Joseph Stashko is a journalist who can be found on Twitter here.
A lot is written about the value and prominence that live coverage will occupy in the future of journalism. The Guardian frequently live blog breaking news, and there’s an endless amount of story leads, commentary and analysis to be found on Twitter.
But how would you go about covering something like say, the Oslo bomb blast and shootings in Utoya? News organisations have plentiful resources, staff and contacts, but that doesn’t mean that the individual can’t drive his or her own coverage.
The first I knew of the blast was from journalist Dave Wyllie, when he tweeted this. Dave often covers live events and breaking stories on Twitter, and is a good source to both follow a story as it develops and also learn from. At the time I was sitting in a coffee shop, about 20 minutes walk from my house. I wasn’t in any position to help tell the story so I directed people to Dave as a good person to follow.
Ambling home around half an hour later, I started putting together a Storify of relevant information on the explosion in Oslo. At the time of writing, that Storify has had 8,400 views. I was picked up as a source by the Daily Beast, by Mashable and Muckrack.
Part of this was identifiing how I could add value to what was already out there. Many were already covering the situation well on Twitter (the aforementioned Dave Wyllie) so there was little point in rehashing or repeating what they’d already said.
Instead my attention turned to other channels – to YouTube, Flickr, Twitpic. Eyewitnesses were already starting to upload content to these networks, and by searching using filters to identify the most recently uploaded photos or videos I could start to see new information coming in. I duly tweeted these and then added them into my Storify.
My next step was to start to gain some kind of handle on what the Scandinavian media was saying. Never before have I been as convinced about the power of being multilingual – as I asked around on Twitter 5 or 6 people all volunteered to help me translate video clips and audio files that I’d found around the web. That allowed me to not only post new content, but add commentary and explanations alongside it for an English-speaking audience. Later in the day, and the coverage had switched to that of the shootings in Utoya. Again, how could I add value to an audience that was fast catching up on the story through mainstream media outlets?
The answer came in the form of pairing with several more translators. Lars Doucet – a Norwegian living in Texas, began helping me with several press conferences by both the police and the prime minister. I either retweeted his tweets or bundled the information he’d given me into my own explanation of what was going on.
By this time the story had slowed ever so slightly, so I began putting together a private Twitter list that I called my “Norway Wire”. It contained 10 to 15 people who’d been invaluable in covering the goings on in Norway, many of whom were on the ground as events played out in front of them. I started using the list as a personalised news wire, checking for information and retweeting what they were saying to my followers.
Live coverage like this isn’t ‘easy’, per se. It takes some practice, and you have to be very careful about verifying information and checking facts. But then if you didn’t consider those two qualities to be of absolute importance, what are you doing trying to get into journalism? The only difference is that the instantaneous nature of the news can make it tempting to publish to get ahead of the pack, and it’s one that should never be succumbed to.
I was quite overwhelmed with the response that I got, which was more of a personal experiment than any desire to position myself as the go to person for the story. I had huge amounts of feedback from people on the coverage, from both those I already knew and those who had picked up the story and begun to follow me. Many were complimentary. Others less so.
We often talk about citizen journalists being able to beat reporters to the scene of a story by simply being in the right place at the right time. But less is said about citizens collecting and making sense of all the information at a faster pace than mainstream news organisations. In honesty, people like Dave and I shouldn’t have been able to become amongst key sources for the story. He was in Scotland, I was sitting in my living room, and we both had access to a computer.
The biggest learning point for me is that again, concepts and techniques that my generation may take for granted are still being viewed with caution by many established hacks, and I think that bodes well for the future.
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