A new guide to help you verify digital content from any source

Giant beach ball on the loose...Verifying facts before publishing a news story is one of the cornerstones of trusted behaviour that we have traditionally expected from the mainstream media.

Even in the disruption of traditional sources of news over the past decade – with the rise of social media, of newer sources of news and information that compete with the traditional, of newer digital platforms from which to make news and information available, and in changing behaviours of people from purely consumers to creators (citizen journalists and the ugly-sounding ‘user-generated content‘) and questioners of the news story wherever and whenever it appears – we still largely hold the mainstream media to a higher standard with a continuing expectation that reporters and editors will get the facts right before they go to print or (more likely) publish online.

Nowhere is that more expected than in cases of disasters or tragedies. When there is so much happening so quickly, confusion and misinformation abound – mostly accidental but some deliberate – as a reporter tries to get the facts from many different places, increasingly including user-generated content in addition to traditional sources, eg, newswires and official spokespeople.

Especially at times like that, you want to be sure of what you intend to report with confidence, based on verifiable facts, that others will read, see and hear. And you need to do it very quickly.

Enter the Verification Handbook, a ground-breaking new resource for journalists and aid responders which provides step-by-step guidelines for using user-generated content during emergencies, and how to verify that content and the sources of it.

Verification Handbook

In a crisis situation, social networks are overloaded with situational updates, calls for relief, reports of new developments, and rescue information. Reporting the right information is often critical in shaping responses from the public and relief workers; it can literally be a matter of life or death.

The Handbook prescribes best practice advice on how to verify and use this information provided by the crowd, as well as actionable advice to facilitate disaster preparedness in newsrooms

The Handbook is divided into the following chapters:

  1. When Emergency News Breaks
  2. Verification Fundaments: Rules to Live By
  3. Verifying User-Generated Content
  4. Verifying Images
  5. Verifying Video
  6. Putting the Human Crowd to Work
  7. Adding the Computer Crowd to the Human Crowd
  8. Preparing for Disaster Coverage
  9. Creating a Verification Process and Checklist(s)
  10. Verification Tools

There are also a number of cases studies – including one that explains the giant beach ball on the loose photo at the top of this page – so the guide starts out with real credibility and not purely an academic-looking work.

Publisher The European Journalism Centre in Maastricht, The Netherlands, says it’s the first-ever guide for reporters and editors who use user-generated content during humanitarian emergencies. It is edited by Craig Silverman, author and founder of Regret The Error, now at The Poynter Institute in the US, and includes contributions by some credible and trusted names from across the world of journalism (scroll down from the website landing page to see who the authors are).

Significantly, the Verification Handbook is positioned as being a useful resource not only for reporters:

While it primarily targets journalists and aid providers, the Handbook can be used by anyone. Its advice and guidance are valuable whether you are a news journalist, citizen reporter, relief responder, volunteer, journalism school student, emergency communication specialist, or an academic researching social media.

If you publish anything online in a professional capacity, whatever your role, journalist or not, on which you have based your content on that of others, you will find the Verification Handbook worth bookmarking.

The guide is available as a website and, next month, as a downloadable PDF file, and in print, as well as a Kindle version for Amazon’s ebook reader.

What an excellent resource.

The Sun’s ‘walled content garden’ brings together print and digital

The Sun

Today, The Sun newspaper becomes the latest national mainstream medium in the UK to erect a barrier to its content on the web where access to that content is only available now if you pay £2 per week.

Switchover to The Sun’s new paywall-fronted site began yesterday evening, and the new site went live overnight. When you land on the website now,  you’ll see The Sun as the screenshot above shows, requiring a log-in before you get to any meaningful content.

It’s similar in this approach to its stable mate, The Times.

(The Sun is part of News UK, Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper business in this country previously called News International that includes The Times and The Sunday Times. The relaunch of The Sun is clearly part of the company’s ongoing efforts to move on from the phone hacking scandal that erupted in 2011 and that led to the closure of the News of The World newspaper in July of that year; and to the Leveson Inquiry, whose findings and recommendations continue to be matters of lively public discussion.)

The relaunch of The Sun website is part of a brand repositioning known as Sun+, a bundle of content that embraces three elements:

  • Sun+Digital, content not only on the new website but also via free apps for mobile devices.
  • Sun+Perks, comprising freebies, deals and promotions worth more than £200 each month.
  • Sun+ Goals, video clips of every Barclays Premier League goal via a free app for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.

All that for £2 a week, even less if you pay for a year in advance.

It’s an interesting mix, offering a range of content and experiences that should be an attractive proposition to many existing online Sun readers as well as appealing to new ones (especially with the launch offer of one month of access for just £1).

But what about those who read The Sun in print every day? There are 7.3 million daily readers, according to News UK – what’s in it for them?

A press release on July 30 includes details of how print readers can take advantage of the three ‘content pillars’ if they wish to:

[…] customers who buy the paper but also want to enjoy this fantastic bundle of benefits will be able to collect special codes that will be printed in each paper every day from Sunday August 4.

These codes will initially unlock one month’s worth of digital access and from then onwards, by collecting 20 codes each month, members will receive continuous access to The Sun’s unrivalled digital content and perks. This is possible using the latest InkJet printing technology supplied by Kodak, which has been fitted across all The Sun’s presses in the UK and Ireland. Each press will print a unique code on every single paper every single day.

The bold text is my emphasis. Imagine that – millions of copies of the newspaper printed every day, each one with a unique one-time code individually printed on each copy as the presses run. That’s pretty neat technology.

Yet, I wonder if this includes Band-Aid – employing digital coolness and some clever tech to keep an old business model going in the face of evidence that shows traditional print is continuing to decline just about everywhere as newspaper circulation figures for June 2013 strongly suggest.

newspapercirculations2013june

At the same time, readership for all things digital continues to rise, even digital content that you have to pay for (the Financial Times being a good example of that) – surely good signals for The Sun’s digital bundles if not for the printed newspaper?

It’s not a view News UK CEO Mike Darcey wholly agrees with.

Yesterday morning, I was part of a group of invited bloggers in a meeting with the News UK CEO and members of the company’s senior team involved in the launch plans including Derek Brown, The Sun’s digital editor.

Darcey believes in the content bundle. It’s the start of a new journey for The Sun, he said, following the success of The Times, broadening the bundle, adding distinctive content, exploiting new technology, getting into video, focusing on subscription.

Paid-for content works against free, he believes, just as in TV (he was with satellite broadcaster BSkyB for 15 years, over six of them as COO: that’s all about paid-for content). In news, he says, “our formula is curated, filtered, world-class comment and opinion, delivered with authority.”

He says that newspapers have always been a bundle of content – a bundle that keeps expanding, which is now expanding to take advantage of new delivery platforms, notably tablets and smartphones.

It’s an optimistic view of a marketplace that seems to me to be in a near-constant state of disruption as we continue a transition not only to those new delivery platforms Darcey mentions but also to new content creators and consumers. That would include The Sun itself – not only is it a newspaper publisher, it’s also a video content creator and publisher as it will produce daily programmes that will be available in the Sun+Goals digital content offering.

It also includes anyone with a story to tell, whatever label they wear, be they citizen journalists, brand journalists, content marketers, whatever and whoever.

The information landscape is vast, it’s growing all the time, and the content choices facing consumers and businesses are equally exciting and confusing. Information overload is just a breath away.

In the midst of all that, if The Sun has a compelling proposition – the print-plus-digital content bundle Darcey speaks of – that its target markets and advertisers recognize as such, and that translates into a willingness to pay, then the prognosis is good.

Today’s Sun+ launch is just a first step, a fact Darcey was at pains to emphasize. That seems quite clear, especially with regard to Sun+Goals, the exciting-looking mobile app. Right now, it’s a purely content-consumption vehicle, as it were: you get the content – near-live video clips of Premier League football goals – that you consume.

Where things will get really interesting is when you have the opportunity to comment, connect and engage with others, share your thoughts… In essence, be part of a dynamic Sun+ community. There are interesting ideas that might be worth exploring over time. For instance, a corps of passionate football fans who are also great communicators who could create match content as it happens.

Look at what sports broadcaster ESPN in the US is doing with hiring bloggers to cover every NFL game, for example. It could lead to niche communities to which you wouldn’t necessarily devote professional journalism resources.

As I’ve said before, if you offer content plus a great experience that people are willing to pay for – no matter how complex, difficult, changing, disrupted and competitive your market is – then the chances are very good indeed that you will have a viable business opportunity.

See also: commentary by others at yesterday’s meeting with Mike Darcey:

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Unfiltered social reporting from Boston

mitshootingrm

Hot on the heels of the Boston marathon bombings last weekend comes another frightening event in the United States, this time a fatal shooting at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus in neighbouring Cambridge late on Thursday night US time.

As I write this, it’s still very much a breaking news story with sketchy reporting in the mainstream media, certainly here in the UK.

Yet social media is a mass of reporting from individuals on the ground. Citizen journalists all even if some wouldn’t choose that label to describe their tweets, instagrams, Facebook statuses and more.

They’re just saying what they’re seeing and experiencing right there because that’s the nature of what many people do these days, especially if you’re under 30. And because they can, thanks to being connected online to hundreds and thousands of other people via the social web.

Trying to get a good sense of what’s actually going on from scanning scores of tweets that fill the Twitter timeline isn’t easy. One way you can get a great sense of events in a compelling visual display is with Rebelmouse, a web service that curates content from across the social web and displays it as if it’s a digital newspaper.

You can see a great example of the visual power of such curated content for this breaking new story from the screenshot above and on the MIT Shooting page at Rebelmouse itself.

As I noted in a tweet earlier, this is unfiltered social reporting, content that people share in their moment. This is not verified and fact-checked reporting – that’s what professional journalists and editors do and tend to be quite good at.

But resources such as Rebelmouse are part of the new media landscape, one that’s a chaotic mix of verified reporting such as what you expect from the mainstream media, along with anyone’s opinions and comments. And in situations like this, inevitably there will be misinformation and untruth – some no doubt deliberate but the vast majority accidental or due to other people’s assumptions and misinterpretations.

Welcome to the acts of freedom of speech. The consequences are what we make of those acts.

Compelling content is king for the newspaper business too

How healthy is the newspaper business?

If you look at print, the long-term prognosis is not encouraging overall, certainly not in the UK and to a large extent neither in the US, especially as the declining circulation and revenue of print newspapers occurs alongside a shift in emphasis to online versions.

We’ve seen some radical such shifts this year, notably the closure of the printed Newsweek magazine and its continuation as a digital-only publication. Quartz, a digital-only business magazine, launched in September. In July, the Financial Times said that worldwide digital subscriptions surpassed those for print for the first time. We also saw an interesting experiment on Christmas Day when the Telegraph in the UK published a digital-only edition on a day that traditionally sees no newspapers at all. The print ones, that is.

Indeed, in digital the mainstream media picture looks much more encouraging and interesting as eMarketer reports in assessing which are the top ten newspapers online, worldwide, ranked by the number of visitors.

top10onlinepapers

Top of the list is the UK’s Daily Mail. Or rather, the Mail Online, its digital edition – not at all the same content or focus as the printed newspaper edition.

Quoting comScore data, eMarketer says that the Mail Online website attracted over 50 million unique visitors in October, the most of any online newspaper. It adds that despite a partial paywall instituted in 2011, websites affiliated with The New York Times ranked second, attracting over 48 million unique visitors, followed by two other well-established outlets, The Guardian and Tribune newspapers.

The appearance on the list of People’s Daily Online (fifth) and Xinhua News Agency (seventh) attest to the growing size and engagement of China’s internet news audience, eMarketer noted, stating:

[…] 644 million people worldwide visited online newspaper sites this October, which [comScore] estimates to be 42.6% of the world’s internet users. As their business models continue to tilt away from print and toward digital, newspaper outlets around the world are competing to win the attention of this large and growing audience.

In assessing the Mail’s performance as the most-visited newspaper on the web, eMarketer says:

[…] unlike The New York Times or The Guardian, [the Daily Mail] does not feature much in the way of original reporting on its website. Yet it has managed to grab a bigger share of the online audience than either of those organizations through its relentless focus on catering to the tastes of its global audience.

The Daily Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre, told The New Yorker in April that he thought the Mail Online was succeeding because it had identified a large niche in the news market:

“At its best, American journalism is unbeatable. But the problem with many of your newspapers is that they became too high-minded, too complacent, and self-regarding … They forgot that there’s a huge market out there of people who are serious-minded but also want some fun in their reading.”

The bold text is my emphasis.

mailonline

And maybe that is precisely the key to the Mail’s success in attracting people to its digital content:

  1. Understand your audience with precision – no guesswork.
  2. Offer them compelling content (see above for a clue to the Mail’s definition of ‘compelling content’).
  3. Make that compelling content relevant (the Mail Online has a specific US edition to cater to a huge market).
  4. Make that content easy to obtain (web, mobile apps, no paywalls as it’s ad supported), consume and share.

Looks like a winning formula.

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Curating Leveson

levesoncoverI’m experimenting with getting to know Spundge, a content curation and publishing platform (which Craig Silverman talks about at length in the latest FIR Interview podcast I posted yesterday).

Spundge is a lot about finding and filtering relevant content that matches topics you’re interested in. You do this through creating a Spundge Notebook, a sort of virtual filing cabinet, that is where the content found by Spundge’s algorithms and APIs in response to the key words and phrases you’ve defined is presented for you to determine what you do with it.

To help me learn how Spundge’s curation process works, I created a Notebook called Leveson and What’s Next, on mainstream and social media coverage of the Leveson Inquiry and all the hoo-ha and kerfuffle that began the moment the report and recommendations were published on November 29.

If you’re not sure what the Leveson Inquiry is about, its Wikipedia entry is a good place to gain a concise overview:

The Leveson Inquiry is a judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandal, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson, who was appointed in July 2011. A series of public hearings were held throughout 2011 and 2012. The Inquiry published the Leveson Report in November 2012, which reviewed the general culture and ethics of the British media, and made recommendations for a new, independent, body to replace the existing Press Complaints Commission, which would be recognised by the state through new laws. Part 2 of the inquiry has been deferred until after criminal prosecutions regarding events at the News of the World.

Among all the news and opinion items I’ve seen so far,  two that are very related struck me as highlighting the scale of the task facing everyone in this country, not the least those in positions of power who will make decisions about press regulation on behalf of all of us.

If you’ve been following reports and opinion, you’ll know there’s huge polarization. That’s no better illustrated than looking at online petitions that have been set up, one pro Leveson’s recommendations, others anti.

So far, the pro-Leveson petition set up by the Hacked Off pressure group has gathered over 140,000 signatures.

levesonpetition-pro

(As an aside, I signed Hacked Off’s petition last week when it had less than 14,000 signatures, just 10 percent of what it has attracted in less than a week as I write these words.)

In contrast, anti-Leveson petitions set up on the government’s e-petitions website have managed only tens of signatures let alone hundreds or even thousands, with the most popular one attracting just over one thousand.

levesonpetition-anti

It looks quite clear that the ayes want it. Whether they’ll have it remains to be seen. What’s equally clear is that the clock’s ticking on self-regulation.

I’ll continue to curate content on this in Spundge. And, as Spundge is a collaborative platform, if you’d like to participate in this with me, you’ll be welcome. Good on-the-job learning.

Let me know if you would like to.

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UK crisis of trust: BBC is just the tip of the iceberg

kantartrust

A news item in today’s Telegraph says that a survey by Kantar shows that 79 percent of the British public don’t trust senior BBC managers to tell the truth.

This, of course, relates to the serious and still-unfolding crises confronting the broadcaster as investigations into allegations of child sex abuse over past decades vie for media and everyone’s attention alongside the consequential resignation of its Director-General, increasing questioning of BBC leadership capability and organization structure, and its very future as an independent public service broadcaster.

The Telegraph’s news snippet took me to the website of Kantar Media, the UK-headquartered market research firm and WPP subsidiary, and Crisis of Trust, the survey in question.

They’ve published some eye-opening metrics from their survey (which doesn’t say when or where it was conducted nor how many people participated).

kantartrustchart

In the bar chart above, the dominant light purple colour indicates ‘do not trust,’ with the darker purple colour indicating ‘do trust.’

The glaring one actually isn’t the huge lack of belief in senior BBC managers telling the truth (a figure that’s 76 percent according to Kantar, not the 79 percent the Telegraph says).

Nor is it the 91 percent of people who say they don’t trust tabloid journalists (no surprise!), nor that 65 percent or so don’t trust broadsheet journalists; nor even that under 60 percent don’t trust TV news journalists either – all a damning indictment of the profession of journalism in the UK.

Neither is it the equally-unsurprising lack of trust in large-company bosses – more than 80 percent said that, according to Kantar. Such lack of trust has been low for years and not only in the UK (just ask Edelman).

To me, the most disturbing aspect of this research is such low trust in key institutions like Parliament, the police and the judiciary. This, says Kantar, could change our social and political landscape for good.

[…] Trust is so low that Britain risks becoming more like Greece or Italy, where the majority of institutions are distrusted by the majority of people. This could lead to critically reduced political engagement, especially in young people, and even foment minor acts of rebellion, such as the refusal to pay the BBC licence fee.

Kantar’s research shows that faith in our politicians has plummeted: only three in 10 people trust their local MP to tell the truth (28 per cent), while fewer than one in five trust government ministers (16 per cent) or MPs in general (15 per cent).

[…] Senior police officers, once a bastion of respect, are now held in such low regard that only half the population (50 per cent) trust them to tell the truth.

Of all the institutions included in the report, judges were the most trusted but still just 68 per cent of people believed they did not lie.

Maybe the lack of trust in politicians and perhaps senior police officers could be an influencing factor in why there was such a low voter turn out for Thursday’s polling to elect police commissioners.

Kantar’s conclusion:

[…] If this crisis of trust is not stopped in its tracks, we will enter a situation where young people are increasingly unwilling to contribute to or co-operate with the government, leading to a stagnation and even reversal of our country’s development.

Food for some serious thought for all of us.

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