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:


Cutting through social noise at Buzzfeed

Filed under: journalism,Web journalism — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 8:39 pm
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Buzzfeed finds the news people want to share by keeping its fingers on the social media pulse.

One of the key places its journalists find news is on Tumblr, UK news editor Richard James told students at Brighton Journalist Works

“Tumblr interesting because there is so much stuff,” he said.

“It has quite a young demographic but it is miles ahead of everyone, breaking news and stories.”


Buzzfeed has a young audience because it is writing about what interests them in an informative and shareable way.

As Richard pointed out, traditional media does not know how to deal with or categorise social media stars.

He said: “The Sam Pepper saga was a story the mainstream press would not know what to deal with.

“He’s a YouTube star, so knowing what was being discussed meant we could reach out to people.

“There is huge gap in the market for someone like us as the mainstream press don’t appreciate the fame of these people.”

Buzzfeed also informs with what Richard described as explainer pieces to give people an introduction and wider understand of a story.

These often end up trending on Facebook or Twitter as they share well.

Richard said: “We want to be one stop shop for people wanting to find out more about Hong Kong protests.

“We try to do something different rather than blocks of text for example using an image of a poppy for every soldier killed in the First World War or Following Russian soldiers on Instagram in Ukraine. You can tell a story in a thousand different ways.”


The amount of stories Buzzfeed is covering is growing and reporters are recruited every as the site is building a good reputation for news.

Richard said: “Our reporters are on the ground around the world from Liberia, Syria and Ukraine, this not what people assume Buzzfeed is doing.

“We are getting great exclusives and hard hitting pieces.

“It is a case of looking at what people are talking about, but not in the mainstream press, we see what people are talking about on Facebook.

“Reporters are spending the time properly investigating stuff.

“There is so much noise on social media I am pleased and proud at how we look at what is trending and then give you the full back story as sometimes online the wider context gets lost.”

His advice to Journalist Works students is to be all over social media, watching and monitoring the trending subjects.

It is the best way to find news and the buzz of what is going on in the world.


Reasons why no journalist should dismiss social media

Filed under: Social media,Storify — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 10:31 am
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Social media image by Jason Howie, licence by Creative Commons

Social media image by Jason Howie, licence by Creative Commons

Years ago colleagues used to say I was wasting my time joining discussions in the online forums for towns and villages in our patch.

Even when I tracked down someone who was evacuated from a building next to Buncefield Oil Depo as it exploded, they were still sceptical.

Time and technology move on. When I created My Space then Facebook and Twitter accounts for the Worthing Herald colleagues dismissed them as pointless.

I introduced Twitter in 2008. By the time I left the Herald in 2011 everyone in the newsroom asked my advice as they set up their own accounts.

Both Twitter and Facebook have proved useful tools for news gathering as well as distribution.

Facebook community pages and groups help reporters keep up with people’s concerns from cashpoint card cloning to inconsiderate parking and potential child abductions.

Twitter is a great way to keep track of politicians, community groups, local government and events.

Even though the internet isn’t a new thing and social media is an established tool.

Reporters of all ages and experience embrace or resist.

When I asked journalists how they would encourage resisters, there was an assumption the nay sayers were old.

I have taught online journalism skills to NCTJ students in 2009 and in every group I’ve had at least one person say, “I’m not interested in this”, “I don’t want to do online journalism”.

One student who didn’t turn up to my first class in 2009, but ended up working with later summed up the situation very well when I spoke with him at an event in 2013.

“You were the first person I knew talking about Twitter and

“You are right, we need to know this stuff, it’s essential for journalists.”

Below is a link to a Storify explaining why journalists should use social media.


links for 2011-09-01

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links for 2011-05-17

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links for 2011-05-16

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List making is hard to resist

Filed under: Social media,Twitter — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 12:24 pm
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Curiosity led me to the Sunday Times Social List after spotting a few #stsl tweets and reading this blog by Adam Tinworth. I don’t consider myself influential, I share the occasional opinion and find other people far more interesting, but put myself on the list anyway for a laugh.

This will be my highest rank ever:

Sunday Times Social List ranking

Bet I won't be a 'tycoon' for long

In some ways this is a bit like Word Nerd, the Times game to show how clever you are. It was fun for about half an hour and a great piece of promotion.

At we created a top 100 most influential journalists in the UK, in early May. We seeded the list with 50 people and then threw it out to the crowd. There are journalists missing from this list, but the people on it were nominated by their peers, and then ranked according to PeerIndex‘s algorithms.

Personally I don’t think there is a definitive list. There are people who are useful and interesting to you, and they are the most important.

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