The facts are the focus

factchecking stop fakeFact-checking journalism is on the rise. The number of fact-checking websites has been growing for over a decade nowA recent study from the Duke University Reporters’ Lab has identified almost 60 fact-checking groups globally, with a quarter of them based in the US. Some pop up as part of media organisations like the Washington Post’s Fact Checker passing judgements in Pinocchios or the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact at the Tampa Bay Times. But more interestingly, some spring to life prompted by the need to verify specific events and developing stories.

Take Ukrainian StopFake – it verifies information, and refutes distorted information and propaganda about events in Ukraine covered by the media. Available in English and Russian, it has build an amazing audience of over 63,000 in only three months. And it’s growing.

Mainly, because there is a pressing demand to verify photos posted on social media, which go viral quickly retweeted by both sides of the conflict who feel strongly about the cause they are fighting for, but do not necessarily reflect the real situation in the region. This photo of the Sloviansk morgue – published by a Russian news outlet – had been taken five years ago by an Associated Press photographer in Mexico. And here is another fake, dating back to 1989 and Tienanmen Square events in China.

Unlike PolitiFakt that debunks mainly domestic news, StopFake tests the accuracy of content from another country aside to its own Ukrainian media and politicians. It handles both official reports and rumours. It was launched  by alumni and students of Mohyla School of Journalism, later joined by  journalists, marketing specialists, programmers, translators and other volunteers.

Another interesting example of a fact-checking group forming for the purpose of monitoring developments in an event is FactCheckEU – Europe’s first crowd-checking platform. It was established not only as a watchdog holding European politicians to account in the run-up to the elections in May, but also in a bid to spread awareness of EU politics.

FactCheckEU verified statements made by leading figures on the EU’s political scene and even some EU institutions like the Commission, which was caught misquoting some figures. The team live-checked (and live-tweeted) some of the debates between the EC Presidency candidates and partnered up with other think tanks and institutes across the continent.

And then there is Africa Check which covers the whole content promoting accuracy in public debate and the media. Run by a small team of three core staff, it produces reports for free republication and offers interviews with researchers. What I personally find most interesting is their guides and fact-sheets, like this one detailing the abduction of Nigerian girls by Boko Haram.

Interestingly, all three StopFake, FactCheckEU and Africa Check share a crowd-sourcing element. They appeal to their readers for submitting statements which lend themselves to verification. This allows Africa Check to be run by three staffers only, and FactCheckEU to make sure politicians from more EU countries feature on the website than the languages mastered by the team. All this while the audiences feel part of the process.

The raise of fact-checking journalism has been clearly marked in the media landscape over the past couple of years. Some see it as a symptom of failing media, others as popular highlight of mainstream politics. Is it simplified journalism? Or is it the the root of journalism – a starting point for all reporters?

With sites such as Faktomat in Germany, Les Decodeurs in France, Chequeado in Argentina, it is difficult to deny that fact-checking offers an interesting insight into detailed political discourse. It obviously has its flaws but all the sites mentioned above believe it adds to the debate rather than impoverish it. And it expands quicker than you think. Poyner Institute is to hold the first global fact-checking summit in London this June organised by Bill Adair from the Duke University. And soon there will even be a browser plug-in to ‘automatically fact check’ articles, which will tell you how accurate the information on the site is. I am looking forward to seeing further developments in the field.

(Disclaimer: I have been part of the team behind FactCheckEU)

Gerard Baker: 5 pillars of business journalism in the digital age

The lecture room at City University London filled up quickly when Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of Dow Jones, came to give a talk on the five pillars of business journalism in the digital age.

Baker, who is also the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, discussed the important shift that media organisations need to make if their online publishing strategies are to survive the fast-growing market of specialised business publications.

Gerard-Baker-Dowjones-WSJ

Credit: Rèmi Steinegger

Bringing up this year’s 125th anniversary of the WSJ, he reflected on the fact that business journalism has come a long way from being a side project to being a thriving and sought-after news product. The boom started in the 1980s and 1990s, when the end of the Cold War and the ensuing explosion of financial assets boosted readers’ interest in understanding the economic events.

But for Baker, the “golden age for business journalism” is now.  He cited a plethora of recently launched, digitally native business publications, such as QuartzBusiness Insider and BuzzFeed Business, which thrive on the demand society has for business-oriented news.

He identified five pillars of WSJ’s digital strategy, which he considers crucial for every business publication to fulfil this demand:

  1. Genuinely embrace the digital revolution and change the culture of news organisations. “We have to fundamentally rethink our product and reshape it for the digital age,” said Baker. “Taking the newspaper approach and sticking it into the digital format is not viable.”

  2. Preserve and strengthen independence, and resist the temptation of relying on business organisations, even in the face of declining ad revenues.

  3. Maintain the right balance, since an open society needs a thriving press to hold both the public and corporate sectors to account. Journalistic ethics and standard are therefore of utmost importance in keeping reporters and companies’ staff apart.

  4. Invest in the high degree of specialisation. “The reality of the digital age is niche content and there are many business opportunities in offering deep insights into specific areas of coverage,” said Baker.

  5. Seize the opportunity to become a genuinely global news organisation. Baker believes this is necessary because of the economic and financial interdependence. “The only business journalism that will survive will cover a global outlook,” he said.

“Quality journalism is still rare in the world,” he added, pointing out that as emerging economies arrive on the world stage, news organisations such as the Wall Street Journal can use the opportunity to fill the gap.

With its total combined circulation of 2.3 million copies, the WSJ is the largest paid-for title in the US. It is also the only title that decided to charge readers for online news from the beginning of its digital existence, and bets on the subscription model to help it succeed in the future.

For Baker, the current opportunities alongside difficult financial circumstances mean that there has never been a greater hunger nor greater audience for business news.

“We can meet this desire,” he said. “I’m highly optimistic about what we can do.”

Reflections on my first hackathon

buildthenewslogoOn the weekend of 22/23 February, I took part in Build the News – the first ever coding event organised by The Times and The Sunday Times. This two-day “hackathon” brought together 10 teams of student journalists and developers who were tasked with creating a digital journalism product in one of the four categories: 

  • Stretch (or how to develop long form journalism across multiple devices),
  • Crowd (or how to develop a tool or platform that allows effective campaigning),
  • Tactile (or re-thinking Sunday paper reading/sharing experience),
  • Noise (or how to facilitate finding the details and people that matter around big events and moments).

It was the first time I got a chance to participate in a hackathon and surely not the last one. Inspiring in many ways, it was an eye-opener to how solutions are born to problems you face every day as a journalist.

hackathon

Photo: MattieTK (Flickr)

So why hack?

Firstly because you stand a chance to tackle the knottiest problems you have always wanted solved. Who said you can’t be the first one to come up with a solution? This way you serve yourself and others, and learn loads in the process, simply by picking others’ brains.

Secondly, because only seated in front of a task you can unleash the creativity you never suspected yourself of. You are given 48h to brainstorm, build and refine a product. Unlike any other day, you can focus on doing just this so all your brainpower gets narrowed down onto this one particular task. It’s imperative to use it well.

And finally, for fun, because teamwork and filling the gaps others have difficulty with is very rewarding.

What to keep in mind?

Short and intense, hackathons are inherently unpredictable. You might prepare, start toying with an idea in your head, and yet end up doing a totally different thing. So don’t get too attached to your pre-conceived no-matter-how-awesome plans. They are likely to change in the meantime.

Set realistic expectations. Think big but make sure you account for what you can achieve in the given time frame without constraining your creativity.

And just because time is so scarce, identify the problem as accurately as possible and define the amount of detail you want to (and can) go into before you find yourself tangled in too many meandrous yet insignificant elements of your project.

Learn from others. Hackathons are usually a unique mix of people who decide to give their time and skill to solve different problems. Developer community, unlike its journalistic counterpart, is very open to sharing and exchanging ideas so make sure you listen up when they start recommending apps, software and tutorial websites. API? GitHub? JS? Find out what they are.

Don’t be afraid of launching your project for public scrutiny. Feedback and self-reflection are key to taking it to another level. Shed all your journalistic assumptions of keeping your idea exclusive and allow others to chip in, even if they pulverise your idea. It’s better to know it’s not working out right up front.

Refuel often. Breaks for meals and nibbles (and fresh air) are crucial to keep your inventiveness going.

Do get a developer for your team. Your idea might be brilliant, yet it won’t see the light of the day until a code-savvy person blesses it as feasible.
Interhacktives-build-the-news If you are interested in the project my friends from MA Interactive Journalism and I developed for the Build the News hackathon, take a look at our tumblr – it documents the whole process.

3 tips from Hacks/Hackers London

On Wednesday Wayra Academy hosted another Hacks Hackers London meet-up, bringing together journalists and developers and introducing new tools. I went along to see what all the fuss was about. This is what I found out:

Dialective – something for storytellers

HHdialective2

“A wealth of information creates poverty of attention”, said Arturo Calvo Devesa, co-founder of the new visual storytelling platform, which enables users to create visual, interactive stories.

Currently in a beta phase, Dialective provides story templates with sections, into which the author can insert pictures, text and – soon – even maps and other rich media. Stories are then easily shared and embedded.

The team, currently based at Google Campus in London, is looking for feedback so if you happen to give it a go, you can pen your thoughts to info@dialective.com.

NewsWhip – something for buzz-hunters

Spike

NewsWhip, a new powerful tool for monitoring news, uses social data to find the best content on the web in real-time. It identifies viral stories via shares, comments, tweets “and other buzz”.

Through its web appSpike, NewsWhip supplies deep data on trending news stories to journalists, editors, marketers, and PR agencies.

NewsWhip tracks 250,000 news stories a day. It’s like analytics – but for other outlets rather than your own site,” said Paul Quigley, co-founder and CEO. You can see what is trending in various regions, check out social media stats next to each article, see hashtags and explore why people are sharing this particular story.

A NewsWhip Spike account (free trial available for 30 days) will sign you up for alerts, which you can tweak for frequency, publication and niche:

“You define the topics and sources: get a regular view of stories starting to trend from the BBC, from the UK, from the Huffington Post, from hundreds of other publications. Check on more specific niches – news about North Korea, Syria, about psychology, or fashion. If you like, get regular digests of the latest trending cats. Or meerkats.”

oTranscribe – for people who love interviewing but hate transcribing

oTranscribe

Elliot Bentley is a journalist who decided to “teach himself to code” in order to build an application helping fellow reporters with the tedious task of transcription. He’s the man behind oTranscribe, the new browser-based transcription application with an audio player and text editor which means you no longer need to toggle between two programmes.

Although it’s only 3 weeks old, oTranscribe may become serious competition for other transcribing tools, as it will remain open source.

Also at Hacks/Hackers:

Roger Beecham from the giCentre and transport hub, City University London, talked about the Barclays Bikes data project: “Exploring gendered cycling behaviours within a large-scale data set”. Look out for a separate piece on that, right here at Clues to the cloud!

SoundCite if you want your readers to hear your thoughts

If you ever tried reviewing the new album of your favourite band, you know how painful it is to properly describe music. Just when you are about to give way to the wave of admiration filling your mind when listening to it for the millionth time, there comes the moment in which you should explain what is so grabbing about the music.

Worry not. Your struggles are over. SoundCite, the new tool by Knight Lab, is there to help you include in-line audio in the text so that your audience can not only read but also hear what you mean. No new tabs involved.

The simple-to-use tool takes you there in just three steps:

  • connecting to SoundCloud;
  • cropping a sound clip;
  • embedding the audio.

Easy. Most importantly though, SoundCite can come in handy not only for embedding music, but also interviews and background noise.

In-line audio has already proved interesting for big news rooms, like the New York Times. Their story reminiscing Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the American coastline embedded testimonies of witnesses, with an additional icon on the side to facilitate navigation. The hyperlink is highlighted in grey:

In-line audio, click and listen to the interview

In-line audio, click and listen to the interview

SoundCite has been presented by Miranda Mulligan, Knight Lab, during Hacks/Hackers October meet-up in London along other emerging tools like Timeline, StoryMap and twXplorer, which I will cover in the upcoming posts.

Who’s reading #Interhactives?

Come November, #Interhactives website will change its managing crew. Taking over is the new team on the MA Interactive Journalism at City.

For starters, Ben Whitelaw asked us to come up with a profile of a typical user of the site, most likely to make us brainstorm about the most suitable content of our upcoming posts.

Doodling was encouraged so here is what my scarce drawing talents afforded:

this is how I imagine an #Interhactives reader (or: I imagine better, but that's how I can draw!)

this is how I imagine an #Interhactives reader (or: I imagine better, but that’s how I can draw!)

And here he is, in his twenties, at his desk. Focused, determined and on top of things. Ready to tweet about any interesting thing that he spots on our blog.

[Yes, with his MacBook, smartphone, tablet and TV in the back of the room, he is proudly suffering from a quadruple screen syndrome, and he is utterly persuaded that he is a slave to social media: “I have to check my Facebook”, “I have to re-tweet that now”.]

He’s an aspiring journalist with a personal blog and well-defined interests.

He’s wearing glasses, not because his eyesight is impaired by excessive reading from the computer screen, but because he wants to look cool. He’s an intellectual after all.

He is after tools and news that might boost his professional qualifications to become a sought-after journalist. This is why he will look closely at any internship or job opportunities. He will read advice from professionals in the field and ruthlessly ignore negligent space-fillers.

When it comes to his routines, he will never say no to a coffee. He’s a screen-lover, but he knows how to clock out and enjoy his time offline.

Oh, and since he rarely has time in the mornings (after staying up late to play around with the newest data visualisation software our website has just recommended), he usually chooses eating over shaving. So please, excuse the greyish stubble on his cheeks.

(If you happen follow #Interhactives and yet fail to identify with the above description, it’s fine.)