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You Heard It Here On Twitter First...

16th March 2014

Social media has changed my job a lot.

When something major happens, I'm supposed to get a text message from Sky which goes out to journalists who use their service. I still do, but normally it's about 5 minutes after I've seen it on twitter. When another radio station or a newspaper has more staff than us (most of the time) and can send reporters to events, courts, etc. I see their tweets and then get it confirmed from official sources.

When an email from the Police comes down, you'll see all the local media tweeting it within minutes. In newsrooms there's a rush to get every story out across our social media and most importantly to be first to do so.

But recently I've been wondering if that is really the best policy for our radio station? We are FM - we are on-air, immediate, and exclusive: you have to tune in to hear what we have to say. You can't copy and paste our news. We have a website but it's secondary to what we do.

Hypothesis:

The only people who really care about you getting a story out onto the internet first, are other journalists.

The Experiment:

Does getting our news online and shared on social media help us reach our audience better? Or does it simply alert the competition to a good story?

Disclaimer:

Obviously, with BIG breaking news, the aim is to get information out there asap. It's where radio shines as a medium above all others. You will never see a Facebook update saying "A bomb has gone off at a King's Lynn school, tune in at 3 to find out which one!"

A talking point, a nice little exclusive, an interesting STORY, is ideal for this experiment.

Method:

There are gas main replacement works going on in the middle of King's Lynn at the moment. Diversions are in place, it's causing some problems, local businesses are not too happy. On Friday lunchtime, they dug down to soil that hadn't been touched since the middle ages, and right through the skeleton of a child. It's near a church so it is not shocking, but it is an interesting little nugget of news.

We got pictures, audio, and information by 2pm. But we DIDN'T tweet about it. Instead, we used social media to start teasing that we had an exclusive, encouraging people to listen in near the hour for something interesting, etc.

At 5pm we tweeted the first picture and started pushing the link to our website.

Results:

At 5.05pm, one of our presenters found a missed call on his mobile from a local newspaper. At 6pm another local paper got a story online about it. Mostly with information from the Revd of the local church, information that I had given to him when I spoke with him hours earlier.

I have worked at other radio stations where I've read out some news written 2 days earlier, and it's appeared on a local newspaper website within 10 minutes. But in this case, I don't think they were tuned in.

Conclusion:

(This isn't actually scientific in any way by the way.)

It has made me think. By constantly pushing everything we have in all directions, are we in fact, losing our edge? By making speed our main objective does social media actually harm our product?

I'm not really sure if I can conclude anything with just one little experiment, but I am going to make sure we think about HOW and WHY we use social media a lot more from now on.

Posted by Emily at 11:37pm

0 comments.

Why I have banned the word Troll from my newsroom

26th January 2014

Names are funny things.

It has long been recognised that there is power in a name. Some religions believe that simply by naming a creature, the first man claimed dominion over them.

A name gives identity and being to something unsubstantiated. It makes it real.

This “naming” is also where most of the mass media’s power lies.  A random collection of view points, facts, or allegations are formed into a story, but give that story a Name and it grows.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Dawn French, playing the fat lady in a portrait calls a group of school children “plebs” for not appreciating her singing voice. Recently, it was claimed that a man called some other men plebs in the street.

Who cares? Well we all do because it’s Plebgate!!

Plebgate has an identity, and lets us all know that this story is about the issues involving Cabinet Ministers (allegedly) being a bit too posh, the police being poor victims (depending on our mood that week) and various other ideas and asides. All summed up neatly in one word.

Remember Happy Slapping? That was a couple of kids being nasty to people in the street until it was given a name by the newspapers. Then it was a nationwide phenomenon, crisis etc.

Which brings me to my current conundrum: Trolls. Not the 7 foot Danish variety. Not the Moomins. The type that exists online.

The word Troll was coined several years ago on sites like 4chan, 9gag etc, to describe a trickster. Someone who says something to get a reaction, create annoyance, or fool someone into doing something.

Here is an example:

The expression “Don’t feed the trolls” became common on forums to try and warn people off speaking to known troublemakers.

Of course at the internet grew, and people started putting more and more personal information online, making more and more vulnerable targets, trolling changed, and sometimes got quite nasty.

I would be willing to bet that if you publicised a book of condolence and left it unguarded overnight on a stage in central Birmingham with a pen, you would come back to find people had written some pretty nasty things in there.

People are horrible.

But for some reason, everyone thought that doing exactly what I have described above, but with a Facebook page left open on the internet, it would be fine.

People are horrible.

This is where our trolling story ends.

Unfortunately, this is roughly where the mass media arrives.

The word troll was misappropriated solely to mean people who targeted others to say nasty things. Which is fairly harmless if it was just a misappropriated word. But it’s not. It is a Name.

So when twitter arrives on the scene, and some pretty lowlife people find out that you can set up an anonymous account and say anything you like to people who would never normally hear you… Those lowlifes were given a Name.

You are no longer a sad loser with a laptop and no friends, you are no longer a psychopath hell bent on stalking and threatening to kill someone you disagree with… You are now a member of a special online group, one of many, and when you are one of many, your individual behaviour can be held up to less scrutiny, both by yourself, and by everyone else.

By calling someone a troll, you are giving them an excuse. You are giving them a cause. You are giving them power.

Stop it.

Posted by Emily at 3:21pm

0 comments.

A Driver Has Been Hit By a Bike

26th January 2014

They always said that if you are getting yelled at by both sides then you are getting it right. I remember my university lecturer was talking about elections at the time, but as a News Editor it’s true of most things.

Today’s topic for people to have a go at me about was the politics of people dying on the roads.

Here is a typical (fictional) press release that we might get from the police:

Police were called to the junction of the High Street and the B9999 at 12.46pm today (Tuesday) after reports of a collision involving a blue Nissan Micra and a pedestrian.
The pedestrian, a 7 year old boy, was taken to Anytown Hospital where his injuries are thought to be serious.
PC John McPoliceman of the Countyshire Roads Policing Unit said: “This was a tragic incident and we would appeal for anyone who saw the incident and either the pedestrian or a blue Nissan Micra in the run up to the crash to contact us on 101.”

Since I live in Anytown, I know that junction well, and I know my listeners will know it as that horrible busy one where all the crashes happen.
So here is the textbook, journalistic write up. You will have seen this in local newspapers and heard it on local radio stations, and will continue to hear it.

A 7 year old boy has been left with serious injuries after being hit by a car this lunchtime in Anytown.
It happened on the busy junction between the High Street and Nexttown Road.
Police are asking for anyone who saw the incident to call them on 101.

Who is at fault here? Who hit who?

Well first of all we need to talk about the Contempt of Court Act. You are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Any person who influences a jury otherwise is committing a criminal offence and will be taken to court and prosecuted. That includes journalists. That includes ME, personally. If I am found to have implicated the driver in my reporting then I get charged with a criminal offence.

And so we write these awkwardly phrased stories.

A grandmother of 5 has been praised by police after fighting off muggers with her handbag and sitting on one of them till police arrived…
A 28 year old man has been arrested in connection with the incident.

But this is where it gets political.

In the example above, the most correct phrasing would be exactly as the police had it:

A 7 year old boy has been left with serious injuries after he collided with a car…

Now I’m sorry but that sounds stupid. More so, you just do not talk like that in real life. “Did you have a good day darling?” “Not really – At lunchtime I saw a child colliding with a car, I had to give the police a statement.” No. Stop it. It’s laughable and this is not a funny subject.

“X was hit by a Y” is the standard phrase for people getting hit by vehicles. It’s the one I use because it gets the message across. It tells my listeners what happened without them pausing to say “that’s a funny way of saying it” and then missing my next story. I get 2’30” to tell you as much as I can, I’ve put 57 minutes of work into getting it ready, and I’ll be damned if I lose your attention because of sloppy phrasing.

Although it does lean slightly towards saying the driver is at fault, it’s open enough that you can imagine several scenarios where the child would be at fault. Of course it’s never the child’s fault… but the actions of the child would mean the driver was not at fault. Legally, I am safe from prosecution.

My other options are:

“X was hit WITH a Y” Whether it’s a car or a bat, it implies that it happened deliberately. I would be completely making that up.

“X was hit by the driver of a Y” Well this just says that the driver got out and punched the kid before driving off. Wrong again.

What about if it’s two cars?

Well that’s different.

“A Nissan Micra was hit by a Ford Focus…” When it comes to cars, vans, and lorries, a lot can be inferred from who went into who. So we need to be more careful. But here my job is easy. “This great big lorry full of cheese collided with another one carrying crackers…” is something you can imagine yourself saying (in very bizarre circumstances) and so the news story changes.

A woman has been left with serious injuries after her Nissan collided with a Ford this lunchtime in Anytown.
It happened on the busy junction of the High Street and Nexttown Road.
Police are asking for anyone who saw the incident to call them on 101.

This tells you the story in a simple straight forward way. There is no thinking for you to do about what I just said. It’s also true. He injures would have come (for example) from her brain colliding with the inside of her skull, as her head collided with something on the inside of her car. Or from her neck being jerked so violently that the spinal column was damaged. She was INSIDE her car. The Ford didn’t touch her.

Where it gets difficult is when cyclists become involved. 

EDIT: An important note about road traffic law and the court system.

If the driver is at fault, the pedestrian / cyclist goes to hospital, the driver goes to court.
If the pedestrian / cyclist is at fault, the pedestrian / cyclist goes to hospital. That’s it.
So when avoiding contempt of court, the expectation is ALWAYS that the driver is to blame. I’m not going to bias a jury deciding whether a 7 year old with head injuries is guilty of road traffic law. The injured party is ALWAYS the victim in the mind of the person writing it because they are the poor sod getting their bones reset.

I wonder if this adds unconscious bias in the minds of some journalists? That it’s legally SAFER to imply the victim is to blame, because they obviously CAN’T be to blame, because they are the victim?

So here are my options.

Cyclists are people, balanced on small bits of fast moving metal. Yeah.

First, lets assume we know it’s a male person on a bike.

“A man has been left with serious injuries after his bike collided with a Ford Focus this lunchtime in Anytown.” That sounds a bit unbalanced, like he rode his bike into the car. Implies he’s to blame.

“A man has been left with serious injuries after a Ford Focus collided with his bike this lunchtime in Anytown.” … Luckily he was in the sandwich shop at the time. Unfortunately he was hit by a meteor as he ran out to investigate. It’s better but it doesn’t sound right, because his injuries come from HIM colliding with the car, not his bike.

We can take this confusion out by using another word: A Cyclist (defined in this and many other cases as a person riding a bike) has been in collision with a Ford Focus. This is especially useful as VERY OFTEN the police get on scene and ignore the person on the floor who’s being held down and rolled about by paramedics. The cyclist isn’t going anywhere, but all the witnesses are.The police leave the cyclist in the care of the ambulance crews who strap them firmly to a spinal board and bugger off in an ambulance asap. We hear about the accident and the press office tell us that it’s bike vs car. Is it a man or a woman? No idea.

It’s a person. People get hit by things

“A cyclist has been left with serious injuries after they hit a Ford Focus this lunchtime in Anytown.” Silly Cyclist rode into a car. Wrong.

“A cyclist has been left with serious injuries after they were hit by a Ford Focus this lunchtime in Anytown.” This sounds fine to me. Yet still, people tell me they are not happy with this. It is exactly the same wording as if a child pedestrian had been hit, but I get complaints saying I am placing blame on the cyclist, not the driver. That by referring to the cyclist as a person, and the car as a thing, I am implicating blame on the person. Personally I consider it the same as the above example. I’m leaving it to people’s imaginations meaning I am safe from prosecution.  But I accept I am not all knowing, and am open to opinions.

“Cyclist hit WITH a Ford” … by Superman, he picked it up and smacked the cyclist in the head with it. Definite racist overtones against Kryptonians there.

“Cyclist hit by a driver in a Ford”… who wound down his window and punched him as he drove past at a nice safe distance. Nope.

But although I will continue to use “X hit by a Y” and I stand by my choice to do that, is there ANY other way of doing it?

To my mind: Only if Cyclists stop being people. We may need to write about them as if they were soft squishy vehicles. This would take us back to using collision, and the ONLY option left available:

A cyclist has been left with serious injuries after a collision involving a Ford Focus this lunchtime in Anytown.
It happened on the busy junction at the High Street and Nexttown Road.
Police are asking for anyone who saw the incident to call them on 101.

Does this work? To me it sounds clunky, vague. But the thing is… language evolves. That’s one of the many reasons I love it. Maybe, just as we got used to saying “The Information Super Highway, or Internet…” we need to stop thinking of people on bikes as people, and see them as vehicles on the road like any other.

Maybe if drivers stopped seeing cyclists as people and started treating them like drivers of person shaped vehicles then we wouldn’t get so many collisions in the first place? Who knows.

Posted by Emily at 3:18pm

News for when there is no news...

4th January 2014

The PLAN!!

Every Christmas there comes a 2 week period when there is NO local news. Of course, there is always the odd death, car crash, burglary and so on… But for a station which leads with a local story every day, you need a back up plan.

And so we turn to the old reliable favourites. Something local, timely, informative, and relevant:  To use when there is nothing better going on.

Tomorrow is the last day of the Christmas 2013 news plan.

So long little fella. You served us well.

Posted by Emily at 6:06pm

0 comments.

Can’t be named for legal reasons.

30th November 2013

The internet is a funny thing. Anyone can post anything, and then EVERYONE ELSE can read it.

This is frustrating, because you can write an incredibly beautiful answer to the universe and it will remain unread for years. But you tweet about running over just ONE cyclist and it lands you in court with your name splashed all over the national newspapers. (This is a joke. Seriously, great big terrifying cycling lobby, please don’t hate me.)

It’s become a nightmare in recent years when it comes to process of law. Here in the UK we do not have the First Amendment, and when it comes to the courts, we most certainly do NOT have free speech. 

Often, we’ll say that people involved in trials "cannot be named for legal reasons" but then people on the internet decide to go and do it anyway. “Name and shame the SICKOS who XYZ” groups pop up with claims that it’s media censorship, or human rights of paedophiles being put before British Justice.

It is not.

Here are some of the reasons and examples why people in court will not be named by the press and you shouldn’t name them either:

1. They are under 18.

A child will be given anonymity in most legal cases. Sometimes the judge will over turn that at the end of a trial if he thinks it is in the public interest.

Newspapers sometimes press the judge to do this and win.

2. They are victims of a sexual offence.

This is a STRICTLY enforced law. You cannot put any information about a victim of a sexual offence no matter their age. Sometimes one of the people on trial is a victim too.

Even if you support the accused’s football team, it’s still not allowed and you will be arrested and have it on your criminal record.

3. Identifying the accused would identify the victim, or other children.

If a married man and woman sexually abuse their children then they will not be identified. This is because their name is the same as their victims.

If you hand your baby over to a man for abuse, simply because you like his band, you’re a pretty bad person. But if you name the woman who did this then you are further harming the child involved, whether you are famous or not.

4. They are being tried for other offences.

Sometimes people are tried for several things, and not all at the same time.

If a gang all accuse each other when it comes to someone they have killed then they must be tried separately. Each trial must stand alone on the evidence of witnesses, so you can’t name any of them until the trials all conclude.

If a person commits different types of crime, e.g. they deal drugs in Cambridgeshire, and attack several people in Manchester, they would be tried for both sets of crimes separately. But here in Cambridgeshire we would only report the drugs trial, and not name him so as not to prejudice a trial going on in Manchester.

Remember all the people who were furious that the people who killed Baby P weren’t being named? It could have prejudiced another trial meaning another victim would have been denied justice.

But hang on I only have 8 followers on twitter, and 19 friends on facebook so surely it doesn’t matter?

You may only be a receptionist at a plumbers in Dudley, but it won’t just BE you will it? Your friends will think it’s ok, and their friends, and their friends.

Concepts like fairness, openness, justice - they are all just concepts. They are not solid or real. They only work if we all play along. They are a team game.

It may be tempting to fight the system if you feel you’re in the right, and I’m not saying the system is perfect, but for the most part it works.

Posted by Emily at 9:51pm

0 comments.

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2014 (4)

2013 (4)

Recent Posts

You Heard It Here On Twitter First...

Posted by Emily

16th March 2014 11:37pm

Why I have banned the word Troll from my newsroom

Posted by Emily

26th January 2014 3:21pm

A Driver Has Been Hit By a Bike

Posted by Emily

26th January 2014 3:18pm

News for when there is no news...

Posted by Emily

4th January 2014 6:06pm

Can’t be named for legal reasons.

Posted by Emily

30th November 2013 9:51pm


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