November 23, 2015

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In June, Google News Lab helped create a coalition of online news organizations to explore best practices for news gathering on the social Web. On Monday, the First Draft Coalition launched a new site, First Draft News.

“Social media is probably the most transformative influence on global communications of the last 10 years,” said managing editor Alastair Reid, “but a huge problem of that is the spread of false information. Every week, maybe even every day, major news outlets get caught out by publishing a story based on something from social media that turns out not to be true.”

Members of the coalition are EyeWitness Media Hub, Storyful,, Bellingcat, Meedan, Verification Junkie, Dig Deeper, Google News Lab and Emergent, Reid said, and each comes to the partnership with a different area of specialization. With the new site, the coalition will share what it’s learning about a number of issues facing journalists on the Web.

I spoke with several members of the coalition via email about the new site, what the coalition has learned and a verification guide First Draft has created.

To start, tell us about First Draft News.

Reid: So First Draft News is an initiative of the First Draft Coalition that will publish news, features, case studies, how-to guides, interviews, videos, podcasts, interactive, polls, quizzes, surveys on the intersection of news and social media.

Users can also sign up to create “packs” of content, almost like a playlist on Spotify. So people can sign in and save individual articles or guides to refer to quickly in the future, or recommend them on social, or collect them together in “packs” to share and refer to. So, for example, a local news editor might sign in and check a couple of case studies about local news, some how-to guides for geolocation tools, a feature about the ethics of eyewitness media and a quiz about copyright on social media. They can then share that with their reporters, or social media team or whoever is most relevant.

What are some of the lessons gathered from the coalition so far?

Mandy Jenkins, Storyful: The First Draft coalition involves groups with a wide variety of backgrounds. As a business that serves newsroom clients on a 24-7 basis, Storyful is a different animal than most of the rest of the group, but what has been great for me so far has been finding the issues all of our organizations have in common. On issues such as social verification, language barriers, vicarious trauma, maneuvering closed social networks, the rights of uploaders, etc., we are all in the same situation, so we’ve been able to compare notes.

Everyone has their specialty, so we can learn a lot from one another. We at Storyful have been in the business of finding, verifying and ethically acquiring social content for more than five years – which makes us elder statesmen in internet years. Eyewitness Media Hub has done so much amazing work to study newsrooms’ use and misuse of eyewitness media. Bellingcat has been doing some really interesting stuff with crowdsourced investigations; is so good at engagement and community-building; Meedan has done wonders by creating tools to solve verification workflow problems; and guys like Josh Stearns, Craig Silverman and Fergus Bell have been tackling verification issues for years. Al in all, it’s like an eyewitness media edition of The Avengers.


Tell us about the quick verification guide. How do you see it being used?

Reid: So the three core elements of verification – whether it’s picture, video, audio, text, whatever – are the source, date and location. It’s the basis for all good journalism but on social media this can often be forgotten.

The guide is a leaflet that folds up into a little booklet with five steps for verifying video and five for photos. Each step is graded in a traffic light system. So for example, if you get a pic from social but haven’t spoken to the source and can’t verify the location or date then that would probably still be in the red area where it would be very unwise to publish.

If you hit green in all five steps, so speaking to the source, verifying the image’s EXIF data, confirming landmarks etc, then you’re good to publish. It’s very difficult to be 100 percent verified – some fakers or hoaxers are very skilled – but the guide has been seen and approved by all the members of the coalition who have decades of experience in verifying content between them. It’s the steps they would take.

People can print it out and have it on their desk, and we’ll be giving them out in person as well at any conferences or events.

What about people who aren’t journalists? Does First Draft work with news literacy at all?

Josh Stearns, Dodge Foundation: The coalition is unique in that it is dedicated to creating resources for newsrooms, but is also made up of people who work with eyewitnesses and communities. Because of that, the coalition sits at the intersection of where communities and newsrooms come together around eyewitness media, social journalism, breaking news and ethics. Everyone in the coalition has different areas of interest and focus, but for my part I’m keenly interested in how we can share the tools and lessons we are creating with the public as well as journalists. If we want to help stem the spread of rumors and encourage great eyewitness media then newsrooms should model best practices and teach communities some of these same skills. By doing so, we create more trust and give our communities new tools to help us report. At the First Draft Coalition we want to create resources that strengthen social journalism, but we know these issues are of keen interest to first responders, human rights organizations and others.

Can you tell us some basics for navigating the social Web that all journalists should master?

Claire Wardle, co-founder of EyeWitness Media Hub and research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism: Journalists need to be able to master a set of key skills which means they can find eyewitnesses and related media as quickly as possible, verify the information as quickly as possible and then know whether it’s safe or ethical to publish. In order to do this journalists need to be Tweetdeck ninjas, know how to quickly geo-locate Instagram pictures, and know how to undertake rigorous research using google search tools.They must also have mastered basic verification skills in terms of knowing how to research the provence of a piece of content, know how to search someone’s digital footprint, know how to interpret EXIF data, know how to geo-locate a piece of content using Google Earth. Finally, they need to know how to work with eyewitnesses in an ethical way. None of this is rocket science, but there are a lot of tools and processes than journalists need to practice, so it becomes second nature during a breaking news event.

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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