New tools for reporting

A course held at The Statesman in Kolkata on 5, 7 and 8 December 2009, from 11am to 1pm

Overview of today

Blogs for research and story ideas

RSS feeds for managing blogs

Google tools for reporting

Skype and CallRecorder for reporting

Reporting with social networking (Web 2.0) tools

– Delicious

– Flickr

– Twitter (TweetDeck) for reporting and research

– Facebook

Visual reporting: Panoramas and Wordle

Working with audience-generated content

Assessing information quality

Bio of the teacher

Stephen Quinn was a full-time journalist for two decades until 1995, and continues to practise as a journalist. He has worked for regional newspapers in Australia; the Bangkok Post; the UK Press Association, BBC-TV, Independent Television News and The Guardian in London; the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Sydney; and Television New Zealand. He was a producer for the Middle East Broadcasting Centre in 2002-03 while running a research centre in Dubai, to re-acquaint himself with new television production technologies.

Dr Quinn became a full-time university academic in 1996. Since then he has written 12 books, scores of book chapters and thousands of journalism articles. The most recent books are Asia’s Media Innovators and Australia-UAE: Expanding trade and cultural links, which appeared last year. In 2007 he co-wrote with Dr Stephen Lamble Online Newsgathering: Research and Reporting for Journalism. He published three books about convergent journalism in 2005 and 2006.

Another two books are due for publication in 2009 and 2010, about mobile phones for reporting and new business models to pay for journalism. In the past decade Dr Quinn has presented 132 academic papers in 25 countries. More than a third have been by invitation.

Dr Quinn contributes to newspapers and magazines, consults for media companies, presents at industry conferences, and conducts research and training courses for media companies. In the past decade he had run more than 100 training courses in eight countries. He is a consultant for the Ifra Newsplex (based in Germany) and Innovation International (based in Spain), a member of the Counsel of the Newsplex, and a member of the international committee of the Online News Association.


The history of journalists’ adoption of technology contains a continuing theme: reporters will embrace new tools if they are easy to use (intuitive) and relevant to the job of storytelling. The reverse also applies.

Some powerful tools have become available to reporters over the past few years. This course focuses on some of the latest. Most relate to social networking, also known as web 2.0. Welcome to this course on social media for reporting.


Blogs and other related technologies offer new research opportunities for journalists. Blog is a word combined from web and log. The word “blogosphere” describes all the content built by blogs, moblogs, podcasts and video blogs (these are discussed later). Just as the word “twittersphere” describes all of the content built around Twitter.

Why do people blog? Don’t they have a life?

Blogs come in a wide variety of flavours. Many people have opinions they want to express. Others seek a sense of community. These factors partly help to explain the popularity of blogging. Some people write blogs as newsletters or bulletins for their organisations. Academics use them for teaching. Increasingly, businesses are using them to market their products. Sport or recreation clubs publicise their events via blogs.

But probably the biggest group of blogs are personal diaries where people vent their frustrations and offer their oinions about life and the universe. As with newsgroups, the quality of information in blogs sits on a long continuum from erudite offerings to lunatic ravings, sometimes more often at the latter end of the continuum. So be careful.

In July 2006 the Pew Internet and American Life Project released a portrait of American bloggers, based on a national telephone survey started in November the previous year. It reported that most bloggers used their blogs as personal journals. But according to Pew almost a third described what they did as journalism.

Just over a third (37 per cent) of the people in the Pew survey wanted to stay in touch with family and friends, and a third wanted to share practical knowledge or skills with others. Making money was last on the list, with 7 per cent citing it as their main reason for blogging.

Why do people blog, given the vast majority do not want to make money? When asked to list the main reasons, 52 per cent said they wanted to express themselves creatively and half said they wanted to document their personal experiences or share them with others.

Other countries do not have the equivalent of Pew so we have no accurate data about Australian bloggers.

Changing media audience demographics

Research from Zogby International in the United States, published March 2008, suggests traditional print and broadcast news are reaching an ageing (and thus ultimately shrinking) demographic. Almost half of respondents (48 per cent) said the Internet was their primary source of news and information, up from 40 per cent who nominated the Internet a year earlier. Younger adults were most likely to name the Internet as their top source: 55 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 said they got most of their news and information online, compared with 35 per cent of the 65 and older demographic.

Interestingly, respondents to the 2008 Zogby survey regarded both traditional and new media as important for the future of journalism: 87 per cent believed professional reporting had a key role in journalism’s future, though citizen journalism (77 per cent) and blogging (59 per cent) were also seen as significant by most Americans.

In June 2009 Zogby International published reports of two major polls on how Americans got their news and what sources they most trusted. Zogby asked which of the four primary information sources was most reliable. More than twice as many people chose the Internet (37 per cent) ahead of television (17 per cent), newspapers (16 per cent) and radio (13 per cent).

Ironically, most of the news Americans consume online comes from traditional media sources. Zogby offered two explanations: “The Internet allows people to seek information from thousands of blogs, aggregators and social networks, and to migrate to those that share their point of view. The information received may originate from the same old media, but it is wrapped in designer packaging that matches personal tastes and ideologies.”

Research with blogs

Blogs can be used as research tools, but the quality of information varies hugely (we will discuss this issue at the end). Think of them as a convenient electronic tool for listening to scuttlebutt. It’s like overhearing conversations on public transport or at social events. Sometimes they will stimulate ideas for stories.

Use blogs to discover what people in the blogosphere are saying about local businesses or sportspeople or politicians. But remember that blogs are more influential than they deserve because Technorati, like Google, ranks sites based on how many people link to that site. This produces high rankings for bloggers who link to other bloggers. If you find lots of links to a blog, this might mean the blogger is respected and the blogosphere thinks they know a lot about the subject. They might prove a useful person to interview.

Technorati ( is the leading tool for searching blogs. According to Technorati, more than 175,000 new blogs start every day. More than 1.6 million blog posts appear a day, or about 18 a second. As of mid 2009 Technorati was tracking 112.8 million blogs and more than 250 million pieces of social media. Five years earlier Technorati tracked a mere 2.4 million blogs. Now the site simply says it tracks “millions” of blogs. It claims to report within eight minutes of a blog being published.

Google also has a good search tool for finding blogs at though it is still in beta, which is geek speak for still being tested.

Also remember that the same search terms typed into a blog search tool such as Technorati will produce different results compared with using those same terms in a search engine such as Fast or Google. So when casting the net wide for information make sure you search both on blogs and search tools.

A good video about blogs

This video by Lee LeFever called “Blogs in plain English” provides good background information about the concept:


Choose a subject you plan to research. It might be a local person or sporting identity or organisation. Or for the exercise you could use your own name. Search for the name in a web-based tool such as Google or Bing or Fast or Yahoo! (putting the full name in quote marks tells the technology you only want mentions of the name that are in a phrase).

Then do the same search in Technorati, the blog search tool. Compare the results. You will note these tools search different parts of the Internet. It helps to research something topical because people tend to blog about current events. For example, you would search Technorati for a local sporting identity or coach close to a major game, or a local politician close to an election.
The word “moblog” is an amalgam of mobile phone and blog. People post content to a blog by sending a multi-media message from their phone. An MMS is like sending an SMS, though with more information. The MMS’s subject line becomes the headline for the posting, and the message text the body of the story. Software nestles the attached photograph into the posting as a thumbnail image, itself linked to a full-size image.

WAN/Ifra is a newspaper research company based in Germany. WAN/Ifra moblogs all its conferences. To see examples of what moblogs look like, go to WAN/Ifra’s home page The top of the page contains much useful information about newspapers, such as e-reading devices.


A podcast is a verbal blog. Words are recorded rather than written. Ben Hammersley of the UK’s Wired magazine coined the term, which the New Oxford American Dictionary listed as its word of the year in 2005. Dozens of US newspapers and magazines embraced podcasting from that year. Some summarise the day’s news; others provide radio-style programs complete with interviews of reporters and newsmakers.

Listeners download podcast files onto their music players or computers, often via Apple’s iTunes. Podcasting represents another example of personal media, where individuals choose what they hear when they want it, rather than relying on radio stations. Again, convenience is the key.

Here are videos about a fascinating new iPhone app called Poddio that turns the iPhone into a mobile reporting tool: and

Podcasts offer useful ways to get background information on events and people. You can listen at convenient times while travelling to work or jogging.

To learn more about podcasts, watch this YouTube video “Podcasting in plain English,” also by Lee LeFever, at

Video blogs

Video blogs, known as vlogs, are the video versions of blogs. People assemble them with common video-editing software, using footage from digital video cameras taken with mobile phones or portable video cameras. Much free footage is available on the web.

The pioneer vlog was Rocketboom ( in New York City. It uses TV news as a model – each bulletin runs for about three minutes – and is set in a studio with a presenter. Many vlogs are created with consumer-level video cameras, a laptop, free editing software such as Apple’s iMovie or Windows MovieMaker, a few lights and a spare room.

One of the best examples of a journalist embracing a range of blogs is the work of New York Times technology reporter David Pogue. As with Rocketboom, Pogue builds his videos using a laptop and a consumer-quality digital camera. You can read his blog, listen to his podcast, or watch his weekly video blog at


Most journalists will be aware of Wikipedia. Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia in San Francisco. He envisioned it as a way to capture the knowledge of the group rather than the individual. Journalists will have to make individual decision on whether to report based on content found in wikis. Reuters recently updated their reporters’ handbook and included this advice about Wikipedia:

“Online information sources which rely on collaborative, voluntary and often anonymous contributions need to be handled with care. Wikipedia, the online “people’s encyclopedia”, can be a good starting point for research. But it should not be used as an attributable source. Do not quote from it or copy from it.

“The information it contains has not been validated and can change from second to second as contributors add or remove material. Move on to official websites or other sources that are worthy of attribution. Do not link to Wikipedia or similar collaborative encyclopedia sites as a source of background information on any topic. More suitable sites can always be found, and indeed are often flagged at the bottom of Wikipedia entries. It is only acceptable to link to an entry on Wikipedia or similar sites when the entry or website itself is the subject of a news story.”

An interesting recent development is an audience-focused search tool funded by the Wiki Foundation:

Want to know more about wikis? Watch this YouTube video called “Wikis in plain English” for more information:

News organisations should consider setting up a series of wikis that become resources on specific topics. You could have a wiki for each local government election, or major sporting event such as the grand final, or for high school graduations. Here is a video about using wikis as collaboration tools. Journalists in different parts of the country could use them for a project

RSS feeds

Blogs can help us do better research and consequently better journalism. But blogs are spreading so quickly it is difficult to keep up. A technology known as RSS is available to help us follow the latest blogs. RSS stands for “really simple syndication”. It means you can have information fed to you instead of searching for it. Technlogy “pulls” content to your computer, as opposed to being “pushed” with email.

A program known as a news reader (sometimes called a feed reader or aggregator) checks a list of sites you choose, and displays all updated articles. As with email, unread entries are shown in bold.

News readers come in two forms: web-based aggregators that gather feeds for reading in a browser, or desktop news aggregators that can be installed on a computer. The latter can be cross platform, or specific to the Macintosh, Windows or Linux.

Aggregators are being built into portal sites such as My Yahoo! and Google and web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox, Safari and Opera. Apple’s iTunes serves as a podcast aggregator or “podcatcher”. Most aggregators are free. I used to use NetNewsWire on my Macintosh, paying $US30 a year until it became free late in 2007.

One of the most popular PC-based packages is Feed Demon. One of the biggest web-based aggregators is Bloglines ( My favourite is Google Reader because it integrates with other Google tools:

Watch this YouTube video to understand the concept of RSS. It’s by Lee LeFever and is called “RSS in plain English”:

Demonstrate Google Reader


Set up a Google Reader account. You will need a Gmail account to log in.

Google tools for reporting

Google’s mail tool (Gmail) is useful for researchers. The chat option keeps a transcript of the conversation, so you have content to use when you write a story. You can use the same log-in for Gmail as for Google Reader. Google tools inter-connect with each other, so you have access to Picasa, the free picture editing software, from the desktop.

I recommend Google Alerts and Trackle. These bring information requests to you.

Demonstrate and

Online video and multi-media

Over the next few years journalism will transform itself from its current print emphasis to a focus on a combination of print and multi-media, delivered online.

As that happens, newspapers will compete with broadcast companies to be first with the news. Before the spread of the web, broadcast companies owned breaking news. Radio could interrupt programs to announce the latest news. Television could go live if executives considered the situation appropriate, but only if they had a camera crew at the location. Meanwhile, newspapers had to wait until they were published. Now we can break news online, ahead of radio and television.

Much research has shown that breaking news drives traffic to newspaper web sites. The most popular form of breaking news, the kind that builds and holds audiences for web sites, is multi-media: news that is some combination of text, video, still images, maps, timelines, chronologies, slideshows and audio.

The simplest and quickest way to get multi-media news on a web site is via the mobile phone. Reporters can also send news back to the office via text messages from mobile phones and via tools such as Twitter (more on Twitter later).

Enter the mojo, a mobile journalist armed with only a mobile phone and a wireless Internet connection. With these simple tools a reporter can get multi-media breaking news onto a newspaper’s web site within minutes of an event being reported, ideally after an editor has looked at it first.

Demonstrate mojo if we have time.

Skype and CallRecorder

Skype ( is free software that lets you make free phone calls to anyone who has skype installed on their computer. It works best with broadband. If you put money into a skype account, you can call mobiles and landlines that do not have skype. The cost is low for international calls, compared with toll calls, especially from hotel rooms. I make almost all my international calls by skype.

Read this column by Amy Gahran headlined “Skype: Why every journalist should use it”.

CallRecorder ( costs $US 16. It only works on a Mac running OSX. It links with Skype to record the conversation, using the Mac’s built-in camera. Calls are saved as a QuickTime movie. The local and remote audio tracks of the conversation are recorded on different tracks. So you could select one track to use as the audio for a sound slide. Vemotion appears to be a PC equivalent but I have never used it so cannot comment. It ranges in price from $US 19.95 to $US 39.95.

Demonstrate Skype and CallRecorder.

Reporting with social networking (Web 2.0) tools

Web 1.0 was one-way delivery of information to the audience. Web 2.0 involves interaction and connection between audiences, and is also known as social networking. “Web 2.0 journalism” is the term that describes the relationship between the Internet, social media, social networking and journalism. Examples of Web 2.0 tools for journalists include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Delicious.

To learn more about social networking watch this Lee LeFever video on social networking

Facebook is an excellent way to find people to interview and story ideas. It has thousands of groups, many of which are useful for journalists. Join a group that relates to your area of interest. Some journalists have found Facebook a quick way to locate a photograph of someone in the news, especially if people being sought are aged under 40.

Facebook officially moved past MySpace in the US in terms of users during the week of May 30, Hitwise estimated. Facebook reportedly has more than 300 million active users. The number of Australians using Facebook rose to more than 6 million active users a month in October 2009. Of those half (51 per cent) login daily, spending an average of 22 minutes per user per day on the site. The average number of visits in Australia is 2.2 per person per day. Source: Matt Hehman of Facebook, 20 October 2009.

Twitter and microblogging

One of the big developments since early 2008 has been the concept of micro-blogging via the web or mobile phone. Twitter was the original tool ( Twitter is limited to 140 characters (similar to SMS). A post to Twitter is called a “tweet”.

The Punch ( covers Question Time live every day Parliament sits. Managing editor Paul Colgan says a “sizeable crowd of readers” joins the discussion.

For the next group of tools you need a Twitter account. I use free software called TweetDeck to monitor Twitter. It has a clean interface and is available for Macintosh and Windows:

I think TweetGrid is another good tool for monitoring Twitter. The best option is to look at trends at Jeff Turner has produced a short video about TweetGrid:

Tweetscan ( is like a search tool for tweets. Insert words that you are researching to see who is twittering about these things.

Here is a map of the world in which tweets appear from the continent of origin (it seems to have a lag of about 40 minutes):

Another way to see what the blogosphere is saying is via Twitscoop. It uses an automated algorithm to monitor hundreds of tweets every minute and extract words mentioned more often than usual. The result is displayed in a tag cloud at Pierre Stanislas, one of the developers in Paris, said Twitscoop crawls in excess of 20,000 tweets an hour.

This video “Twitter in plain English,” by the talented Lee LeFever, covers the basics about tweeting:

Lee LeFever shows us how to use Twitter for research in this video:

Many news organisations such as the BBC are breaking news on Twitter. In April 2009 a CNN producer ran the London marathon and twittered it:

Two months later a Seattle Times reporter did the same. Here is a background story:

American journalism academics Marcus Messner and Asriel Eford of Virginia Commonwealth University looked at Twitter activity at 180 of the top US newspapers and television stations. They presented their findings at the Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff, UK, on September 11.

Messner said 91 per cent of the news outlets studied had Twitter accounts, but only two thirds of those studied actually used Twitter. Almost all (98.5 per cent) of the hyperlinks pointed to in tweets were to existing website content. In other words, Twitter was being used as a marketing tool.

Think of Twellow as the Yellow Pages for Twitter:  A journalism graduate student in Buffalo New York, Craig Kanalley, launched a fascinating Twitter project in 2009 called Breaking Tweets. It organises thousands of tweets into a news service. Think of it as “hyperlocal gone global”. Find it at

For a laugh, watch this mock documentary about a new form of communication called nano-blogging at

And this animated series has become hugely popular on Current TV:

And here you can pursue “celebrities” via Twitter:


This oddly named site ( allows journalists (after they register) to store all their bookmarks in one location on the web. So if reporters are on the road, they always have access to contacts and information.

More importantly, many people make their bookmarks publicly available on the web, which means it is possible to locate ready-made sources of research on specific topics. Search the site using keywords.

You can find my bookmarks at More relevant for journalists is this huge collection of links on the subject of Internet freedom:

This Lee LeFever video, called “Social bookmarking in plain English,” is about Delicious and social bookmarking:

Demonstrate Delicious

Visual reporting: Panoramas and Wordle

One new way of combining images online has come to be known as a panorama. A panorama is a series of photographs taken over a short period of time and linked via Photoshop software to produce a continuous single image. Audiences can explore the image by scrolling their mouse around the image.

Here is an example from The New York Times. Click and drag your mouse over the image in any direction to see some amazing detail. It can seem like a rollercoaster ride at first:

Many people store their photographs on the web. Many of those photos are copyright free, so they can be used to illustrate your stories. Here is a Lee Lefever video about photosharing services:

Wordle ( describes itself as a “toy” for generating “word clouds” from text. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak the clouds with different fonts, layouts and colour schemes. A wordle is an excellent and simple way to illustrate news stories such as speeches.

Demonstrate Wordle

Audience-generated content

A key skill in the newsroom of the future will be the ability to find ways to report news as it happens by involving members of the audience. Smaller newspapers never have enough reporters to cover everything in their community. But many members of the community can take photographs or shoot video with their mobile phones and send text messages to the news desk. Tools like the mobile phone present an opportunity for an enterprising newspaper to develop connections with their various communities.

Audience-generated content, when managed well, helps newspapers connect with key members of the community – those people with their fingers of the pulse of the community, such as barbers, school administrators, sports club officials, religious leaders and community workers.

Use your newspaper’s web site and blogs to connect with these people. Invite them to contribute to topics you are researching. You will need to word the invitation carefully to ensure you do not give the impression you are seeking rumours or gossip, or just want free content. Many newspapers, for example, invite readers to email story tips. Many major media companies are embracing audience-generated content for a range of reasons.

Take a look at this, I think, amusing segment from the Daily Show about CNN’s iReport:—CNN-iReport

Everything on one site

FriendFeed allows you to put all your links on one site. From there links can be shared. Demonstrate Friendfeed:

Training yourself

If you are unfamiliar with new software you could join, where you can teach yourself. Lynda charges a fee.

Assessing information quality

Beware of blogs used for “astro-turfing”: that’s the Internet term for blogs masquerading as grassroots coverage, usually to sell a product or push a cause. For example, blogs have reported that teenagers love to eat McDonalds hamburgers or will only wash their hair with Loreal shampoo. These blogs were written by company marketing people.

Fisking is a common form of fact-checking on the web. Fisking is reportedly named after Robert Fisk, the Beirut-based correspondent for The Independent. Fiskers are people who check stories line by line to find errors, and then publicise those mistakes. Plenty of people in the blogosphere seem to have lots of spare time to “fisk”.

Anyone can put fake information on the Internet, and it’s sometimes difficult discovering who has. To interpret digital information, journalists need to understand the concept of Internet domains and what they mean, and the structure of online files.

The standards we apply to digital information should be the same we apply to other information. Steve Miller, deputy technology editor at The New York Times, has developed the Miller Internet Data Integrity Scale, or MIDIS. He proposes a hierarchy of information, with credibility generally decreasing as you move down the hierarchy.

Government data (.gov /.govt)

Military (.mil /.mod)

University material (.edu /.ac)

Special interest groups (.org & .net)

Business and others (.com /.co)

Most of what appears in blogs comes from the bottom two Internet domains.

Be careful what you report. In July 2006 Sunday Age columnist Terry Lane fell for the Jesse Macbeth hoax. For more details, read the Wikipedia entry for Terry Lane at and then read about Macbeth at

In July 2009 two UK university graduates, Rory Crew and Knud Noelle, stopped updating the fake Twitter account they created to pretend to be UK foreign secretary David Miliband. Several major news outlets including The Guardian, AFP, The Times and The Telegraph quoted the fake Miliband’s tribute to Michael Jackson: “Never has one soared so high and yet dived so low. RIP Michael”.

In an email to The Guardian Crew and Noelle said they hoped journalists “learned something” about not taking information at face value. “It does highlight the importance of the verification of sources, which is clearly becoming more difficult in the web 2.0 era,” they wrote.

Remember, wrong information placed online has a long life. Early in May 2009 an Irish student admitted he had inserted a fake quote on Wikipedia about French composer Maurice Jarre some months earlier. After Jarre died in March 2009 the quote appeared in newspaper obituaries around the world.

Shane Fitzgerald, 22 at the time, from University College Dublin, said he put the quote on the web as an experiment. The Irish Times said despite corrections and the fact Wikipedia had dropped the quote, it appeared in dozens of blogs and newspapers. See

You need to be careful about what you report, especially if it appears under your by-line. Use the RAP mnemonic to remember how to assess information quality. Ask yourself is the source Reliable? Who publishes the information?

Then ask if it’s Accurate. Mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation should cause you to question the content. What evidence can you find for assertions made in the text?

Finally, is the information Plausible? What is the tone of the writing? Why has it been assembled? You need to use your journalistic skills to assess web 2.0 content.

Online resources
Mark Briggs has written a free book about multi-media, available as a pdf. It’s basic but includes a good section on Web 2.0:

Mindy McAdams, professor of journalism technologies at the University of Florida, has a comprehensive blog about teaching online journalism. She has compiled a series of blog posts into a free book, available as a pdf:

You can learn much about multi-media journalism at this site from the University of California at Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism. Multi-media journalist Jane Stevens wrote many of the tutorials:

The fall 2009 edition of the Nieman Report focuses on social media and journalism:

Mark S. Luckie writes an excellent blog about multimedia that should be on your list of regular reads:

The author’s blog about mobile journalism has a range of information about reporting with only a mobile phone. See:

Jonathan Dube of Cyberjournalist provides an excellent introduction to RSS feeds for journalists. Read it at JD Lasica has written a RSS guide for journalists at

Journalism academic Paul Bradshaw wrote this useful article about much of what we discuss in this course:

Bradshaw maintains an excellent blog, which often contains posts about teaching yourself multimedia. See:

Donna Shaw wrote an article headlined “Wikipedia in the Newsroom” for American Journalism Review of Feb-March 2008.

Here is John Sandvand on Twitter: The editors’ weblog has also written about Twitter:

Daniel Bennett has a useful post on UK journalists’ use of Twitter during the Iranian uprising:

Last updated 27 September 2009

Categories: journalism tools, Not home

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