#bbcsms - Editorial Issues

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Esra Dogramaci, Al Jazeera

Content from people on the street was important in Egypt – the government had shut down traditional reporting methods.

100 communities in the US got together to demand Al Jazeera, which is only available in four states.

Social media is about trust. There’s a disparity between the connected and unconnected parts of the world. AlJ don’t create the news agenda, but they reflect it. When people begin to trust us, they come to us for news.

(Info – noise) + context = responsible reporting

Try to get in contact directly with the person who sent the information. They’ve had people supply photos of old protest elsewhere as new material. They try to pre-identify key people on Twitter in advance when news starts breaking, filtered by location.

There’s a distinction between reporting and journalism. Reporting is the facts, journalism is the context.

Working with users is a two way street – distributing Flip cameras gave them footage, but also helped build trust between them and the community.

Telling the truth is hard, not telling it is harder.

AlJ tries to take a neutral line. Two language channels. When the Japanese earthquake happened, it was more important on English that Arabic, which focused on the Middle East protests.

Interesting discussion about Al Jazeera having to walk the line between reporting on the revolutions and seeming to encourage them. There are risks to both the organization – journalist and buildings have been targeted – and for social media users who participate and feed the news, too. They give attribution or anonymity as contributors wish. AlJ will tend to take the side of the masses, she suggests.

Will Perrin

Finally, someone standing up for specialist news, particularly hyperlocal journalism. Parwich.org 400 page views per day in a community of 500. Sheffieldforum.co.uk – the dominant form of journalism in Sheffield.

Christian Payne

Was fed up with the newspaper messing with story – it was always manipulated by the time it hit print. Disgruntled with the number of channels I had to go through to get my craft out there.

In 2005 was watching BBC news, got annoyed by the coverage, so flew to Turkey and made his own way there. The mainstream channels who took his stories didn’t express them to his satisfaction, so he stuck it on YouTube – was seen by more people than it would have done in national newspapers. If he could find a way of making money from this, he could go direct, no need for mainstream channels.

Blogger not a journalist – it’s fine if you can’t spell as a blogger, if you can’t spell as a journalist, you’re an alcoholic.

We stop journalists from being passionate about what they are doing by taking emotion out of stories – emotion IS one of the tools that we use to get the message across.

Sinai Motalebi

BBC Persian lacked the reporters on the ground, so had to go to the people making the news direct. Some years ago, someone at a BBC panel at Bush House said that people come to the BBC for expert reporting, not the voices of everyday people. The experiences of BBC Persian show that isn’t true. They maintain balance by giving both sides a voice. They are nor proud or defeated by their used of social media – it’s just a fact.

In the 2005 election, the blogosphere did not reach the general public in Iran. By 2009, YouTube and Twitter were taking the footage to the masses. The BbC took footage from YouTube, it was broadcast, and people would reupload it with the BBC brand on it. We are now giving a platform for debate, not just a voice in a voxpop. Very emotional and revealing when they provided a platform for debates between Iranians and Iraqis.


is the debate being forced into a traditional Western model of objectivity. Is there room for activist journalism? Esra says yes, sort of. Part of their success is bringing traditional values to the reporting. Sinai, however, is not actively part of a movement. He thinks there is a need for established values. Not all conversations on social media are representative, all the time. Two kinds of noise to filter from Iran, one from the opposition who wanted to hasten events. The other, pro-Government, who would produce sophisticated fake material, so broadcasters would publish it, and then the originators could discredit it and the journalists with it.

Perrin points out that most local sites are unashamedly biased, because they love their area – and many are responding to “if it bleeds it leads” negative coverage.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.