Sarah Booker


Searching social media for news – dealing with the hard stuff

Refugees trapped between Macedonian riot police and razor wire on the Greek border. Image by Freedom House on Flickr, licenced by creative commons.

Refugees trapped between Macedonian riot police and razor wire on the Greek border. Image by Freedom House on Flickr, licenced by creative commons.

“Do you have a personal care plan?” Gavin Rees, director of Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma Asked the audience at News:Rewired In Focus.

Most of the audience kept their hands down. It is not something any of us like to think about.

Dealing with traumatic and violent images is part of the working day for many journalists, this can result in what Mr Rees “vicarious trauma”.

News services recruit people specifically to search social media for user generated content to provide eye-witness footage to tell stories.

These journalists are watching at the front line of battle without staring down the barrel of an AK47.

Mr Rees spoke without slides as images stay with us. It is a fundamental part of the mammal brain.

During the Q&A former war reporter John McHugh on Twitter of Varifeye Media, explained how watching footage in his office was more traumatic than three-months in Afghanistan.

He said: “After going to Afghanistan I had time to decompress.

“You’re there, then when looking at images it affected me much more.”

When he was out in the field he expected it. He was shot, shot at, saw people dying around him.

Going into a war zone is not a pleasant experience and he knew it,

Seeing footage of the same thing then having a chat with someone about last night’s TV is a difficult transition.

Sam Dubberley on Twitter co-founder of Eyewitness Media Hub, explained how data gathered found 56% of front line journalists expect to see disturbing as part of their jobs and 46% feel disturbed by it.

How do they cope? Watching dog-themed Tumblr and Taylor Swift’s Instagram were suggested mechanisms.

As one of his slides stated: “We do the Internet, that’s kittens…”

Kittens by Mathias Erhart on Flickr. Licenced by Creative Commons.

Kittens by Mathias Erhart on Flickr. Licenced by Creative Commons.

Journalist looking through Instagram, YouTube, Flickr and a multitude of other resources, see violence, blood and death.

Going back to the personal care plan, how can journalists protect themselves? How can employers help them?

  • Alternating what people work on. For example one week quirky and kittens, the following week Syria and Yemen.
  • Encouraging people to talk to one another. Share what upsets or traumatises. A trouble shared is a trouble halved is a useful piece of home-spun wisdom.
  • Take regular screen breaks.
  • Have plants and green things around you.
  • Use a mask over images or a piece of paper against the screen.

And finally, watch this:


Multimedia: Audio slide shows at News:Rewired

Multimedia journalist Adam Westbrook’s work blew me away at News:Rewired.

I have never really paid much attention to audio slide shows. Building slide shows is a regular part of my working week, but Adam’s interview with John Hirst is unlike anything I have thought possible.

Watch it here: Hirst v. UK from Adam Westbrook on Vimeo

Describing himself as “passionate about the audio slide show” Adam explained how this medium can often tell a story better than any video, with minimal equipment.

“Really rich audio mixed with strong photographs is potent,” he told us.

The story behind the John Hirst slide show started with a video which “wasn’t strong enough”. Good photographs and the audio from the interview was not only cheaper, it was also quicker.

What do you need according to Adam?

  • A great story/character. Work well with portraits.
  • Prospects for good photographs.
  • Potential for great audio with other great atmospheric  sounds such as water sounds or street sounds to give the slide show space to breath.
  • An audio recorder, Digital SLR and Soundslides to build it.

The New York Times One in 8 Million series was given as an example of excellence in the audio slide show.

Characters are found and pre-interviewed. An audio producer records the interview, only then does the photographer take photographs after listening to the audio.

Once everything is put together the images match the words.

It’s so simple and something I would like to use on the websites I am responsible for. However simple creating these things is, a limited number of reporters and hard-pressed photographers may make this difficult in practice.


General thoughts on News:Rewired

AFTER spending a day a’s News:Rewired conference I’ve come away feeling inspired and armed with examples to present to others – within the news organisation where I work and to students at future online journalism workshops.

In his keynote speech City University’s head of journalism George Brock, former international editor of The Times, described the news industry as throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what will stick – a mixture of chaos and discovery.

He referenced Jeff Jarvis and entrepreneurial journalism, necessity being the mother of invention, and told how Twitter wasn’t the big player in the Iranian counter-revolution, but slogans on bank notes.

It was the sort of upbeat and inspiring speech you want to hear from a person at the forefront of training a new generation of journalists and I needed cheering up.

BBC College of Journalism editor Kevin Marsh made me jealous during his presentation. A fully integrated 24 hour multi-media newsroom staffed by 1,100 journalists tweeting, blogging, writing, filming, Audiobooing, telling stories in the best possible way. Such luxury!

A particularly interesting working concept Kevin explained were the BBC story communities with journalists working as a group, initially using MSN as a communication tool, sharing their specialist skills for stories such as mapping, Facebook, data-mining etc. The community grows and shrinks around a story.

Can be set up by anyone with change from the bottom up and the top down.

“Big news organisations doing better than you think at taking new ideas and adapting,” he said.

The way he described the how the BBC newsroom works as a dynamic evolving beast putting the web and rolling news service BBC New 24 at the centre, and not wait for the bulletin, is just how I believe newspapers should go forward.

In my working environment there are senior members of the editorial and commercial management structure who would like the web to go away. It’s not going to, and the BBC model is the one to embrace.

Print sales were falling before the internet took off as political and social apathy seems to have become endemic. Some people are just not interested in news.

What are we journalists to do?

I would sum Kevin’s presentation up as saying there are many things to learn, we can’t be experts at all of them, but can find new skills to enhance those we have already as journalists.

Journalism is the sourcing and investigation of the story and reporting is the telling of it. This is what we do, there are just more ways to do it now.

I’ll blog my thoughts on the workshops I attended and the news business models discussion separately.

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