On Tuesday, I attended a Social Media Week event, “Digital Newsgathering Standards: A MuckedUp Conversation with AP,” hosted by The Associated Press and Muck Rack. The discussion centered on user-generated content (UGC), content verification, and reporting accuracy during a time where there is pressure to release news as quickly as possible. Here are the speakers who participated in this interesting discussion:
Q: What is a buzzword for what you guys collect? Is it citizen journalism, UGC, social media content -- are they all same or are there differences?
Carvin: His philosophy is that there isn’t one word for it, because you need to figure out what it is. He said, “If you verify the information and it is reliable and you go with it, then it is news. It is journalism – simple as that. Who produced it isn’t necessarily relevant.” He has no problem calling it citizen journalism, but one issue he has is that it suggests separation from what they (AP) do professionally, because they bring their standards to any type of journalism produced. Instead of thinking of citizen and professional journalism as two different types of content that are in opposition to each other, it instead should be thought of as an opportunity for professional journalists to verify and put things into context.
Q: In general, how does verification work with the AP? What’s different with how you do verification with social media?
Carvin: He said that all of AP’s verification standards are built on the same journalistic principles they have been practicing since 1846. What is different now is that finding the source of this type of content can be complicated, so you need to develop techniques and processes to be able to deal with it. For example, with UGC, if they stumble across something newsworthy, then there a lot of different steps that need to be taken. First, they need to find the original source of that content; they need to go back in time and figure out when this actually came from, because a lot of information is shared and re-shared. The next step is to contact that source and speak to them – to get permission to use the content and ask questions to verify the information. As part of the verification process, AP has experts around the world who know about these different places, as well as speak the language and know the culture, so they know the stories occurring around these regions and have sources on the ground. “We don’t use stuff until we satisfy all those standards,” said Carvin, “which means we may end up using it later than some (news agencies). And we end up holding back on things we think may end up being a threat.” He continued to say this isn’t only specific to UGC, but this is how they do their reporting in general.
Q: Can you (Gillesby) walk us through how this works in practice, specifically with the Newtown shootings?
Gillesby: She said that there were times where they held back from reporting, so they could take the time to verify where they are coming from before using them. An example of one of these times was during the Newtown shooting. The brother was thought to be the shooter and there was a video of him circulating, but AP decided not to run with the story. They took the time to verify and it was then realized he was not the shooter. She also said that a lot of news outlets will publish things they find on Facebook and they apply the words “believed to be” and “allegedly” to what they find. However, AP completely stays away from doing this. She gave the example of the victims’ photos from the Newtown shooting, which started circulating around pretty quickly, and went through the verification process before the photos were published. The verification process included getting confirmation from the family or someone who spoke on behalf of the family to use the pictures, or getting permission from the person who took the picture, which could have been a neighbor, etc. She said with photos that are given to them to use, they do not rush to put them out on the wire, because they don’t know who took the picture or if a photo studio owns the rights to that picture. “We always due the due diligence,” said Gillesby.
Q: When you read the stories about a “shark that swims around the mall” or other such stories, are they ever true or do they always just turn out to be fake?
Carvin: He noticed that around Sandy and the elections there was a lot of UGC that looked fake and turned out to be real, or that looked really real and turned out to be fake. He said it is getting harder to tell the difference. For example, he was uncertain that the video on YouTube of somebody using a touch screen voting machine and pressing Obama, but instead having Romney light up, was fake. AP was sure it was real, so they talked to the local election officials who confirmed the malfunctioning machine. Carvin had the instinct there, but still trusted to verify this information.
Q: For anyone who is a journalist out there, what is the tactical move for when you see something on the Web – whether it is on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media – to get it verified and meet AP standards?
Carvin: He said that there are two things occurring: 1) get someone involved who is an expert in that format (photo desk or video experts for UGC), and 2) work with AP people in the region that understand the story and place.
Q: Edelman made some history with the first AP-sponsored tweet. Can you walk us through that, because it involves both advertising on Twitter and sounds like a big shift for AP.
Rubel: He said they are seeing a real shift in the media business model. He continued to say that media companies are becoming more open to taking corporate content and running it with very clear disclosures right alongside editorial content. Rubel said this isn’t a new model, but the reinvention of an old model, e.g., product placements, sports sponsorships, etc. AP was open to this model, and therefore gave Edelman’s client, Samsung, the opportunity to syndicate their content directly in the AP’s Twitter feed. AP was paid a certain fee to broadcast out those tweets, and they were clearly labeled as “sponsored.” This example is “indicative of what we are seeing more and more in media now, and for us – we are super excited about it. More and more marketers are beginning to think like journalists,” said Rubel.
Carvin: His role during this process was to make sure appropriate standards were maintained, that they didn’t cross any lines or raise any journalistic questions. Another part of his role was to keep the whole process as transparent as possible, which means labeling the content very quickly. In addition, he needed to make sure to let people know this was coming.
Rubel: He said this wouldn’t haven’t worked if it was straight up brand promotion, but what worked is that AP had content that fit the content stream that was being covered.
Q: What do you do when things go wrong? What is the disaster playbook for a situation like getting hacked, such as the recent situation with Burger King?
Silverman: He said that when your Twitter account gets hacked, it isn’t the only channel you have to communicate. He didn’t see a lot of communication from Burger King in other places, such as their Facebook page. This can also be applied to media organizations, so if you are messing up in one area you have multiple other channels to communicate. Silverman said, “You want to reverse the viral effect. What I mean by that is if you tweet something that is incorrect and it gets retweeted, it is starting to spread and it goes and goes – it is pretty much out of your hands at that point.” He continued to say, that if you can’t control your account, because it has been hacked, then reach out to other people on Twitter who can help spread your message. He tells journalists that when they tweet something that is incorrect, they should check who retweeted their message and reach out to those people to provide them with the correct information. He said you should also ask them to retweet this information. If your account has been hacked, there may be people you know who have a lot of followers or news organizations that you can contact to let them know you have been hacked and to get the message out there. Besides trying to counteract the viral effect, you need to be active about it and not passively wait for the errors to be fixed. Be active in communicating.
Rubel: He contributed to this discussion by saying, the ways to solve these things are before they even start. Have a plan in place before these things happen. It is difficult to bring something back once it gets out there, but a lot of this is scenario planning by thinking about what could happen and the different steps that need to done if they do happen. Edelman has done crisis exercises with clients where they roll out a crisis and actually plan for it. “Think about where a story is going to go and how you stay in front of it,” said Rubel. He also said to think about what went wrong, what you are doing to correct it, and how you are going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Silverman: He said, you need to plan for these scenarios way before they happen, so this can be for putting out a sponsored tweet, the verification process, or getting hacked – you will be in trouble if you don’t have these thing mapped out. In addition, this can help you not be pressed by deadlines, competition, or other things.
Carvin: He said that for a lot of these hacking scenarios using any type of Web mail address makes your Twitter account more vulnerable. Usually Twitter accounts are hacked after they get into your email address and then use that information to hack in. AP went through every manager’s email address that has access to their Twitter account, and if they were anything other than the AP domain they would have the manager of the email address change it. It makes it much harder to get into the email account rather than trying to get into something like a Gmail account.
Q: How closely does the AP work with legal counsel on issues relating to social media?
Carvin: He said they work with them closely to set the standards in the first place. Besides looking to verify the original source of content, they are also looking to give credit to the source. In addition, AP expects to get credit when their content is used online. “It is not our policy to use content without permission,” said Carvin. There are specific situations where they may talk to their lawyers about a situation where there is no way to get permission of a piece of content.
Q: What is a bigger UGC risk: verification or copyright infringement?
Carvin: He said AP is prepared on both fronts. Gillesby added that AP has custom-created release forms that all journalists carry with them. This was put together with the help of legal, so it is already in place.
Q: Rubel mentioned earlier that marketers are acting like journalists – are there any benefits to this shift for marketers or journalists?
Rubel: He said the more journalists can see the business side of things -- the bigger picture -- the more it will benefit them. Journalists are more and more trying to market their work, which he thinks is a good thing if it doesn’t go too far. This can also enhance the way journalists do their job, as well as their company’s image. From the marketers perspective, he said that more marketers are trying to act in real-time, and Oreo will go down as a classic type of example of this change.
Silverman: He continued this conversation by adding, “News organizations have never spent so much time promoting and marketing their content and work product as they do now.“ Today there is lot of effort and time put into spreading, promoting and sharing the work of journalists in news organizations, and it probably has never been as important. He also added that he survived being a freelance journalist for 10 years because he embraced the business and marketing side. There are opportunities for a journalist to build a brand whether they work on their own or with a news organization. Silverman summed it up by saying, “There is tremendous opportunity there.”
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