The future of sourcing stories

The revolution of the World Wide Web, coupled with the rise of social media, has shaped the future of the journalism industry by changing the way journalists source stories. In the digital age where everyone owns a smart phone, citizens have the opportunity to share information, images and videos with news outlets in a matter of seconds. They become the reporter. The revolution of crowdsourcing, although nothing new, is transforming regular, everyday citizens from an unthinking herd into critically-thinking citizen journalists, who ultimately support and feed the journalism function.

So, what is crowdsourcing? In a 2006 Wired magazine article, Jeff Howe, professor of journalism at Northeastern University in the U.S. stated, “Crowdsourcing is the process by which the power of the many can be leveraged to accomplish feats that were once the province of a specialized few.” As the following video below illustrates, crowdsourcing is far from parvenue. In fact, the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary published in the 19th Century employed crowdsourcing to garner a list of commonly-used words to be included in the dictionary. Over a period spanning 70 years, six million contributions were made, highlighting an early, but significant form of crowdsourcing, just as we are witnessing today. Wikipedia is also another well known example of crowdsourcing.

As the video highlights, when it comes to crowdsourcing, the accuracy of material obtained is questionable. Queensland University of Technology journalism lecturer and media expert Susan Hetherington says crowdsourcing is “only as good as your crowd.” In the Online Journalism Review, journalist Robert Niles says in a true crowdsourced project, “information is not verified manually by a reporter between submission and publication, which inspires concern from many traditional reporters.” On the other hand, reporter Paul Lewis claims crowdsourcing means everyone is a potential news source, which expands the array of information available to the journalist and the news organisation.

“For the journalist, it means accepting that you can’t know everything, and allowing other people, through technology, to be your eyes and your ears. For members of the public, it can mean not just being passive consumers of news, but also co-producing news. I believe this can be a really empowering process. It an enable ordinary people to hold powerful organisations to account.”

You can watch his interesting and insightful presentation regarding crowdsourcing to a bunch of journalism students in full below:

Paul Brannan, editor of emerging platforms at the BBC, says the organisation has found “fantastic success” with crowdsourced content. “It’s lit up our journalism for the last five years. People offer us pictures every single day on the web, a call on Five 5 for people connected to specific events will get people coming back in spade loads,” he says. Similarly, Steve Buttry says old-school journalists should “embrace” crowdsourcing because they have always worked hard to find good sources in the community. “Crowdsourcing gives us more efficient techniques for finding sources,” Buttry says.

Further, in his book ‘Here Comes Everybody’, American writer Clay Shirky uses the phrase “the Internet runs on love” to describe the nature of crowdsourcing for journalists today. He points to four key steps, which are described below:

  • Sharing – a sort of ‘me-first collaboration’, in which the social effects are aggregated after the fact. People share links, tags, pictures, and eventually come together around a type.
  • Conversation – the synchronisation of people with each other and the coming together to learn more about something and to get better at it. It is also here we normally see the first formation of a community.
  • Collaboration – a group forms under the purpose of some common effort. It requires a division of labor, and teamwork. It can often be characterized by people wanting to fix a failure, and is motivated by increasing accessibility.
  • Collective action – the fate of the group as a whole becomes important. “We are experiencing an era where people like to produce and share just as much, if not more, than they like to consume. Since technology has made the producing and sharing possible, we will see a new era of participation that will lead to major change.”

According to, there are three predominant ways in which crowdsourcing is “pwining” journalism. Firstly, they suggest journalists are calling on citizens to help uncover breaking news stories, otherwise known as investigative work. For example, UK newspaper The Guardian used crowdsourcing to document the London riots. Secondly, journalists use the crowd for general information regarding a topic or subject that is relatable to their daily lives, often referred to as general observation. For example, many newspapers called upon society to email, Tweet or send in comments regarding the London Olympics to support, and add visual depth to their stories. Thirdly, journalists heavily rely on citizens or crowdsourcing to break completely new stories that are unbeknownst to the journalist. For example, when suicide bombers attacked the London Underground in 2005, trapped survivors captured videos of the aftermath on their smart phones. Journalist David Zax’s suggested crowdsourcing rules include know your audience, know your brand and crowdsource “organically”.

In sum, it is evident that crowdsourcing or crowdsourced journalism is becoming a more prevalent part of the journalism industry, as we see citizens play an increasingly important role in the sourcing, capturing and producing of news. However, it must be kept in mind that your source or information is only as good as your crowd. It is apparent that citizens and society in general play a crucial role in breaking, developing and assisting the production of news stories today, and this role will become all the more important in the future.

The blurry line between journalists and bloggers

The rapid growth of social media, particularly blogs, has exposed journalists to the online world like never before. In turn, new media has provided ordinary citizens with the opportunity to have their voices heard on a multi-national platform at the click of a button. Former journalist-turned-full-time-professional-blogger Nikki Parkinson (@stylingyou), who was named the Best Australian Blogger of 2011, argues the line between journalists and bloggers are becoming “quite blurred.” Her question to QUT journalism students was: “Are bloggers journalists? Can journalists be bloggers?” Parkinson believes journalists are “threatened” by the rise of bloggers, as their influence on the media landscape and society in general continues to prosper.

In their book ‘The Executive’s Guide to Enterprise Social Media Strategy’, Mike Barlow and David Thomas claim the majority of practicing journalists are also active bloggers, and it is this cross-section that blurs the lines between the blogger and the journalist. “If you want to see these blurry lines, try to define the differences among bloggers, journalists, analysts and consultants. One person might wear one, two, three or all of those hats.”

Further, an ‘Editors Talk‘ forum in August where a panel of journalists and bloggers sat down to discuss the ramifications of the online world, panel member and editor of the New Yorker Henry Finder acknowledged the line between journalism and blogging has become obscure. However, he believes the general population understands the difference between opinion and what you find in the international section of the newspaper. “Hopefully the convergence of journalism and blogs won’t come at the expense of truth and accuracy,” he said. “People turn to blogs for a different thing. From a blog often what we want is the snarp, the attitude, the pirouetting – the subjectivity.”

Fellow panel member and winner of the Best Australian Blog for 2012 Eden Riley says whilst journalism is ‘proper’, blogging is not, showing not even bloggers themselves believe they play the same role as journalists. ”I hold hope that my (probably widely-shared) view will change. I hope that blogging will be an inherent and valued part of the new global media landscape.” ABC News Director Kate Torney holds interactivity and audience engagement are the keys to the industry’s future success. “I don’t know where the global media landscape will be in ten years or twenty years, but I’m pretty confident that beautifully crafted stories, probing investigative journalism and public interest reporting with strong and trusted news brands will be very much a part of that landscape,” she said. To listen to her speech about the future of media at Melbourne’s Press Club in February, watch the video below:

Additionally, in her blog post entitled ‘Blogging and Journalism. Not the same thing’, Allison Lee argues to recognise the difference between bloggers and journalists, we need to avoid mistaking influence for journalism. Lee attributes different agendas, formats, approaches to writing styles, remuneration and experience as lines in the sand between bloggers and journalists. She goes on to say, “Blogging isn’t going to replace journalism any time soon. In the brave new digital world, there’s room for journalists and bloggers. Just don’t expect them to do the same thing or tell the same story.” Although both blogging and journalism serve a public story-telling, information-dissemination function, Jay Rosen believes “blogging cannot replace the watchdog journalism that keeps a government accountable to its people.”

Lauren Fisher, media guru and founder of, says the debate isn’t about whether you are a journalist or a blogger, rather it is actually about the quality of the content you are producing and sharing. “It’s the substance that matters, not the title of the person that wrote it. And if they’re getting paid for what they write as well – then good on them for making a living out of it,” she says.

Lastly, Rosen argues journalists today are under increased pressure to produce accurate online stories in an accelerated manner. He claims this stress stems from five sources, which are outlined below:

  • A collapsing economic model, as print and broadcast dollars are exchanged for digital dimes.
  • New competition (the loss of monopoly) as a disruptive technology, the Internet, does its thing.
  • A shift in power. The tools of the modern media have been distributed to the people formerly known as the audience.
  • A new pattern of information flow, in which “stuff” moves horizontally, peer to peer, as effectively as it moves vertically, from producer to consumer.
  • The erosion of trust (which started a long time ago but accelerated after 2002) and the loss of authority.

In sum, those who draw a distinction between blogging and journalism are correct in asserting the majority of bloggers have little to no interest in proper journalism practices and standards, whilst the blogosphere is largely dominated by opinion writing, rather than news writing. So, are bloggers journalists? Can journalists be bloggers? It could be argued when a good blogger undertakes investigative reporting to deliver a post that includes accurate, truthful, clear facts and a range of balanced sources, then that is, simply, journalism.

Identity anonymity – perilous or unhazardous?

Following the recent vicious and vile personal attacks on TV personality Charlotte Dawson, which landed her in hospital, there have been widespread calls for social media outlets, as well as the government, to implement measures to out the so-called ‘trolls’ who anonymously attack, torment and taunt not only celebrities, but everyday people, online. Dawson was hospitalised after a lengthy attack from trolls following her decision to name and shame the troll who told her to “hang herself”.

Since the incident, Dawson has been harshly criticised for “feeding the trolls” by re-tweeting abusive and demonising posts to her hundreds of thousands of followers. Dawson bravely spoke out about her online hell and, subsequently, her brush with suicide in an emotional interview that aired on 60 minutes. You can watch the full story here.

Channel Ten’s newest talkback show Can of Worms addressed the issue of exposing the identities of trolls with guests Mia Freedman, Adam Richard and Kris Smith. Take a look at the short clip below:

Just this week, top surfer Laura Enever and TV personality Nathan Jolliffe joined the long-winded list of Australian celebs, sporting stars and personalities alike who have fallen victim to cyber hate campaigns being fronted by anonymous trolls. Take Rugby League star Robbie Farrah, for example. Or perhaps Delta Goodrem. The list goes on. Farah has called on the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and Prime Minister Julia Gillard to change laws so that Twitter can be forced to reveal the identity of people deemed to have sent offensive material. But this is attracting mixed opinions.

PhD student and journalism lecturer Julie Posetti, who is currently writing a thesis on the use of Twitter, told the ABC that unmasking Twitter trolls will have only “dangerous ramifications” for free speech. Social media anonymity has proved invaluable in some cases, says Posetti, and the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt last year is a clear example of that. When it comes to unmasking the identities of social media bullies, she insists:

“I think that’s going too far and it has a significant risk for freedom of expression. Words can have an impact and hate speech is real, but I certainly think that when you’re jailing teenagers for things they say on Twitter, it’s time [to reflect].”

Ed West, a journalist and social commentator from The Telegraph U.K., says a person of public interest, such as a politician, who complains about nasty messages is like a boxer complaining about getting punched. However, “freedom of speech has never meant the freedom to make death threats,” he says.

International pop star Pink also joined the debate, telling a U.S. morning talk show, “…people that wouldn’t have the balls to say anything in person but they get a keyboard under their fingers and, well, there’s that saying ‘Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority’. There are so many haters in the world, so many miserable people.”

In the last week, Twitter announced it is in the process of stamping out online abuse, as the Australian Federal Government calls on the website to establish an Australian outpost. Although Twitter have updated their abuse policy to include “Technical abuse and user abuse is not tolerated on, and will result in permanent suspension”, the question must be asked. Is this enough? Will every single troll or cyber bully be caught in the act? It is clear more needs to be done.

Here’s a few tips from the Sydney Morning Herald to protect yourself against online bullies. The key point: “Don’t retort – report.”

“Take a screen grab of the offending message with the user’s name and Twitter handle and save it as evidence.”

“Report the user to the social media outlet or forum moderator. In extreme cases you can also make a complaint to the police.”

“Don’t engage with the troll, just block them. Ignoring them is their worst nightmare.”

So, what do you think? I’m interested to know – is identity anonymity perilous or unhazardous? Do you believe social media trolls should be named and shamed? Or will this ultimately hinder the concept of freedom of speech?

Live blogging: the next big thing in journalism?

8.35 pm AEST: This blog post draws inspiration from our latest Online Journalism lecture, delivered by ex-QUT journo student Daniel Hurst. Now working at Brisbane Times, Daniel understands first-hand the ins and outs of what is being hailed as the industry’s ‘next big thing’ – live blogging.

So, what is it? A liveblog is simply a blog that provides rolling coverage of a breaking event, similar to the composition of live television and radio. In layman’s terms, print media answers the question, ‘What happened?’, whereas live blogging answers, ‘What’s happening?’, elucidates BlogDon’ According to Hurst, journalists should harness live blogging when there is an “unfolding political story or debate, severe weather event, election or sporting game” – to name a few.

Live blogs are easy for interested readers to digest bite-sized updates on an unfolding event. When a story is rapidly unfolding, live blogging is best.

– Daniel Hurst, Brisbane Times

Matt Wells, blogs editor at UK’s most prolific live blogging news organisation, The Guardian, says despite industry leaders disdaining the format as a “murdering traditional reporting”, live blogging is “certainly the most important journalistic development over the past year.” Let’s delve deeper into the phenomenon of live blogging and discuss why it is revolutionising the industry.

Firstly, live blogs enable journalists to post “short, sharp and significant” developments quickly, says Hurst, rather than constantly editing and re-editing original news articles. This in itself is revolutionising the online journalism landscape as we know it.

Secondly, live blog posts can also incorporate a mixture of links, quotes, social media commentary and original material reported by journalists on the ground. This means readers can source everything they could possibly want or need to know about a particular story in one central location. One approach to live blogging can be seen below.

This example was posted on the BBC’s website during the Olympic torch relay in August. The blog included a map that allowed readers to track the olympic torch, watch videos posted by citizens and journalists, and receive up-to-the-minute coverage by following a live stream of timely updates, tweets and photos. The news organisation’s readers were also invited to get involved by texting, tweeting and commenting on Facebook.

Thirdly, a sufficient advantage of the platform is the fact other coverage, including competitors’ news sources and multimedia, can be directly linked in one central location. Hurst affirms interactive updates stimulate two-way conversations between the journalist and the reader, whilst your audience considers the organisation a “reliable source” of news if they are “open enough” to include snippets and links to other sites covering the issue.

Martin Belam, a previous BBC web information architect who now works at The Guardian, says live blogs don’t work for everything. “They give an instant reaction but they’re not authenticated like website news stories. When it does work it makes web pages come to life.”

In sum, live blogging has clearly taken off within the industry, with an array of news organisations adopting the format. Live blogs are providing journalists with the chance to write about events in real-time, whilst receiving immediate and instantaneous two-way feedback from audiences. Therefore, it is clear that live blogging is rapidly evolving as the ultimate embodiment of the journalism industry. Without it, providing accurate coverage in real-time will prove all the more difficult for everyday journalists.

Are today’s ethics apposite for tomorrow’s journalist?

Linda Goldspink-Lord posted the above comment on Channel Seven’s Facebook page in July after the network invaded her privacy whilst coming to terms with the loss of her 13-year-old daughter, Molly Jean Lord, who died after a freak quad bike accident. The network dispatched a camera crew, a links truck and a helicopter to the Lord family’s Wollongong property. The cameraman on board filmed pictures of Molly’s body, covered by a white sheet, which were broadcast to air. Mrs Goldspink-Lord was, understandably, distraught by the intrusion.

The comment brewed a social media storm, attracting more than 32,000 ‘Likes’ and 2,000 comments on Facebook alone in less than 30 hours. What created even more public furore was the fact that Channel Seven not only took down the video from their website, but they also removed the comment from their Facebook page, despite the network later claiming the removal was an “error”. As outlined in ABC’s Media Watch program, Channel 7 clearly breached the Media Alliance’s Code of Ethics, which states:

11.  Respect private grief and personal privacy.  Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.

– MEAA Code of Ethics

This story had me thinking. What are the ethical guidelines for journalists in an online environment? Should today’s ethical framework include social media management? Are existing media ethics suitable for new age journalists in an increasingly immediate and interactive sphere?

The rise of social media has led to the power of the people. That is, citizens not only have the means to publish, but also the ability to hold journalists accountable.  Stephen Ward from The Centre for Journalism Ethics asserts most media ethics principles were developed in the mid to late-90s, “originating in the construction of professional, objective ethics for mass commercial newspapers.” Flash-forward to the 21st Century where society, Ward says, is moving towards a “mixed news media” model. A model screaming out for a modernised set of media ethics that apply to both citizen and professional journalists whether they “blog, Tweet, broadcast or write for newspapers.” However, the “ethical challenge” in developing social media guidelines, is allowing reporters to engage in new media, whilst drawing limits on “personal commentary”, says Ward.

Additionally, Poynter says “user-generated content adds diverse voices and opinions to an organization’s journalism, contributes to journalists’ credibility and enhances our mission as trusted guides.” Poynter also contends that in order for ethical standards to be effective, contributors (i.e. everyday citizens) must “know and understand the consequences” of actions that violate guidelines for user-generated content. Consequences include deleting links, deleting comments and blocking users. However, I find it hard to comprehend that Mrs Lord “violated” the guidelines, which Poynter suggests, should form the backbone of today’s ethical framework for journalists. These guidelines state user-generated content should not contravene the following:

  • Obscenity
  • Personal attacks
  • Witch hunts
  • Privacy violations
  • Ethnic or racial slurs
  • Copyright and trademark infringements

Therefore, according to these guidelines, Channel 7 did not have the right to remove Mrs Lord’s comment. Liz Pope from communication strategy company Arment Dietrich says a code of journalism ethics needs to be redefined to include social media practices, as well as bloggers and citizen journalists themselves. Steve Buttry, Director of Community Engagement and Social Media at Digital First Media, also vows although the core journalistic ethical principles “remain the heart of good ethics”, organisations seldom incorporate or mention journalistic social media policies.

So how do journalists and news media organisations engage in fair, balanced and reliable practices, when a concrete social media management framework fails to be incorporated into global ethics standards? My question exactly.

The one-two punch: integrating social media and radio journalism

This blog entry could solely provide you with ’10 things I bet you didn’t know about Spencer Howson’, because he is one fascinating creature. The 612 ABC Brisbane Breakfast host, who I have longed to meet, loves to tweet. So much so, he in fact admitted to showering and tweeting at the same time. It sounds dangerous, almost life-threatening. Is there some kind of secret AA meeting for those self-obsessed social media addicts? My friends and family often question why I use Twitter, with running commentary like: “What is it?” “What do you do? Treat someone?” “I just don’t get it.” “It’s confusing.” And the list goes on.

But Spencer Howson gets it! He accepts that social media, and Twitter in particular, is a driving force for engaging with, and expanding, your audience. That is just one reason why I find him so fascinating. Not to mention his childhood BFF was Kyle Sandilands. “Who?” You ask. “Surely you couldn’t be talking about THE Kyle Sandilands, outspoken TV and radio personality known for his misdemeanours, outlandish ethical standards and bad boy image.” YES! Him. Hilarious! I just cannot get over it.

Hailed the ‘Breakfast King’, Howson is the top rating brekky presenter in Brisbane, so of course I was excited to hear he would be speaking to QUT’s Online Journalism students. I was like a squealing child at the first sight of candy when I received a notification that the Breakfast King himself replied to my tweet (despite referring to me as ‘crazy’ and ‘mixed-up’):

Anyway, back to the serious side of things. Howson says that radio is only half of his job now – the other half is social media. These days, connection and engagement with listeners is almost 24/7 due to the World Wide Web. Whilst the fate of the print journalism industry lies in the balance, Howson says radio is moving from strength to strength. Twitter enables radio hosts to connect with local communities, whether they are listeners or not, and drive them to the radio station. Interactivity is also faster than ever before, with the ability to receive responses and comments in a matter of seconds. Howson says it’s like reading perennial amounts of letters-to-the-editor. Social media has also enabled radio outlets to partake in photo engagement like never before. In the past, listeners would mail their photos to the station. Now, photo and video content can be shared more often and more freely.

Howson also debated that Twitter is useful in obtaining sources, especially those who may be reluctant to comment on air, and sourcing story ideas. The Oriella PR Network’s Global Digital Journalism Study supports this idea, suggesting that journalists are treating social media channels not only as sources of news, but also as a means of validating stories. Last year, just under half of journalists surveyed said they used Twitter for sourcing stories, and 35% used Facebook in the same way. This year found that 54% of respondents use social media outlets if the source is trusted by the journalist, whilst 45% said they used blogs to source angles for new stories. This highlights the growing use of social media, particularly Twitter, as an essential part of today’s newsgathering process. Interestingly, the graph below shows where journalists worldwide turn when researching a story:

In sum, it is undeniable that social media is the way of the future, not only when it comes to connecting and engaging with your audience, but also sourcing stories and obtaining comments. Social media is also aiding the survival of radio journalism during times when traditional media platforms are struggling to sail the unchartered waters ahead. It seems Howson knows what he’s doing in the Twittersphere.

I will leave you with one last fun fact about Spencer Howson. He writes on fruit. “If you run out of paper, a banana will do,” he says. Personally, I love it.

The death of journalism – and how to resurrect yourself in the digital age

I will admit I was intrigued when I learned QUT’s propitious Online Journalism students would be graced by the presence of John Grey, the witty and enigmatic up-until-one-month-ago editor (and founder) of Although enlightening, it was also rather frightening. As Grey painted a somewhat bleak, pessimistic future of the journalism industry (“I hold grave concerns about the profession – news organisation’s aren’t looking for quality any more”), timorous-filled-whispers filled the theatre. Not only did Grey succeed at taking the spring out of my step, I could feel the fiery ambition of my fellow budding journalists beginning to fester. Grey failed to instil in me the optimism I had been longing for from the industry.

Does this mean death to journalism? Well, in a way. Not every newspaper will have identical reporters covering the same stories, geographical areas or sub-industries. It simply does not make sense in today’s digital world. Instead, there will be one journalist reporting from Canberra on behalf of all organisations, for example. It will be like one big news wire service. All papers will also share content. Therefore, this will result in more jobs, but for less people. As Grey reiterated, it is “out with the old” and “in with the new” when it comes to changes in journalism styles and skills.

Sure, there will always be demand for jobs within the industry, but these positions will be extremely difficult to score. As Grey said, “…you just need to be a good writer.” So, the ability to write remains the most important skill if you want to become a successful journalist, you ask? Yes, but you must also be versatile and comfortable with a range of content management systems. “You must be able to tell a story in different ways through pictures, video and words. It’s the whole package,” said Grey.

Despite a dramatic rise in the number of citizen journalists and bloggers who are equipped with the technology, facilities and abilities to deliver news, a democracy such as ours will always require “big media organisations” with “deep pockets” to obtain the real facts, said Grey.

I came across this fascinating ’21st Century newsroom model’, which outlines how a news story typically passes through a converged newsroom today. The model suggests speed and depth are the two strengths of online mediums. News organisations now have the ability to distribute and publish information faster than ever before. There’s Twitter, Facebook, moblogs, apps, and the list goes on. Interestingly, Grey stated there is no such thing as an ‘exclusive’ story any more, due to the perils of the Internet. He says a media outlet would be “lucky” to have an exclusive for three minutes. Three minutes!

So, how do you stand out from the crowd? How can you resurrect yourself in the digital age? In her blog, British freelance journalist Lara O’Reilly pinpoints the skills new journalists require if they are to succeed in today’s fast-paced newsrooms:

  • A portfolio showcasing your work
  • Innovative thinking
  • News gathering skills
  • Concise writing style
  • Ability to understand your audience
  • Social media and online tools
  • An interactive blog
  • A network of contacts
  • Layout and design skills
  • Ability to capture video

In sum, new age journalists need every string to their bow, from the fundamentals of writing to new techniques such as layout, design and social media, to resurrect themselves in an industry that is becoming increasingly cutthroat, bloodthirsty and on the cusp of a traditional death.