Genevieve Belmaker

Genevieve Belmaker is a metro reporter for The Epoch Times and covers media issues and news and can be found on Twitter at @Genevieve_Long.


Britain Guardian

The Guardian’s Rusbridger talks about his new book, which is ‘partly about having a crazy life’

When you see Alan Rusbridger in person, there’s almost an expectation that he will be 10 feet tall and able to breathe fire. After everything he and his media outlet, the Guardian, have been through in the past few years, it seems like a reasonable expectation. WikiLeaks. The UK phone hacking scandal. Snowden.

The impression I got after hearing him speak Wednesday night at the New York Public Library is that he’s humble, witty and committed to protecting the future of reporters and the free press. Wherever they might hail from.

As if life as editor of the Guardian wasn’t enough to stay busy, in 2010 he also made an ambitious plan to take up the piano again. He set out to learn, in one year, Chopin’s Ballade No.1. The one-movement piece is considered by the world’s best pianists to be among the toughest ever composed.

Rusbridger spent 20 minutes a day, for one year, to achieve the task. The result was his book, “Play It Again.”

“The book is partly about having a crazy life,” Rusbridger said. His interview with New York Public Library’s Paul Holdengraber was part of an annual “who’s who” series that includes authors, intellectuals, and influential social figures.

Rusbridger said the additional task in an already incredibly busy life actually helped prepare him for each day’s events.

“I made it almost religious that I would find the time,” he said. “In times of great stress it helped a lot. It feels as though that 20 minutes prepares you.”

As an amateur pianist, though, the professional journalist in him eventually ended up taking the driver’s seat. In 2010, he talked with a neurologist to see if his then-56-year-old brain was too old handle the task. He sat down with professional pianists whose skills were far superior to his. That part of his quest brought him to Condoleezza Rice’s doorstep. Rice is an accomplished pianist.

He said of that encounter that he was impressed that she “was quite busy being involved in a lot of wars, but kept up with the piano.”

Rusbridger’s adventures in starting to play the piano again after quitting earlier in life brought him another interesting insight. He glimpsed the massive gap between the worlds of the professional and the amateur.

“I realized on a microscopic level that this is what pianists face,” he said.

Professional passion

Regardless of what one thinks about Rusbridger’s role in WikiLeaks, the UK phone hacking scandal, Chopin and Snowden, his apparent dedication to what he calls the “fourth estate” is admirable. Especially when it comes to the hard, sometimes lonely work, of reporters.

“You could strip away everything from the newsroom, but leave the reporters,” he said.

Before the event, Rusbridger had been given some surprise inspiration by his host. They took a close look at the Pentagon Papers. He called it “moving” to read materials that are such an important part of the history of American journalism.

Then there are the parallels to his own recent work.

Though Rusbridger thinks the leaked Snowden papers are just as important as the Pentagon Papers, he has no illusions about sources who reveal state secrets.

“There are no perfect sources,” he said. “Archbishops don’t leak documents typically.”

He still finds the debate that comes out of such disclosures to be highly valuable, but extensive jail time can put a chill on exercising First Amendment rights.

“That sends a pretty strong signal as to what you think about whistle blowers,” he said.

Despite the U.S. government’s reaction to leaked documents, Rusbridger still finds American soil a more welcoming theater for the free press than the UK. It’s partly for that reason that the Guardian has “found shelter” in working with The New York Times and has put more focus on reporting from the U.S, Rusbridger said.

He believes the Guardian has an inherent U.S. audience that wants to read global news and reports. With all of their foreign bureaus still open and one-third of their readers in the U.S., they are well-positioned to provide that.

“People understand that their lives are unintelligible just in national terms.”

Yet in light of the freedom of the Internet and the debates over how much should be published and who is qualified to publish it, there are more questions than answers.

“We’re just right at the beginning of it,” he said.

Based on Russbridger’s willingness to learn Chopin’s Ballad No. 1, tackling unknown challenges that lay ahead shouldn’t prove too much of a problem. Read more

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War correspondent C.J. Chivers reflects on post-9/11 world

C.J. Chivers is full of stories, and most of them aren’t pretty. The veteran war correspondent and former U.S. Marine, who goes by Chris, saw his career catapult into one successive overseas conflict after another just 12 days after 9/11.

While working as a metro reporter for The New York Times, he was in lower Manhattan post-primary election day wearing one of the few suits he owns and covering possible voting irregularities. When his pager went off, it was with the news that the first tower had been hit.

One day and change of clothes later, he bluffed his way past a police checkpoint as an area resident. He spent the next two weeks reporting from Ground Zero. He slept on the floor next to first responders and called in news reports from what he was saw and overheard.

Chivers spoke about his experience Wednesday night as part of the Brooklyn Brewery war correspondents series. Funding for the series goes toward RISC, the program that Sebastian Junger founded after his friend Tim Hetherington was killed in Libya. RISC plans to use the money to “train and equip freelance conflict journalists to treat life-threatening injuries on the battlefield.”

C.J. Chivers speaking in Brooklyn Wednesday night.

Chivers’ skill of blending deep inside the impact zone — wherever it might be — has carried over into his storied career since 9/11. Soon after Sept. 11, which he says seems “like yesterday,” he went to Afghanistan. After, he continued to work in places like Iraq, Libya, Russia, and most recently, Syria.

But Chivers, who still writes for The New York Times as well as Esquire magazine, wouldn’t wish the life of a war correspondent on anyone.

“This is a hard, miserable job,” Chivers told the crowd, many of whom asked for insights and advice about how to report on war. He also warned about the psychological toll.

“I know a huge cross-section of people who are damaged by this,” said Chivers, who wrote the book “The Gun.” “A lot of people I know are alcoholics, or on drugs, or in therapy—or should be. Being a war correspondent will f*** you up.”

He keeps his sanity and balance by staying connected and engaged with his family and a life that has nothing to do with war. Married with five children who range from ages three to 13, Chivers and his clan have a largely rural existence in Rhode Island. In that life, things like finding the right seed to plant for the upcoming season are his biggest challenges. They also raise chickens, turkeys and a variety of crops.

“I spend a tremendous amount of time focusing on my kids,” he said, adding that the aim is to “have another life alongside this professional life.” He also keeps his personal habits clean and simple.

“I don’t drink, I don’t have a TV, I don’t smoke, I keep to myself,” said Chivers, noting he prefers to stay away from the distractions of big cities, so you “won’t find him hanging out in Brooklyn.”

The support system from his marriage also plays a critical role in maintaining balance.

“I have a great wife who talks me through my manias. You can get consumed by this.”

He also creates huge projects at home that have nothing to do with work so that he’s “not Jonesing so much for combat.” But sometimes his professional and personal worlds collide in an incongruous way.

In 2010, Chivers was driving his 3-year-old son to a soccer game when calls started coming in with bits of information that his friend and colleague, photojournalist Joao Silva, had stepped on a landmine and lost his legs.

The calls about Silva, who Chivers described as “bright-eyed and magical,” became so intense and numerous that he pulled over to focus on the situation at hand. At some point, he forgot that his toddler was in the backseat until the boy started asking questions.

“He said to me, “Hey Dad, what did your friend step on, a spider?’” recalled Chivers, who snapped back into his surroundings when he heard his son’s question. Knowing there was no way to explain what was happening to a small child, he told him that Silva “stepped on something sharp” and quickly drove on to a waiting soccer match.

Chivers has developed an ability to navigate around direct questions from people outside the world of war reporting.

Once, when telling a neighbor he just got back from covering conflict in Georgia, the man misunderstood the locale, and Chivers didn’t correct him.

“I told him I just got back from Georgia, and he said, ‘Oh, Atlanta?’ I just said, ‘Yeah…! Atlanta!” recalled Chivers. “I bullsh*t through it; a lot of war correspondents employ that approach.”

Despite the obvious pitfalls, though, Chivers repeatedly told the audience of about 130 at the event in Brooklyn that he truly enjoys his job.

“I’m excited by what I do,” he said, but warned against being too cavalier about making war reporting a career choice. “Don’t go check it out unless you’re really well-informed and have a good reason.” Read more

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Compassion goes a long way when reporting on tragedies like Boston & Newtown

Journalists are often warned about the perils of getting emotionally involved with stories and subjects, but when reporting on a tragedy there’s always room to act as a human being first and a reporter second.

Reporting on the pain of the small college town of Blacksburg, Va., after the horrific 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, my natural instinct was to grieve with the folks there. At the time, though, I didn’t know how to use my emotions as a compass to help me connect with people I needed to interview.

But six years later, I know that for journalists in such terrible situations our humanity is a strength, not a weakness.

Bill Leukhardt, a reporter with the Hartford Courant, has seen tragedy from both sides. His stepdaughter, Lauren Rousseau, was one of the teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.

Leukhardt, whose wife is also a journalist, said during a recent symposium at Columbia University dealing with breaking news, trauma and the aftermath that they understood why they received so many media inquiries after their stepdaughter’s death. But that didn’t make it any easier to open up for interviews.

The symposium was presented by Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma on Monday in New York City for an audience of mostly working journalists and journalism students.

Leukhardt and many other panelists had an overarching message for reporters speaking to the grieving: show compassion and acknowledge loss.

“Kindness is what really resonates with families,” Leukhardt said, adding that when people who knew victims don’t want to be interviewed, leave them alone. “Be respectful, be kind.”

Leukhardt’s advice was echoed throughout the day.

Pat Llodra, the First Selectwoman of Newtown, said she stressed the need for compassion with reporters during the first formal press conference in Newtown after the shootings.

“The message that I had to everyone gathered there was to remind them that it makes a difference to our community what you say,” recalled Llodra. “[I also told them that] how you represent us will make a difference in how we are seen to the world.”

Llodra and other residents of Newtown didn’t want to become known only as the place where a “horrible thing happened.” With that in mind, she recalled telling the press that “you hold our future a little bit in your hands, so please treat us gently, treat us with care.”

Controlling the message

After Sandy Hook, officials found themselves having to corral the enormous influx of media that descended on Newtown, and set up a staging area for journalists to help keep them contained and deliver a unified, official message.

Lieut. J. Paul Vance, chief spokesman for the Connecticut State Police, conveyed messages and information to the press during Sandy Hook’s aftermath. One of his main objectives, Vance said, was to “quell the rumor mill.”

Vance told the audience he was deeply impressed with the conduct of reporters. “I said to them at one point very early, ‘Please, leave the families alone,’ and they got it. They truly got it.”

After the Boston Marathon bombings, the rumor mill ran out of control, with sometimes bizarre consequences.

Andy Carvin, Senior Strategist for NPR, often uses social media — he has nearly 93,000 Twitter followers — to piece together or debunk stories. But he told the audience at Columbia that it’s not always easy to make sense of the mountains of information and hearsay that grow up during such events.

Carvin described the combination of a breaking-news situation such as Sandy Hook or Boston and social media as like a “game of telephone run amok.”

“Things are speeding up faster and faster,” said Carvin. “But I like to argue that in certain cases, if you’re able to get your followers on social media to get used to it, you can actually exercise the right to slow down.”

Carvin said that as the events in Sandy Hook and Boston unfolded, his Twitter followers would sometimes “frantically” tweet questions about pieces of unsubstantiated information. His response: silence.

“Rather than me blathering on every single thing I knew, I’d say, ‘Let me get back to you,’ ” Carvin said. He’d then check with colleagues and see what the local affiliate was reporting before responding.

Close to home

For Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, last week’s bombings proved very personal.

Interviewing firefighters at Ladder 7, some of who are friends, Cullen found many had children who had known the youngest victim of the blasts, 8 year-old Martin Richard.

“You try to do your job, but really you’re reliving things with the first responders,” said Cullen. But he noted that for him, that means the memory of all the good people did after the bombings will outlive the act of violence to which they responded.

“Forces of goodness embarrass the forces of evil,” said Cullen.

For Leukhardt, whose daughter and stepson came with him to the symposium, being a force of goodness sometimes means reaching out to unlikely individuals.

In the crowd between panel discussions, I took the chance to tell Leukhardt and his daughter how sorry I was for their loss, and tears came to my eyes. Leukhardt’s daughter wrapped me in a bear hug as her father took a memorial photo of Lauren out of his pocket and gave it to me.

The photo of Lauren’s smiling face sat beside me on the table as I wrote this story. At the bottom of the photo is a simple message: “In her memory, please be a persuasive voice for peace on earth.”

On Thursday from noon to 3 p.m. ET, Poynter.org will air Google+ Hangouts with industry leaders who will talk about journalists’ coverage of Boston. You can visit this link Thursday morning to find out more. Read more

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5 ways journalists can use smartphones for reporting

The good news for reporters today is that the advent of smartphones has made it possible for them to do part of their job with nothing more than a phone. The bad news is, the practice of “mobile reporting” is still so much in its infancy that there are limited resources and experts out there for guidance.

In fact, ask even those who have extensive experience with mobile reporting for best practices tips, and they’ll likely tell you that the best approach is individual experimentation.

“If you’re not used to it, you can’t lean all of your body weight on it,” said TC McCarthy in a phone interview. “It’s like playing a video game — you want to know how to achieve your goal with every single app.”

McCarthy worked fulltime as a mobile reporter for Newsday for about two years and is now a Web developer at the CUNY School of Journalism. He says his approach to finding the right tool was just trial and error.

“The way that I always attacked those things [I wanted to do while mobile reporting] is that I figured out what particular problem I needed to solve and then Googled that.”

Based on interviews with McCarthy and others, I’ve compiled five ways journalists can use smartphone apps for reporting.

1. Record and file audio clips

Mobile reporting is largely dominated by broadcast journalists, including those who work in radio and use it for audio.

Neal Augenstein, a reporter at WTOP radio in Washington, D.C., reports exclusively with his iPhone and says he has never paid more than $9 for an app.

“That’s what I like most about iPhone reporting,” said Augenstein in a telephone interview. “These are consumer solutions that are helping me do my job.”

Since Augenstein’s needs for audio were specific, he focused on finding one app he liked the most (VeriCorder Audio Pro) and stuck with it. It records good quality audio, allows him to edit and move segments, including taking a sound byte and inserting it between his voiceovers, and then send the audio from his device to his newsroom.

2. Shoot videos when action strikes

When McCarthy started mobile reporting for Newsday, his first challenge was not just what to use to shoot video, but how to shoot it. His first attempt involved mounting his phone on a vehicle for a standup.

The resulting video was too stiff, so he switched to holding the phone in front of him for a more gritty, in-action style that was perfect for breaking news assignments.

Practicing shooting video with his phone this way also gave him the confidence to keep focus in a dramatic event. After his car almost got hit by a tree in the road during Hurricane Sandy, he stopped to document it. Another tree fell while he was shooting video. He was able to continue reporting, largely because he had practiced enough to know how to keep shooting.

Marc Blank-Settle, who has trained about 500 BBC journalists on smartphone reporting for the BBC College of Journalism, recommends getting a fixing or grip that can attach a smartphone to a tripod. This will help keep your video more stable and watchable. An external microphone, he says, can also make a big difference in quality.

3. Capture photos discretely

Though the quality of photographs from cell phones — even smartphones — is still far behind what can be captured with a DSLR, there are some obvious advantages.

Along with the speed at which mobile photos can be transmitted and the compact, always-at-hand nature of cell phone cameras, discretion is a major advantage. With practice, it’s possible to take a photograph with a smartphone practically unnoticed, which can be the difference between getting an image — or nothing.

I captured this quick photo using a smartphone in a Jerusalem bomb shelter. 

During the November 2012 fighting between Hamas in Gaza and Israel, an editor asked me to photograph scenes in Jerusalem. Just as a the second bombing attack on the city was underway, I was in the middle of a crowded outdoor shopping plaza and ended up in the bomb shelter with about 20 other people. I took two photographs of the group standing in half-darkness waiting for the sirens to stop.

The discreetness of using my phone rather than my Canon allowed me to document the moment that slipped by quickly.

4. Live remote reporting

One of the more useful features of smartphones is their ability to create a direct link from newsroom to reporter as news is happening.

Blank-Settle says that for cross-platform transmission of live audio or video, Skype is increasingly popular.

“We are getting more and more guests on air using Skype,” Blank-Settle said by telephone. Smartphones free a reporter to focus on getting access to a newsworthy scene, because they can capture and send back information from anywhere.

He says that the quality of content transmitted from smartphones is becoming more accepted because it’s preferable to have something rather than nothing.

Depending on the story and the posting format (often social media), McCarthy tended to use his iPhone’s installed video camera. For some stories, though, he used a live streaming app called Ustream.

5. Filing copy on deadline

Though slower and more cumbersome than sitting in front of a computer keyboard, the installed apps on smartphones for word processing can come in handy.

During a recent train outage at New York City’s Penn Station, McCarthy used his phone’s notes app to take notes and Google Docs to write the story. By the time he had gotten three interviews, the train was running again and he wrote the story on the way home. He filed the piece before reaching his stop.

But, he adds, the ability to function so efficiently was a result of practice.

“Had I not had the high number of hours working mobily like that, I’m not sure that would have worked,” he says.

The good news is, the smartphone’s ever-present role as both a personal and professional device offers ample opportunity to practice.

“Lean on your technology as much as possible, because you always have your phone in your pocket.” Read more

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5 ways journalists can mitigate stress on the job

Journalism, by definition, is a stressful profession. Ask any reporter who has worked on deadline, reported on conflict or crime, or lived and worked in a war zone or disaster area.

The demanding nature of the job, coupled with issues outside of work, can make it difficult to cope.

“All journalists are constantly negotiating stress in both positive and negative ways,” said Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma in an interview by phone. “There’s the stress of the deadline itself, there’s the stress of the subject matter in the story, and there’s whatever personal stress and professional stress we’re carrying. To a point, stress is helpful. Then there’s a point where stress becomes overwhelming and performance declines.”

Here are five ways to keep yourself afloat when life and work start to get to you.

Develop a support system

In the wake of major natural disasters, journalists are often caught in the middle. It’s our job to tell stories about what’s happening, and that requires us to sometimes continue functioning even when the world is falling down around us.

During Hurricane Sandy, the New York Daily News staff was heavily impacted. The newspaper’s office was damaged so badly that they are now in temporary quarters. Owner Mort Zuckerman said in November that staffers might not return to their offices for a year. Additionally, some staffers’ homes were basically destroyed.

David Handschuh, a veteran staff photographer with the Daily News since 1986, says colleagues pulled through by reaching out to each other. “The greatest single challenge to journalists seeking help is that they are not superheroes,” Handschuh said in a telephone interview. He added that giving moral support is “about the most important thing that journalists can do for journalists.”

The Dart Center’s Shapiro says “peer support is crucial” — both in terms of giving and receiving it: “Resilience is highly associated with connectedness and peer support. Isolation is highly associated with risk.”

Pay attention to signs of stress

When reporting on the Gaza-Israel conflict in November, it became obvious about five days into reporting on the fighting and bombings on Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and elsewhere that I was getting incredibly jumpy. The worst part was that it seemed completely beyond my control. I realized something was off when I was so worried about more rockets hitting my home base of Jerusalem that I jumped at every loud bang.

Though I was functioning at the surface level, meeting deadlines and caring for my child and spouse, I was not paying close enough attention to my own psyche.

When my mother-in-law offered to babysit for an hour in between her errands, I took the chance to walk away from the story and go to a relatively deserted restaurant in the middle of the afternoon. I just sat alone for half an hour and did nothing but drink a cappuccino and stare at the wall. Though brief, it gave me some much-needed breathing room, and more importantly, perspective.

Balance colliding worlds

When personal difficulties arise but have to take a backseat to a deadline, the background noise can reach a deafening level.

Shapiro says no matter what is causing the stress while working, it is important to pace yourself. That means paying attention to maintaining normal routines and completely unplugging if necessary by doing something you enjoy.

“Have a life beyond the stress of the assignment,” he advises.

This past summer I was working on a lengthy magazine article in the midst of a one-month visit with family members. It was also my first major assignment since giving birth to my son 8 months earlier. The circumstances were not ideal for any of us, and the resulting conflicts became a major distraction.

Because the article had a non-negotiable deadline and was important to me professionally and financially, the inability to resolve my personal troubles created an unmanageable stress level. The amount of work I was facing, compounded with ongoing domestic disruptions, left almost no time for a normal life. Instead, things were compounding by the day with no end in sight.

What I really needed at the time was to simply put some temporary distance between me, my work and my home life.

Document your experiences

Once you acknowledge that stress is an occupational hazard for journalists, it can free you up to take stock of the things you can control.

Last year, two journalists who were friends and colleagues were killed while working in the Middle East. I got several requests from media outlets to write something about them. Even though I initially wanted to be left alone to grieve privately, I wrote the requested articles.

As I did, I understood that sometimes the best antidote to stress is to literally work through whatever is traumatizing, aggravating or worrying you. I didn’t sit down and write journal entries about my friends, but the articles I wrote had the same impact on me emotionally.

When it’s something as significant as the death of a loved one, being a journalist and knowing how to document things can actually be a helpful tool.

Handschuh points out that the professional ability to document is a major advantage for journalists, noting that many psychologists recommend journaling as a self-therapy method. “And guess what we do in our jobs?” Handschuh said. “By nature, journalists like to share what we witness.”

Keep your own well-being top of mind

One of the gravest hazards of stress is that it can lead to a downward spiral health-wise. Shapiro notes that for this reason, it’s particularly important for journalists to take care of themselves physically.

That means that no matter what’s happening in your personal and professional life, you should still strive to eat well, get enough rest, take enough breaks from working and get exercise. He says aerobic exercise is particularly associated with resilience.

“A career is a marathon; a career is not a sprint,” says Shapiro. “As news professionals we are addicted to going deadline to deadline. I think we need to remind ourselves to be a little more strategic day to day (and) not to think, ‘how I am not going to get through the next two weeks?’, but ‘how am I going to get through the next two months or the next two years?’”

What other tips would you add to the list? Read more

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5 ways journalists can use social media for on-the-ground reporting in the Middle East

Social media is a particularly powerful tool in the Middle East, where in some countries it gives people a way to express themselves. That expression takes many forms, from social protest, to political criticism, to sharing news and information.

Most recently, groups such as the Israeli Defense Force have been using social media to seek support and participation as the Gaza Strip conflict escalates.

Sometimes major news happens in people’s backyards and they send out extremely valuable tidbits of information in real-time. For journalists who can’t be everywhere or be there to see it firsthand, the hyper-active social media stratosphere in the Middle East is an invaluable tool. The explosion of regional use of platforms like Twitter and Facebook started with Arab Spring, and has only grown since then.

Peter Townson, a journalist working with the DOHA Center for Press Freedom in Qatar, says there is one obvious reason that some countries in the Middle East have embraced social media so heartily. “It’s kind of the preferred way for people to get news, because they know there’s no self-censorship involved,” Townson said in a phone interview.

In other countries such as Libya, Lebanon and Israel, Twitter has become one of the fastest and most reliable communication tools among locals and with the outside world. In four instances throughout the past year or so, I used Twitter while reporting on news `happening in Benghazi, Beirut, Tripoli, and Gaza/Israel for The Epoch Times.

In all of these stories, Twitter played an important role — sometimes on multiple levels — by providing the initial lead, demonstrating the general level of interest with related traffic, and making it possible to connect directly with some people broadcasting critical pieces of information. By the time my editors in New York were just waking up, I was already hot on the trail of major news stories.

The catch is, I was on edge about the numerous potential ethical pitfalls of using social media as a jumping-off point for reporting a story. It was something akin to walking down the street, overhearing a conversation and then trying to base a news article on it. In the Middle East, word of mouth is king, but even in such an environment, performing ethically should still govern one’s work.

Here are some key points I have learned:

Get as close up to the source as possible

Many times, tweets sent out by people in the Middle East are connected to a political agenda. Other times it is hearsay feeding hearsay. When I use Twitter and Facebook on a story, I get in as close contact as possible with the source of the information I am tracking, and find out as much as possible about them. I want to know what their affiliations and loyalties are.

When reporting on Tripoli, my main source was CNN correspondent Matthew Chance, who was trapped (with a few dozen other journalists) inside the Rixos Hotel but managed to keep tweeting. It was very simple to establish his identity and motivation.

While reporting on the fighting between Israel and Hamas, I (and many others) had access to the Twitter feeds of scores of foreign journalists with major outlets in different locations from Sderot to Gaza City to Tel Aviv. The media affiliations in the bio of their Twitter account, their active status as reporters covering the story, and the steady stream of key information at near real-time speed helped me to paint a more accurate picture from reliable sources.

Because people in this region who broadcast information are sometimes vulnerable, I always make extra reassurances about my identity and affiliations if I get in contact, which ultimately garners more trust and more information from the source.

Fine-tune your ability to size people up

Social media has done a tremendous amount to help people of different backgrounds connect with each other. But technological advances don’t cancel out significant cultural differences. You have to be able to size people up, even when you don’t share a common culture.

While covering a story about how Libyans in Benghazi were organizing to start raising funds to rebuild the U.S. Embassy there, I had one primary contact who was willing to speak with me by phone and connect me with others.

On the phone I took extra time to chat with her and get a sense of her personality (did she seem rational?), her motivations (did she seem angry?) and her state of mind (did she seem hyped up?). It didn’t take long to get the sense of a calm, reasonable person who was genuinely in the midst of the story for personal reasons.

Do extra follow up and verification

Many times, social media buzz related to news happening in the Middle East can be corroborated by early media reports.

My first tip-off to a car bombing in Beirut was an early media report that prompted a search on Twitter. I came across a certain set of photographs that were broadcast on blogs and retweeted. The photos showed the same scene as in the first English-language media report, but were clearly taken by an amateur using a cell phone.

The photographer had ongoing and direct access to his Twitter account, so I reached him in less than 10 minutes. Similarly, after air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem and at least one bomb exploded, I checked Twitter almost immediately to find out what others were saying. Those tweets led me to some key information for my report on the bombing.

Respect the ownership of photos

Some of the best material from the Middle East comes from people who are literally part of the news. Maybe they participated in a rally or march, took pictures, then tweeted and posted them to Facebook. With the stories about Benghazi and Beirut in particular, the photos were too good and relevant to ignore.

The tricky part came in asking the photographers for reprint permission. Since they were not journalists, asking for the necessary photo credit and caption didn’t make sense. It had to be done, but it was necessary to tread lightly.

Asking if they took the photo and for information to create a caption could trigger suspicion. In the set of Beirut photographs, my editor and I decided to do something The Epoch Times had never done before — we ran the photographer’s “name/Twitter handle” as the photo credit to indicate the source of the photos.

Find the fire when there’s social media smoke

One of the most uplifting stories after the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi (citizens fundraising for a new embassy) was hyped on social media first. It was a good lead, but not enough for a story, and required an extra degree of caution in putting the story together.

A colleague in Washington, D.C. and I worked together to verify that the lead was legitimate, and then backtracked to the social media sources and tested the information. When we were satisfied that it was legitimate, we reported the piece.

Five days into the fighting between Israel and Hamas, several foreign journalists from UK’s Sky News and other outlets had their building hit with rockets. The first hints of what had happened came out on Twitter under the feed #Gaza. The reporters whose offices were hit confirmed the story with reports of the basic facts of the situation through both media reports and short updates on Twitter.

When I heard the air raid sirens in Jerusalem, I ran for cover and then checked Twitter to corroborate information with others in the area and send out my own account of the news. That’s what a reporter’s job has always been about — getting to the bottom of what’s going on and telling an important story. Social media has just accelerated the process. Read more

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