Articles about "Verification"

Anthony Weiner’s website apparently shows Pittsburgh skyline

The Washington Post | NBC New York | Capital

New York Times political reporter Michael Barbaro made a compelling observation about New York mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner’s website on Thursday: It seems the banner image isn’t of New York, but Pittsburgh.

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Boston Marathon Explosions

How the AP verified photo of Boston bombing suspect leaving scene

Associated Press
David Green’s cell-phone photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appearing to move away from the scene of last Monday’s bombing almost seemed too good to be true, Associated Press Director of Photography Santiago Lyon said in a phone call Friday evening.

“When the picture began to circulate, we were suspicious of it because when we looked at it closely it seemed to have been a composite picture,” Lyon said. “But what happens often with digital imagery is when you’re looking closely at low-resolution files you see things that are misleading, because of the way the pic is compressed or the size of the file.”

A cropped version of Green’s photo (AP Photo/David Green)

So the AP asked Green, a Florida businessman who’d completed the marathon and was watching other runners finish when the bombs went off, for a high-resolution version of his pic. The time stamp and the resolution convinced the photo department it was real. After the AP did a little reporting on Green — making sure he’d run the race, that he was who he said — they struck a licensing deal. Read more

Bird words

‘Let Me Tweet That For You’ site raises concerns for journalists

This tweet looks pretty real, doesn’t it?

It’s not, though. I faked that tweet using a Web service named “Let Me Tweet That For You.” It’s pretty simple — you type in a Twitter username and a message, and it generates a realistic-looking image of a tweet from that person. It even adds fake retweet and favorite counts to lend some more credibility.

The site is a project of OKFocus, a New York-based marketing agency. It’s actually about a year old, but has been somehow rediscovered this week and is really taking off on Twitter. Read more


How old ‘Swedish mannequins’ picture spread with bogus information

Quartz | The Washington Post
If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this image by now, along with cheers about the message H&M is sending by using mannequins that look like real women.

But the picture isn’t new, Jeff Yang writes in Quartz, and nor was it taken at H&M. Yahoo, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post were among the outlets that posted stories about the image. After learning the models weren’t from H&M, Delia Lloyd of the Post said the image was a hoax. That wasn’t quite right, either.

“Yesterday, I received an urgent Twitter message from Rebecka Silvekroon, a 29-year-old project manager for LBi, a digital communications agency based in Malmö in southern Sweden, asking for assistance in reaching Yahoo, one of the primary vectors of the image’s viral distribution,” Yang writes. Silvekroon shot the photo in 2010 for her blog.

“I don’t know who originally found and took the photo from, but my guess is that they didn’t know Swedish and saw that I had written ‘H&M’ in the text, which caused the misattribution,” she says. “I found out about the reblogging via e-mail on Friday” — ironically, because Danish and Swedish newspapers had begun to write about the image, also without citing her blog, until someone Googled the text and found the original post on

Lloyd’s story now includes a mind-bending correction:

Correction: Earlier versions of this blogpost erroneously described the mannequins in question as an Internet hoax. They were not used in H&M stores, as the original online postings claimed. But they have been used at the Swedish department store “Åhlens.”

Yang salutes the photo for sparking discussion of body image in retailing. “It would be nice if it got reporters to start thinking about the rules of engagement around reuse of ‘viral’ images as well,” he writes. Read more


Fake news: Pig rescuing goat is really a dog

Dave Itzkoff of the NYTimes asked me last week to look at a 30-second video of a cute little pig rescuing a cute little bleating goat that was somehow trapped in a pond.

My first reaction was: fake. Yet several news organizations, including “NBC Nightly News” and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” had shared the video as a demonstration of a heartwarming moment that had gone viral.

Here’s how I concluded it was fake (and they could have too):

  • When you see a video like that, your first instinct is to ask questions, like, “What was trapping that goat in the water and how exactly did the pig help free the goat?” “Where did this happen?” You immediately want more context. So I went to the original YouTube posting, where I expected to find a short paragraph answering these questions. But there was nothing there except these sentences: “Pig saves goat who’s foot was stuck underwater at petting zoo. Simply amazing.” Hmm, that’s suspicious. If you’re really cynical, the grammatical misuse of “who’s” for “whose” is suspicious too.
  • I wanted to know a bit more about jebdogrpm, the user who posted this video. So I clicked on his profile. But all I found is this one video. Jebdog joined YouTube Sept. 18 and posted this video on Sept. 19. So clearly this profile was created for the sole purpose of posting this video. Strike two.
  • So now, with two strikes against it being real, the only way I could justify suggesting this might be real was if I had some sort of contradictory evidence. So I messaged jebdogrpm to try and get more information. He didn’t respond. Itzkoff told me that at first, the only queries jebdog (Nathan Fielder, star of a new show at Comedy Central) got were from journalists asking for permission to use the video. Eventually Fielder stopped answering queries. If anyone did ask him for more context, he never responded. When the guy who uploaded the video won’t talk to you, there’s another huge red flag that this is not meeting standards of verification.

Comedy Central has provided a video explaining the hoax:

Here’s what I don’t get: If you’re a journalist and you’re interested in a piece of viral video, shouldn’t your instinct be to learn more about it? At the very least if you share it provisionally, without verifying it, wouldn’t you also share what you were doing to verify it, rather than just saying “we don’t know if this is true”?

This work is part of the new role for professional journalists in a transformed information environment. Before the Internet, journalists created and distributed much of the information that entered the marketplace of ideas. But now, lots of people do that, including guys from Comedy Central who stage fake goat rescues.

Journalists move up the information chain. Instead of just creating new information, now they are sorting through the information that’s already out there, adding context, verifying facts, saying what it all means.

Newsrooms that just pass along information because it’s cute, or viral, or intriguing — without saying what it all means — debase themselves and their role in democracy.

Related:If all a media outlet is doing is sharing the latest video from Reddit or a tweet from a celebrity, how is that adding anything meaningful to what viewers can get elsewhere?” || Best practices for online verification | How to verify content from social media in real time Read more


New research details how journalists verify information

Stop a journalist on the street and ask her to list the fundamentals of the job and you’re almost certain to hear mention of accuracy.

In “The Elements of Journalism,” Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel wrote that journalism’s “essence is a discipline of verification.”

But how do journalists actually go about verifying information in their everyday work? What does it look like in practice, and how does it vary from one reporter to the next?

Fundamental questions, and yet there’s little academic research to answer them.

“While there is a long tradition of measuring news reports’ accuracy post hoc … substantially less work has examined the processes by which journalists seek to attain accuracy,” write Canadian journalism researchers Ivor Shapiro, Colette Brin, Isabelle Bédard-Brûlé and Kasia Mychajlowycz in their newly published paper, “Verification As A Strategic Ritual: How journalists retrospectively describe processes for ensuring accuracy.”

It’s perhaps the first paper to offer a look at how working journalists view and practice verification.

The researchers found that verification is widely seen as essential and core to a journalist’s work. But at the same time, the methods for achieving accuracy vary from one journalist to the next. There is no single standard for verification, and not every fact is treated the same.

“A small, easily checkable fact needs to be checked; a larger but greyer assertion, not so much — unless it is defamatory,” they write. “Thus, verification for a journalist is a rather different animal from verification in scientific method, which would hold every piece of data subject to a consistent standard of observation and replication.”

The method

To gather data, the researchers interviewed 28 Canadian journalists (men and women; French and English), half of whom had recently won an award for a piece of work; the other half were selected after the authors chose “14 stories semi-randomly from a constructed population of texts commensurate in length with the set of award-winning stories.”

They met with the journalists and spoke about the verification practices used to produce the stories.

Like good researchers, they noted one weakness to this approach.

“We were relying entirely on the subject journalists’ own accounts of their work, with no available means to verify (!) the truth of those accounts,” they write. “Apart from the possibility of the subjects varnishing their verification efforts, we also were limited by the capacity of their memories.”

Variations in verification

One theme in the paper is that different journalists practice verification in different ways — though they all agree it’s hugely important.

‘‘There’s no point in being a journalist if you’re not going to relay accurate, correct factual information to the public,” one interviewee said.

Shapiro told me by email that, “while journalists see the norm of verification as quite pivotal to their professional identity, the recognition of this norm is not quite matched by the kind of methodological discipline that Kovach and Rosenstiel speak of.”

Rosenstiel, a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board, contributor to, and the executive director of the American Press Institute, disagrees with Shapiro’s assessment of how the findings relate to the treatment of verification in “The Elements of Journalism.”

“Far from challenging what we found in Elements, the study reinforces it,” he told me. “We conclude, as they do from their 28 interviews, that journalists aspire to accuracy and being truth tellers but lack standard routines or sufficient intellectual training for seriously doing it. We note that these routines are highly individualized and idiosyncratic. We also outlined some of those individual routines as a way to suggest how to make this discipline more conscious and more serious. That, indeed, is the point. Elements is a call for journalists to live up to their aspirations with more rigor, not a celebration of current practice.”

So why are journalists unable to systematize their aspirations of accuracy? In that regard, the paper shared an important fact: there’s little specific guidance for verification offered in journalism textbooks. They write:

Many journalism textbooks are devoid of references to verification or fact-checking (e.g. Frost 2002; Gaines 1998; Harcup 2004; Harris and Spark 1997; Spark 1999) or confine themselves to only the briefest references to the importance of double-checking basic facts such as names, ages and locations, and the necessity for more than one source where a charge of misconduct is made (Lanson and Stephens 2008).

I asked Shapiro, who is chair of the School of Journalism at Toronto’s Ryerson University, why something so important has not been standardized and incorporated into core teaching material.

“Columbia [University’s journalism school] has a course called ‘evidence and inference’; Ryerson has a course called ‘Exactly so’, and I am sure many schools try to teach verification strategies and critical thinking…. but textbooks are another matter,” he said. “There are probably some great ones out there that do a good job of tackling this question, but I haven’t seen them yet.”

This partly explains the varying ways journalists practice verification: They come into the profession having been taught in different ways, or perhaps not much at all.

And yet, we place accuracy on a pedestal.

“We actually found the interviews journalists’ passion for accuracy often inspiring,” Shapiro told me. Journalists “have to juggle competing priorities in delivering products that their employers can sell. Not one of our 28 interviewees gave us any reason to think that s/he does not take the responsibility for accuracy very seriously.”

“They are professionals, but they are artists, not scientists – and, mostly, artists on a deadline,” Shapiro added.

One positive trend I’ve seen in recent years, which wasn’t part of this specific research, is that the increasing use of user-generated content by newsrooms has resulted in organizations creating a defined verification process. (Read more about the processes in place at Storyful, the BBCAP and CNN’s iReport.)

This is encouraging, particularly as new technologies and media continue to transform newsgathering and fact finding at a rapid pace.

How journalists verify

“There’s no hard and fast rule about any of this stuff,” one interviewee told the authors. “You have to exercise your judgment all the time.”

‘‘[T]o me, verification is much more rooted in the actual reporting process, step by step and looping back in upon itself,” said another.

Among the interviewees there were those who applied a disciplined approach to verification.

“Some arrived for the interview armed with indexed binders full of source materials; some had clearly refreshed their memories of the reporting by reviewing their notes, and related articles, before their meetings with us; one checked additional facts and followed-up via email,” the researchers write.

A commitment to verification may be shared across journalists, but this research suggests any shared norms are combined with variations in practice.

“Methods for ensuring accuracy varied greatly, with some factual statements relayed, with or without attribution, based on a single subject’s word, while others were rigorously triangulated,” the authors write. “Strongly idealistic statements about the need for verification were often made during the course of the same interview as were indications of methodological ambiguity.”

In terms of specifics, here are a few findings from the research:

  • On checking names: “An almost universal practice among participants is asking sources to spell their own name to ensure correct spelling, either at the beginning or the end of the interview.” Some journalists also check names against official sources.
  • On offering sources pre-publication review: “Despite some evidence in the literature that partial pre-publication review is not the taboo it used to be (Stoltzfus 2006; Carr 2012), our subjects displayed a strong sense that it was a discouraged practice.”
  • On quotes: “…methods for checking the accuracy of quotes vary greatly. Some reporters routinely record and transcribe interviews, while some record but rarely transcribe and others rarely use recorders at all. Some check quotes against tapes only if there is a specific concern, such as difficulty hearing, or the threat of libel litigation.”
  • On a source’s personal history: “Facts relating to a source’s personal history are considered not to require verification … or are simply not verified because there is no practical way to do so.”

A ‘Strategic Ritual’

In the end, the researchers likened the journalists’ commitment to verification to a doctor’s oath to “do no harm”:

Put another way, using the language of professional identity rather than professional ethics, verification might be seen as a ‘strategic ritual’, as Tuchman (1972) said of the aforementioned (and perhaps now rather old-fashioned) idea of ‘objectivity’ — something that legitimizes a journalist’s social role as being demonstrably different from other communicators.

Now let’s work on giving them better guidance and practices to make the ritual even more real, and reliable.

As Rosenstiel told me, “the aspiration to vet the news is an essential goal of most journalists, but … the processes for living up to that goal are not well-defined and not rigorous enough. And for journalism to survive, much more needs to be done to give the process of verification more throw weight.” Read more


Montreal students take credit for fake viral video of baby-snatching eagle

YouTube | New Statesman | Fark | Reddit | Storyful | Centre NAD
Since being uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday, this incredible video of an eagle swooping down and snatching a toddler with its talons from a Montreal park has been watched more than 1.2 million times.

But no matter how much your eyes want to believe it, the video is a fake.

Three students in a 3D Animation and Digital Design degree program at Montreal’s Centre NAD say that “Both the eagle and the kid were created in 3D animation and integrated in to the film afterwards.” Read more

In this instagram photo provided by Ana Andjelic, Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park, in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, is surrounded by floodwaters from Sandy's surge, Monday, Oct. 30, 2012, in New York. Sandy, the storm that made landfall Monday, caused multiple fatalities, halted mass transit and cut power to more than 6 million homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Ana Andjelic)

Editor Fergus Bell explains how AP verifies user-generated content from Sandy to Syria

Hurricane Sandy was the kind of event Fergus Bell was promoted to help handle.

Bell was recently named AP’s Social Media & UGC Editor, International thanks to his work sourcing and verifying user-generated content for the organization.

So when Sandy struck, he and AP social media editor Eric Carvin worked to sift through what they called “a deluge of photos and videos depicting dramatic, genuine moments from the storm” in addition to “an extraordinary amount of fabricated content.”

This is where the UGC verification process developed by Bell was especially handy.

In a recent interview, Bell told me AP’s UGC verification process was built on top of the cooperative’s existing verification process and policies. UGC can require special verification practices, but in the end it has to meet AP standards.

“AP has always had its standards and those really haven’t changed, and it was working with those standards that we were able to specifically set up workflows and best practices for dealing with social media,” Bell says. “So AP has always strived to find the original source so that we can do the reporting around it. And that’s always the way that we go about verifying UGC. We can’t verify something unless we speak to the person that created it, in most cases.”

The AP verified this Instagram photo of Jane’s Carousel provided by Ana Andjelic. The photo shows the Brooklyn, N.Y., carousel surrounded by floodwaters from Hurricane Sandy on Monday, Oct. 30, 2012.

Given the reach of AP and the large number of customers and members that rely on it for content, an error made by Bell or his colleagues could spread far and wide. I asked how he deals with that risk.

“We don’t get it wrong,” he says.

The first part of not getting it wrong is to use the AP verification process that has been refined over many years. The second part is to develop a new UGC verification process that builds on existing best practices. The third part is to stick with the system, which means always taking the time to go though the process, and not being influenced by the urgency or novelty of a piece of content.

“Even if something is incredibly compelling and it doesn’t pass one of our steps, then it doesn’t go out,” Bell says. “That’s how we stop from being wrong, which is tough sometimes, especially when it’s something that’s really great.  But we just don’t put it out, because the [verification] system has grown organically and it hasn’t failed us yet, and so we trust it.”

Bell says one major goal of the process is to understand the context of the information.

“As a news organization we needed to get a context, and you can really only do that by verifying and understanding exactly what you’re seeing,” he says. “And so it went from just being able to monitor [social media], to find out ways that we could get a context and really kind of add value to the story, so that people knew what they were looking at.”

To help add context for its members and customers, AP recently added a new disclaimer to some of the content it provides. The new information describes the verification process used to validate any user-generated content contained in the AP’s reporting.

“Up until very recently we kept all of this to ourselves, but we know that people actually really want to see this stuff, and so we’ve started working it into all of our formats,” says Bell.

He provided a sample of the text that might accompany an AP video script:

++USER GENERATED CONTENT: UGC cannot be absolutely verified. This video has been authenticated based on the following validation checks:

++Video and audio translated and content checked by regional experts against known locations and events
++Video is consistent with independent AP reporting
++Video cleared for use by all AP clients by content creator

The above text is part of what Bell says is the evolution of the AP UGC verification process.

AP’s UGC process

So what does the process look like?

This image of AP’s UGC verification process was tweeted by The Wall Street Journal’s Liz Heron during a session on social media and user-generated content ethics at this year’s Online News Association Conference (click for larger):

One thing Bell emphasized during our conversation: the process is not actually meant to be interpreted as a circle. The two bolded elements – “Confirm & verify original source” and “Verify content & context” – are separate parts of the process.

AP’s UGC verification process has two tracks that must return an acceptable result on their own. If AP can verify the content but can’t locate and validate the source, it won’t sent out the content.

It’s a kind of two-line process where they are each done independently of the other,” Bell says. “… [W]hen I say we confirm a source, that means that we find the original source and we get permission to use it. By content it means that we understand what we’re seeing. So I may have verified the source, but I want to confirm myself that what they are telling me is true.”

One advantage for AP is its global reach. Bell will often makes use of local bureaus to assist with verification projects related to a specific geographic area.

“We can call up the bureau and say, what’s it like outside?” Bell says. “Or what was it like yesterday?”

But being the AP also has its challenges.

Unlike other news outlets, it can’t simply grab the embed code for a video on YouTube and place it in an online story. AP video content is streamed and must be delivered to AP standards and specifications. That includes having a source to credit for any material from elsewhere, and getting the proper permissions to distribute the content.

These can be constraints, but Bell also says they reinforce the requirement to locate and verify the source of a given piece of content. That helps with quality control.

In the AP universe, there’s no allowance for putting out a video or image that’s unconfirmed but could be true.

“We’ve always put out advisories, saying when we’re working on stories,” Bell says, “but when it comes to UGC, we only put stuff out when we can confirm it.”

This meant that in the early days of UGC verification at AP it sometimes took Bell and others longer than other outlets to provide content. But now that they’ve been working with the process and workflow consistently, Bell says they’re able to move faster without cutting corners.

“I think that we’re getting to a place now where we’re not restricted in terms of speed to get a story out, because we’re used to it now,” he said.

It’s good reminder: creating and instituting a process like this may seem time consuming and something that causes you to get beat by competitors. But speed can increase over time as people become adept at the required skills. You can be fast and accurate.

Activists enabling verification

One factor helping Bell and colleagues move quickly are the activists and others providing UGC in countries such as Syria. They’re doing more to enable the verification process for AP and others.

“We’ve definitely seen an evolution from Egypt to Syria,” Bell says. “In Syria the activists may have a Facebook page [for their content] and they will have ways to communicate with them; in Egypt we didn’t see that. It was raw material being pumped out as quickly as possible, and it was really difficult to get in touch with them.”

Tactics being used in Syria, according to Bell, include activists holding “up a sign in front of the camera to prove what day it is” and narrating a video “so that we can completely understand what they were saying, and we’re getting the information that was attached to that video by the creator.”

It’s an interesting example of how people on the ground are adapting to the verification needs of news organizations in order to ensure their content gets disseminated.

The emerging best practices for UGC verification are slowly improving the quality of UGC, and helping spread ethical information sharing practices.

The larger message is a powerful one: Holding ourselves to a high standard can encourage others to do the same. Read more


New York Times creates new story form for ‘Watching Syria’s War’

Watching the video is almost unbearable.

But grasping the horror of what’s happening in Syria without watching it is almost unthinkable.

A Father’s Farewell,” posted Oct. 12 to a curation site maintained by The New York Times, appears to tell the story of a father clinging to – and praying for – a child killed during shelling in the city of Hammuria.

The post is among about 85 published by the Times on its “Watching Syria’s War” site, which the paper launched four months ago.

Videos shot by non-journalists have become an important source of information about fighting waged mostly beyond the reach of an international press corps barred from entering the country by Syrian officials.

The problem with the videos, of course, is the difficulty in verifying exactly what they show.

I’ve been researching the verification issue for a seminar in Cairo and consider myself a pretty close reader of The Times. So I was surprised when assistant managing editor Jim Roberts began describing “Watching Syria’s War” to a group of students I accompanied to the Times last month.

I’d never heard of it.

J. David Goodman, New York Times

I followed up a few days later with J. David Goodman, a Times reporter who has produced many of the posts. “Dramatic video can show what war is like to a certain degree,” Goodman told me in a telephone interview, “but we also want to underscore what is uncertain about the videos.”

Talking with the students, Roberts described the blog’s task as “half finding the material and half verifying it.”

A mix of what’s known and what’s not has formed the foundation for a new story form, a framework especially useful for facilitating the collaboration between journalists and non-journalists about important and often complex developments.

Instead of reporting about the video with a narrative account that includes description of what’s shown, along with discussion of such often uncertain details as time, place and identity of those filmed, the Times has created a format (see above) that includes:

  • A video hosted on YouTube or another third-party platform.
  • A 75-80 word summary of what the video appears to show, often including a brief description of the person, if known, who uploaded it.
  • A text box labeled “What We Know” that reports about 50 words worth of exactly that.
  • A text box labeled “What We Don’t Know” that provides another 50 words or so of unanswered questions.
  • A text box labeled “Other Videos” that describes and links to videos that appear related to the video under discussion.
  • Tweets related to the video
  • Links to related Times articles

The paper does not host the videos on its own servers, reflecting what Roberts described as the paper’s policy of posting only “those that we create or otherwise have the rights to, either through a news agency or a specific contract with the video-producer.”

Most of the videos embedded on the site have remained accessible on YouTube, Bambuser or other sites, but occasionally users can encounter a dead link when an account has been closed or the video has been removed.

The Times is clearly still tweaking the form. Earlier posts included invitations to follow up with the reporter via Twitter and email, but more recent posts do not. Earlier posts carried no byline; the most recent ones do.

The interactivity of the feature is limited by its lack of a comments app. Said Roberts: “I think it would be good to have comments; I’m always in favor of giving readers the opportunity to comment on our journalism. But many of our interactive templates were not built to accept comments. I’m sure they could be, with the devotion of additional resources.”

The site supplements longer-form verification work that Robert Mackey has been doing with the Times’ breaking news blog, The Lede, since 2008.

From earlier this month: a detailed assessment and deconstruction of video of an American journalist held in Syria.

Both initiatives exclude especially gruesome videos unless they have a journalistic purpose, and use graphic and text warnings when such footage is judged appropriate.

Robert Mackey, New York Times

In an email exchange, Mackey told me: “The issue with gruesome images is considered on a case by case basis, but we have both linked to and embedded clips that are very graphic and deeply disturbing. One of the advantages of presenting video like this in posts on a blog, as opposed to in the fixed format of an interactive graphic like ‘Watching Syria’s War,’ is that we can feature several clips, some less graphic than others, with clear warnings in text intros, to let readers decide for themselves how much of the horror they want to confront.”

He said his previous experience as a TV news producer provided a glimpse of “how much brutal but powerful video is routinely left out of broadcast TV reports.” He characterized the Times’ approach of “curated presentation of raw footage of violent news events” as “extremely valuable as a way of documenting these catastrophic events for our readers, and for history.”

Videos highlighted on “Watching Syria’s War” range from a soldier recording his thoughts just before heading into battle, pleas for help from a city under siege, and even a battlefield satire mocking the Syrian regime. The blog’s discussion of the satiric video includes credit – and a link – to reporting on the topic by journalist Jess Hill in the Australian news site, The Global Mail.

Sometimes, a video tips a staffer to something that, with further reporting, becomes a story in print as well as online.

Goodman spent time with the graphics desk to learn about reporting for images as opposed to words alone.

He said he tries to present the videos not as “what happened,” but rather as “a version of what happened.”

The paper’s transparency about what remains unknown, he said, “helps the reader have faith in you.”

He likes the tight format: “I’ve found it very liberating not having a lot of space. This design does not allow for long-winded stuff.”

Social media has been critical to the project, with Goodman and others scanning the Twitter feeds of activists, videographers and others alerting them to interesting new video.

“One of our major concerns is not becoming a conduit for propaganda,” he said, noting that videos are often posted to the site for quite different reasons than their creators intended.

In an interview with Lisa Goldman of TechPresident, Goodman offered some context: “Think of how the New York Times covered World War Two. We know more visually about this conflict than we did in real time during World War Two. But as we’ve seen, just seeing something doesn’t necessarily tell you what’s going on.”

The process of verifying the videos often includes:

  • Backtracking of the video, which may have been re-posted several times, to discover its initial online home.
  • Examination of the Twitter traffic about the video, conversation that sometimes yields contacts closer to the scene of what’s portrayed.
  • Inspection of the video for geographic landmarks that might support or challenge the location provided by the source of the video.
  • Checking with Times staffers and stringers in the region.
  • Staying in touch with services like that specialize in tracking and verifying user-generated content, and double-checking with the Twitter feeds and posts of bloggers like @Brown_Moses with specific interest in Syria and the Arab Spring.

Said The Times’s Mackey, who has posted more than 100 Syria-related videos to The Lede Blog: “Events that take place in front of recognizable landmarks are easier to verify through cross-referencing with archival photographs and video posted online before the uprising.”

Goodman had two suggestions for videographers interested in enhancing the credibility of their work before sharing it with a news organization:

  • Pan up and around occasionally to give a fuller sense of the location, which can yield details to be checked in Google Maps and Google Earth.
  • Include audio with the video that specifies such details as date and place.

Asked what lessons he’s taking from the blog to his next assignment (New York City cops), Goodman said he’s now more focused not just on what people say they know but how they know it.

He pointed to a story last month about a recently revived cold case involving the bones of a previously unidentified child. Interviewing police officers for the story, Goodman said, it was clear that a fundamental unknown in the case – how the child died – has prevented police from making a homicide charge.

Among the blog’s most significant contributions is its capacity to advance the story via social media, sometimes by surfacing witnesses closer to the action, more frequently simply by extending the impact of the video and Times reporting about it.

The post highlighting the video of the grieving father, reported by Christine Hauser, was tweeted by the Washington Post’s Liz Sly to her nearly 10,000 followers, by Jess Hill to more than 13,000 followers and by NPR’s Andy Carvin to a Twitter audience that exceeds 77,000.

“Just devastating,” Carvin tweeted. “No parent should ever have to experience this. #syriaRead more


Whose fault is it that ‘Comfortably Smug’ lies about Hurricane Sandy spread?

The Guardian | The Atlantic | The New York Times | GigaOM
Shashank Tripathi was always a jerk on Twitter, Heidi N. Moore writes, but the BS he was pushing out to his @ComfortablySmug followers during Hurricane Sandy was only a problem after others, including journalists, started sharing it.

[I]f Tripathi’s silly tweets made it into the national press, it is the national press that is, at heart, to blame for not protecting journalistic standards as well as they should. It is a matter of a few minutes to call a spokesperson or check a live camera, and that is what journalists get paid to do. Producers or editors should not rush information to air or print until those calls have been made, and answered.

Read more