April 27, 2012

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to collect every good piece of writing and advice about verifying social media content and other types of information that flow across networks.

This form of verification involves some new tools and techniques, and requires a basic understanding of the way networks operate and how people use them. It also requires many of the so-called old school values and techniques that have been around for a while: being skeptical, asking questions, tracking down high quality sources, exercising restraint, collaborating and communicating with team members.

For example, lots of people talk about how Andy Carvin does crowdsourced verification and turns his Twitter feed into a real time newswire. Lost in the discussion is the fact that Carvin also develops sources and contacts on the ground and stays in touch with them on Skype and through other means. What you see on Twitter is only one part of the process.

Some things never go out of style.

At the same time, there are new tools, techniques and approaches every journalist should have in their arsenal.

Fortunately, several leading practitioners of what I sometimes call the New Verification are gracious and generous about sharing what they know.

One such generous lot are the folks at Storyful, a social media curation and verification operation that works with clients such as Reuters, ABC News, and The New York Times, among others.

I wrote about them last year and examined how in some ways they act as an outsourced verification service for newsrooms. That was partly inspired by this post from Storyful founder Mark Little:

I find it helps to think of curation as three central questions:

* Discovery: How do we find valuable social media content?
* Verification: How do we make sure we can trust it?
* Delivery: How do we turn that content into stories for a changed audience?

Without a doubt, verification is the greatest challenge. It’s also the greatest opportunity for ‘social journalists’ willing to leave the confines of traditional news organisations and perhaps even create their own.

This week the Storyful team added to the growing verification canon with a blog post that offered four case studies of how they verified videos and other content for clients.

From the post:

From videos to 140-character tweets, we operate by the mantra that ‘there is always someone closer to the source’.

Often we are alerted to videos that are duplicated and reposted. Finding the original source is the first step in our verification process and it can require several techniques. Image technology allows us to find the first instance of video thumbnails and images. Examining data embedded within the image provides more information. And by identifying keywords to run through search engines, we often find the first upload of a video or image.

So, already you have three must view links about verification (1,2,3). Below are five additional links I consider essential reading.

Verification must reads

4. BBC processes for verifying social media content — This post from the User Generated Content Hub at BBC outlines a range of useful tips and practices they put into action during last year’s Arab Spring. The advice is useful for any kind of story.

5. How to verify content from social media — Journalism.co.uk recently interviewed four experts on the topic of verification, and Rachel McAthy did an amazing job breaking the comments into useful and manageable chunks of advice. This is a very comprehensive post. (I was one of the folks she interviewed and am excited to be speaking at their upcoming news:rewired event in London on July 13.)

6. A look at how we confirm stories in real time — The folks at BreakingNews.com are constantly scanning different sources for the latest news from all over. Perhaps more so than other people or organizations I’ve mentioned, they must manage the pressure to publish quickly and get it right. Cory Bergman, general manager of BreakingNews.com and a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board, wrote this post to share how they balance speed and accuracy, and to show how their team collaborates to get things right, quickly.

7. How CNN’s iReport verifies its citizen content — This piece by me looks at how CNN deploys a team of producers to sort through the huge volume of iReport submissions in order to find the most notable submissions — and then to vet them. The goal is to be comfortable putting the CNN brand on a piece of citizen-created content.

8. B.S. Detection for Digital Content — Okay, sorry, one more from me. This is a recent presentation I gave at the American Society of Copy Editors conference. It’s partly based on a workshop Mandy Jenkins and I gave at last year’s Online News Association Conference (video here). This is my attempt to synthesize some of the core skills, techniques and tools to use when verifying online content.

Bonus! How to verify – and when to publish – news accounts posted on social media — A useful post by my Poynter colleague Jeff Sonderman, which offers some good guidance on decision making.

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Craig Silverman (craig@craigsilverman.ca) is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends…
Craig Silverman

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