pebbles of social media sliding down a slope became a rumbling avalanche. In 2009 this happened, which gave me a personal insight into how my old-school ‘contacts’  had become my (much-wider) network and a plane crashed in the Hudson and (most) mainstream media suddenly got what was going on.

Now, when a news break happens, you can bank on Twitter being at the heart of it in some way, and often that’s because it’s where the witnesses are. If I’m passing a huge traffic snarl-up on the M6 my instinct is to photograph or video it and post it on Twitter with a hashtag (from the passenger seat, officer, of course) – my natural instinct is to share. And it’s a common mindset; whether you’re wondering what the noises overhead are, or seeing the Clutha tragedy unfold sharing the experience on networks is now a common thing.

But as a witness, or someone who acknowledges a connection to someone caught up in a newsworthy event, when you share that on Twitter you invite reaction, and a side effect of that is that the massed ranks of media are likely going to be in your @ mentions within minutes, asking for a) your content or b) an interview or c) probably both. For a journalist, it means these interactions are happening in the world; they aren’t behind closed doors or in a one-to-one exchange on a doorstep – you’re asking your questions on Twitter and onlookers may well view them as intrusive.

It’s not necessarily pretty but that’s beside the point – asking the questions, respectfully, within the Editors’ Code of Conduct, and knowing that varieties of “NO” may be the comeback are part of the job. There are two problems: Dozens of other media may well be @-ing the same “can we [use your photo, speak to you, ask you to put us i touch with X]?”; others witnessing the Twitter scrum get outraged (sometimes with good reason) and start throwing abuse back. This will usually include references to vultures, lazy journalism, disgrace etc etc.

This week’s Smiler crash saw a spate of no-closed-doors journalism approaches. Mercifully no one died, although the terrible injuries (I would imagine mental as well as physical) suffered by those caught up in it meant it was an incredibly sensitive story to stage a “can we have…” media grabfest on Twitter. This is pretty typical of what went on:

and this

Followed by

There are scores of these exchanges – I imagine her mentions column was in meltdown. She obviously was sanguine about the journalists who approached her (although if you read the full exchanges, it shifts from journalists asking for interviews to some fairly nasty tweets from non-media, taking her to task for the original tweet). But there are also variations on a theme of this

And it wasn’t unique – other people tweeting photos were getting similar requests, and similar views were being expressed

Is it fair? No. Do they have a point? Yes. Am I contradicting myself? Sorry but I don’t care. Publicly requesting content like this is a legitimate part of the journalist’s job, while taking photos without asking is obviously not; and yes, it can look shoddy to the wider world. That’s ok – most of us don’t come into this job to win an award for our high-minded purpose and nobility, we come into it to tell stories and let people know things they otherwise wouldn’t.

If someone wants to tell a journalist their story because said hack asked the right questions, politely, mindfully and within the Code of Conduct, that’s a valid exchange. When it fails is when the question is posed in a crass way, or we barge into exchanges between friends, because we had a Tweetdeck search running.

The above tweeter posted her content and opinion to broadcast it – she was happy for journalists to amplify the message. But an enormous amount of Twitter users don’t understand the network, or think that when they @ a friend, it’s not public. Leaping into what they think is a private exchange is a bit like opening the front door and walking in the room to ask if you can interview the grieving family, without knocking.

Just observe for a few moments and follow the conversation – you’ll soon work out whether it’s something you can step into (or another journalist will jump first, and you can take a cue from the reaction). Being first isn’t a great thing when all you’ve achieved is a mentions column of abuse, and retweets with added angry comments. It damages you, the brand you work for, and the wider journalism community.

When you’re using Twitter to find witnesses, treat it like a door knock. Sometimes, in real life, the journalism pack gets there first and you can ask them what reception they’ve got so far. On Twitter, a couple of minutes of observing conversations, or watching others rush in to the breach, can be very valuable. Knock at the metaphorical door if you think it’s appropriate, and be prepared to have it shut in your face – or to have someone else tell you to clear out.

But if you aren’t respectful, or you don’t conduct yourself in a way that reflects well on you and the title you represent (quick sense check: How would you react if you were the person you’re about to approach?) you can expect to get flung off the metaphorical doorstep and land in a heap.

Update: Here’s a link to Robin Hamman’s post on the VirginiaTech shooting – it’s not a new phenomenon.

A disconcerting hush around The Right to be Forgotten

Lolsnaps ctrl z
Via Lolsnaps

I am a bit conflicted by the Right to be Forgotten, and Google’s role within it.

On the one hand, I can feel for those people whose past misdemeanours are be blighting their modern day lives, and who wish to draw  a veil over the follies of their youth by citing the ROA 1974. On the other hand, what happens in the public domain should probably remain in the public domain. Otherwise we all get the histories we’d like to have, rather than the histories we create and own – that latter option is a path I think few of us would want to wander too far down.

I’ve posted once on the issue and I don’t intend to keep revisiting the subject but today’s latest advance notice of disappearing content  of public record bothered me.

It’s an inquest of a man who died on a road in 2004, which appeared on the Daily Post and Chester Chronicle websites (way back when I was working on the Liverpool Echo newsdesk and the internet was Another Country, in fact) and you’d have to assume one of the living people named have asked for it to be de-indexed in search.

I ran a Google Search around the names (the pix need clicking to enlarge)

The deceased 

His friend 

And his friend (with location added)

The taxi driver

… and the taxi driver (firm’s name included) 

So they didn’t exactly leap out of Google when searched for and it’s clear they were by no means implicated Or perhaps it was a family member of the deceased who didn’t want the inquest to be searchable in future. Either way, this is one inquest that you won’t be finding on Google.co.uk in future.

Here is the thing that dismays me, though. When Hacked Off and Leveson started turning stones around the Press there was a loud outcry, followed by some reflection and offers of compromises, from the industry. Yet Google is, in compliance with legislation of course, editing digital history (which sounds a bit grand, but is essentially true) and the silence may not be ringing but it is being broken only by some muted coughs and shuffles. (Although, good on The Guardian for getting four of its six withdrawn articles reinstated).

Journalism is popularly supposed to be the first rough draft of history (according to a misquoted  Alan Barth, of the WaPo who actually ascribed that honour to the Press). And I can’t help thinking there needs to be more discussion, reflection and challenges or counter-offers, from all corners of the sector (and those who write about it) around this issue. There needs to be some noise before it becomes just another thing that happens. “Court cases used to stay online for always?” “Yeah, we also used to go see the Police Inspector to go through the calls book with him every morning.”

The media, regional or national, should be good noise – we’re accused of blowing things out of proportion often enough, after all – and yet we’re kinda standing around ineffectually mouthing “Google” and “European Court of Justice” as though that’s the end of the matter.

Every day in courts and council offices up and down the country, journalists  challenge section 39s and standing orders so they can do their jobs and report on events; no courtroom judge has ever agreed to lift a reporting restriction “for the next 5 years until a conviction, should one be made, expires”. Maybe that’s the next step?

Crime, mugshots and the public interest (updated)

Update: Lancashire Police has now retracted this policy.

Liz Riding, Lancashire Constabulary’s Corporate Communications Manager has reviewed the decision: ‘I have had a further look at this and have decided that we will not be applying the 12 month limited tariff for releasing images on conviction.

‘We are reviewing the demand into our press office, having lost two thirds of our resource over the last few years, and picture requests do add up to some significant demand.

‘However, on reflection, setting a minimum tariff is not acting in accordance with the spirit of which the ACPO guidelines were intended to be interpreted.

‘We will retain the right to look at each request on a case by case basis, and make the appropriate decision based on proportionality, necessity and legitimacy.’

She explained that the ACPO guidelines were open to interpretation: ‘We will not introduce it in Lancashire at this time but we will be reviewing our internal approval processes relating to the release of images.’

More on that turnaround here

[Original post began here] Lancashire Police is no longer issuing photos of criminals jailed for less than 12 months, and as the news got around today that decision did not play well with journalists.

As I am a long-time recipient of their police press office emails (along with the rest of the world, it seems) my inbox was soon pinging with launched broadsides from regional and national hacks, baffled by the decision.

Police photo release email
Lancs Police email announcement

Although, as Liverpool Echo crime reporter John Siddle pointed out, it’s by no means a single issue…

Every police force seems to use different criteria (and often, undisclosed ones at that) for photo releases. There are clear ACPO  checklists for decision makers –


The proportionality argument covered guidelines leaves it hard to think of many people who wouldn’t be interested if someone from their community were locked up for 12 months or less.


And the ACPO guidelines also state:

“Post conviction there is likely to be much demand from the media and from the public for information and this may include releasing an image. Forces are
Version 1.2 March 2009 5encouraged to engage with the media and be as open as possible. The release of images at this stage in the criminal justice process could assist with deterring potential criminals and preventing subsequent crime as well as encouraging other victims and witnesses to come forward.”

Anyway, as to the tweet that sparked the original email from the police, I’d imagine it is very much in the public interest, as Rebecca Koncienzcy revealed. And I don’t think she should feel awkward about it at all – at least it’s being discussed now:

However, not all police forces are as reticent with images. I remember well the golden moment  Liverpool Echo crime reporter James Glover (now poacher-turned-gamekeeper for a police press office) asked a force in the Netherlands if they had a headshot of a fugitive Liverpool gangster, found shot to death in their jurisdiction.

Yes, said the police officer, we do have a photo. When the emailed pic arrived it showed the corpse, in the morgue, with a gaping bullet wound to his temple.

A headshot in every sense of the word.



The council that tried to charge for using social media

This is the full announcement by Local Government Minister Eric Pickles, on a new guide detailing how journalists, bloggers, hyperlocal media and the public can now use social tools and filming for live reporting*.

In Wales it seems to have been chiefly noted for the fact that he criticised the Welsh government – which puts me in mind of that line about the Devil’s greatest trick.
Certainly it looks like the central fact of the debate has gotten a little lost amid the sound and fury.
Anyway, there was an interesting discussion about the issue in general on Twitter the other night, that I saved and finally got around to Storifying. The standout point for me is that one about a council trying to charge a newspaper for using anything other than a notepad and pen to report meetings.

[View the story “Filming and using social tools in council meetings ” on Storify]
David Higgerson has written a blog post* about the importance of campaigning. If you missed it, I really recommend it as a read.

*The Daily Post gets an honourable mention in dispatches, in the notes. 

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Tweeting and filming council meetings? Oh, go on then….

The Daily Post’s Right to Tweet campaign continues to roll forward (we even made Roy Greenslade‘s blog) but since we’ve launched it there have been a number of other instances of newspaper journalists and councillors falling foul of the ‘can we/can’t we’ ad hoc approach. 

Some of the recent examples can be found here (Hounslow) here (Oldham) here (Rotherham) and a number of Welsh councils, according to the director of the Electoral Reform Society,
Among the councils named by the ERS was Anglesey. However, good news on that front: 

COUNCILLORS on Anglesey are being encouraged to take to Twitter and Facebook to engage with communities – while the press and public will also be free to tweet from meetings.

Anglesey council is drawing up a social media protocol for members which sets out how elected members should interact with people on social media but warns “inappropriate” use could end in a standards hearing.
A draft report for the island authority also states it will permit the use of social media by the public and even allow for people to film proceedings on smartphones [my italics – purely because I’m so delighted to read such a sentence] as long as they do not disrupt the meeting.

You can read the full story here; the vote does have to be cast to set the plan in stone, but it’s a really positive step forward and one that sets a standard for others. Da iawn, Ynys Mon. Hopefully we’ll see others following in your footsteps soon.

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Why does live tweeting put councils in a spin?

The issue of tweeting in the council chamber has caused some debate lately, and I’m happy to hold my hand up as someone who helped the discussions along.
I’ve also been ridiculously busy at work, and so there hasn’t been much time to blog about local authorities and their varying views on anyone – press, public, councillor, officer – tweeting during the business end of proceedings. 

To recap, the Daily Post* sent a reporter to cover a budget meeting at Wrexham Council and it became apparent that a Twitter rule – in place for more than a year but unenforced, in our experience – would prevent real time reporting, and thus impact on our rolling news liveblog.  

The standing orders dictated:

 “Proceedings at meetings may not be photographed, videoed, sound recorded or transmitted in any way outside the meeting without prior permission of the chair”.

I’ve covered council meetings since I was a trainee reporter. I have watched (genuine list alert) snoozing councillors reflex-vote, tantrums worthy of two-year-olds, recommendations voted through because the reporter sat next to me called out “move progress!” and a mayor utter the warning: “Allegations have been made about me, and if I find out who those alligators are…”
I’ve watched councillors make the most moving, impassioned pleas on behalf of their electorate, block economically-sound but culturally-wrong recommendations, make principled stands against cutbacks or planning outrages, and conduct cut-and-thrust debates that made a democratic difference.

None of the above – good or bad – needs to be reported retrospectively. Google ‘council chamber live stream‘ and see all the authorities who let the electorate watch the democratic process as it happens 
Wifi, Ustream and a will to make it happen – that’s all our councils need to make a significant contribution to the transparent, open government. 
Being more open means more scrutiny, and potentially more criticism, but it also means more feedback, interaction and opportunity to talk to people. 
I don’t know why some councils embrace opportunities for transparency and others shy away from it. The subsequent fallout is never edifying – at best, it means the kind of nonsense the Daily Post is trying to negotiate a path through, at worst, well, all sense of perspective is lost.

Anyway, there was quite a lot of coverage, not least in the Post, and we’ve got a Right to Tweet campaign running now that is calling for consistency across public bodies, rather than ad hoc interpretation of constitution rules… 

The Twitter ban incident (hashtagged as #twitterban but never to be referred to as #Twittergate) was covered in various media; among the articles were these here and here and here

We even made the chief executive’s weekly email to staff (instantly leaked to the Press, of course): 

[Twitter policy] can of course change in time as the Council further embraces technology, it doesn’t however, change as a knee jerk reaction to an editor who it appears only communicates with her readers via “twitter”.

The annoying part of that comms is, of course, the “twitter” bit. It’s a PROPER NOUN, for heaven’s sake, and don’t get me started on the quote marks…
Ways to wind up in Rotten Boroughs, No.348

I don’t seek out Twitter spats but I do feel strongly that if reporters and the public can use mobile devices to transmit information from court, there is no reason why they should seem permission to do so from public meetings. 

Guidelines can be useful (maybe ‘switch off your phone’s volume’ or ‘ensure your behaviour doesn’t distract others’) but if the Attorney General doesn’t think the decision rests with his judges, then why should it rest with committee chairmen?

So, it’s an issue we aren’t letting subside – there’s a Daily Post campaign underway now as a result of us being refused tweeting rights during one council meeting – and the problem is spreading
Louth Leader reporter Sam Kinnaird was thwarted in a bit to amend Louth town council’s standing orders to allow live tweeting, this week and tweeted that fact
Two councillors backed it out of the whole full council; I see from the report the Mayor took the view that journalists should ‘have the courtesy to do it from the foyer’.
Quite how the dignity of the chamber is offended by someone quietly sending texts from a mobile phone escapes me. 
In other Lincolnshire news, Boston Borough Council has also banned tweeting of its full council meeting today. 
The Boston Standard report says

The borough authority currently only permits people to use Twitter during cabinet meetings and says its constitution will have to be changed to allow the social media site to be used to provide live updates from other meeetings.

Constitution, You’ll find it in the dictionary under S for Smokescreen. 

Twitter is viewed as an appropriate communications tool by the House of Commons – possibly not a bastion of courtesy but certainly the seat of democracy, and tweetin’ since 2011 – and at the Senedd
Welsh Secretary Dvaid Jones believes in it, Obama couldn’t wait to tell the world he’s secured four more years…
I just wish our locally elected representatives would try to catch up.


* Yes it’s a personal blog, but work inevitably bleeds into it sometimes. Like it says here, these ramblings are not the opinions of Trinity Mirror. 

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Tweeting court cases – the case for the defence

Technology and court reporting – it’s the debate that keeps on giving.
In March 2009, after the Palm Beach Post won the right for a reporter to leave the courtroom to tweet an update (seriously, this happened) I wrote that the UK needed to get the courtroom press bench online and networked, and you suddenly really do start to have open justice.   

I wasn’t especially hopeful though. 
However, just a few years later we were given right to tweet updates from court without shuffling apologetically out of the room; journalists can sit with an laptop and tweet from the press bench (assuming we remembered to bring a dongle).

This is an amazing and wonderful thing that we must not take for granted; re-reading my old post and seeing the excuses I made as to why the justice system in England and Wales might not change was illuminating; to be honest, I am surprised the Twitter ruling was achieved in such a short space of time.  

However, there is a problem, as highlighted in Press Gazette today: Tweeting from court: ‘It’s multi-skilling gone mad’ was the headline and the article pointed out the pitfalls.
Chris Johnson, from Mercury, highlighted the obvious issue of prejudicial tweets (just last month a reporter named a juror while live-tweeting the Harry Redknapp trial) but there were also two unnamed reporters complaining about the demands of covering the case and tweeting it.
One said: “While you’re fiddling around with your 140 characters, you may miss a key bit of evidence, or might not have the time to take a good shorthand note of something. It’s going to end in tears.”

The pressures of tweeting a high profile case are obvious, and can take some planning to surmount.
The South Wales Argus recently overcame the difficulty of meeting real time demand with detailed court reporting by assigning two staff to the key days of a murder trial – one to liveblog via Twitter, and one to take notes for print.
That’s a big commitment for a regional newsroom to make, and fair play to the Argus for seeing the issue and understanding the differing needs of its reporters and audience.
But such an undertaking it’s not a sustainable use of resources in most over-stretched newsrooms – and it’s also not necessary in most cases.
Evidence is repeated… and repeated, some witnesses add nothing to the story, other than the line ‘the court also heard from Joe Bloggs who said he had seen the defendant walking along Any Street, Any Town, shortly before [insert nefarious deed here]’, and the quotable newsy stuff, are easily picked out of the warp and weft of the evidence by a hack with an ear for interesting copy.

I’ve little sympathy for the anonymous reporter quoted in Press Gazette who claims tweeting in court is too hard; please don’t blame the lifting of restrictions enable you to do your job more effectively (hint: Your job is telling people what’s happening) when what you mean is you’ve not been properly equipped by your organisation. 
Also, anonymous reporter, have you told your newsdesk what kit you need to do live court reporting adequately? Ten years ago your kit would have been a notepad, pen and a mobile phone. Twenty years ago it would have been your notepad, pen, and access to a public telephone. What do you need now? I’d imagine a laptop, smartphone, notepad, pen and connectivity. 
These are not exactly hostage-taking demands.
Journalism is hard – every day difficulties have to be overcome, whether it’s tweeting from court or knocking on the door of a newly-bereaved parent, or dashing out of a council meeting and filing 500 words off the top of your head to meet the  Late City edition deadline (On reflection, Late City edition deadlines don’t exist any more – let’s say for the website instead).
There may be live tweeting happening from other sources – media or in the public gallery (assuming they’ve sought and received permission) but that’s not a reason to stop.
Taking notes on a laptop and cut and pasting summaries into Twitter as appropriate is achievable, and shifts the problem of tweeting in court from manpower to having the correct kit.

But ultimately, this is just a workaround isn’t it?
Tweeting from court, being allowed to operate a laptop from the press bench – these are issues that detract from the main problem. If we were to have real open justice then our courts need to be live-streamed, with subtitles – and screens, voice replacement technology and other protection methods for cases where identity is an issue – and with embeddable players so the distribution of judicial process is as wide as possible.
The Leveson hearings have allowed more people than ever before follow significant evidence in real time. 
I’d love to see our criminal courts follow suit.

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Online footprints, digital identities and life after Leveson

Pic: Derek Backen via Flickr

A few years ago I gave a talk to FACT Liverpool’s Art of Digital conference called Identity 2.0 considering how we try to comport ourselves online (professionally and otherwise) compared with our true selves; how, sometimes, the divisions become blurred, and this sends  mixed-messages about who and what we are. 

I remembered that talk again after taking a telephone call from a reader pointing out an inaccuracy in a print article uploaded to WalesOnline website, and asking what could be done. 
I outlined the options – I could update the article, showing where and what update had occurred, add a clarification and link to our Corrections and Clarifications page, and pass on details to the print title so it could also correct the inaccuracy in its clarifications column too. 
The caller’s response was so unexpected, and so on-the-money, that I ended up tweeting it:

140 characters is a little restrictive but that is word for word what was said; it doesn’t, however, convey the amused snort that met my suggestion the caller might want the record setting straight in print as well.
He was genuinely not bothered that a story might have been read in print or discussed by perhaps 35,000 people (taking reader reach into account) whereas the online article was read by 232 people on the day it was published, and 366 people in total to date; the concern was around its online lifespan and, I suspect, its portability. 
After all, 35,000 people in Wales reading (or at least having the page in front of their eyes, which is a different thing) and then discarding the product it came packed in is somewhat different to the CEO of a potential investor in the City, for example, finding it during an online search of the company or individual’s name.
Here’s an example that happened very recently; a student who stripped off – among other things – in a Cardiff nightclub fountain and was videoed by just about everyone who saw her.
She’s been discussed on Twitter as #oceanasket over the weekend…

… and was toughing it out and responding via Twitter but that account has closed now. The incident was reported locally in the South Wales Echo and on WalesOnline (it was decided not to name her), and also made international news although it’s the video that will haunt her down the years. If you plan on searching for it, it’s NOT sfw.

I’ve had several concerned people on the phone or in my inbox recently asking for online stories to be removed; it’s a legal and ethical minefield.
To consider court cases for a moment, specifically the matter of spent convictions: when several cases were uploaded daily back in the dim and distant days of 2001 who knows if they were set to unpublish automatically after the conviction was spent?
Do you wait for the former defendant to come forward and ask for an obscure case, out of thousands of other cases in your database, to be removed, or organise a  pre-emptive archive sweep of all content?  
Obviously every newsroom has the bottomless resource of people, time and patience to do the latter. Oh, wait. Uh…
But, court cases (and #oceanasket) aside, increasingly people seem to be more concerned and aware about the online footprints they leave – Facebook’s new Timeline is already helping  up the Daily Mail’s scare quota – but I’m getting more queries from people who want an online story removed because it’s just not how they want to be seen any more.
I don’t mean court cases; I mean people who spoke to their local paper a few years ago to raise an issue – my recent conversations have spanned everything from lack of council bin facilities to UFO sightings – and who now realise that their story lives on still; their names come up in searches, and they are visible to the whole world explaining why they don’t recycle, or how the glowing lights in the sky couldn’t have been weather balloons.

It definitely feels as though, post-phone hacking and with the Leveson Inquiry in full swing, people are far more aware of their right to call out their local paper if they have an issue with something.
Personally I’ve handled more PCC requests for information in the past eight months than in my entire career, and that’s not a stat that’s skewed because I’m an editor now and these things only go to editors –  complaints, PCC and otherwise, always wind up with newsdesk for input at some point.
The change is, I think, being driven by several factors, but the key points for me are: 

* Far more visibility of what action you can take if you’re unhappy with your local media
* The fallibility of the press has never been more public, more discussed and more entrenched in people’s minds
* Greater searchability and longevity of potentially contentious content as search engines become more sophisticated and aggregators spread content further

It’s not scientific, just some conclusions based on my experience, but other long-serving journalists I’ve spoken to have remarked on the same thing. 
Leveson demonstrates publicly how and why the Press makes mistakes, and there’s little distinction, for most people between national and regional; phone hacking arrests and court actions drive the message home as well.

Every week something happens that makes me realise regional journalism is changing, fundamentally, but for once it has nothing to do with the internet – it’s driven by the perceptions of users and non-users.
It’s easier to be more agile and adaptive online – mistake can be corrected, articles updated as a story progresses, ill-advised comments removed or functionality switched off … it’s not perfect but being transparent, and that familiar teaching instruction Show Your Work are effective ways to move forward. It’s a sort of Tina principle; we either get better, be less defensive, get more honest, show we’re accountable, or the erosion of trust continues. 

Meanwhile, as more people realise their online footprints haven’t been erased by the sands of time, I foresee busy, and complicated, times ahead. 

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