How investigative journalism harnesses the latest tech
A look at some of the ways in which mobile journalism, drone journalism, social media and crowdsourcing is being maximised by investigative journalists
What happens when the age-old practice of investigative journalism collides with emerging technologies and new media?
Potentially powerful things, according to a panel at yesterday's BBC social media conference, which looked at some innovative ways investigative reporters are using the latest technology to power their journalism.
Mobile journalism and livestreaming
The session opened with a presentation by Tim Pool, a journalist at Vice, who describes himself, on his Timcast blog, as employing a "unique style of interactive broadcast journalism".
He talked about his work earlier this year reporting on the protests in Turkey, and how he livestreamed events using his smartphone, which was connected to a battery, giving him "12 hours of live video reporting". In total he delivered around 15 hours of footage.
The coverage was served up on the Vice website in a collection of live videos, each one around 30 to 60 minutes in length, presented "like a liveblog". Viewers were able to interact with Pool below each video in the comments section. And when the livestream ended, the content remained on the site as a "live raw archive" for future visitors.
As well as his mobile, Pool has also used "wearables" such as Google Glass, also in Turkey and a smartwatch. This sort of technology is an "interesting tool in reporting news", Pool said. He discusses how smartwatches work in this video by Charles Gascong.
For investigative journalists, using mobile technology could help them be less obvious in their reporting, he said, compared to colleagues using larger traditional equipment. "People overlook me," Pool explained.
"It makes it much much easier and safer," he said. "I want to make sure I am safe and focus solely on what's happening in front of me."
Looking ahead to the future he highlighted the potential impact, albeit it possibly a "pipe dream", of "modular smartphones", which, he explained, would enable the owner to swap parts of the phone as desired, such as to upgrade the camera.
This could be a "great tool for the future," he said.
As for mobile reporting overall, he he predicts this "will be a traditional form of journalism at some point". "Mobile journalism is very powerful," he added.
Another interesting piece of technology referred to by Pool was the drone. He discussed how he has been able to set up a drone as a live video tool, using WiFi and a USB hotspot to share the video online.
Journalism.co.uk has previously reported on how others are starting to investigate the possibilities offered by drones in journalism, such as at the Drone Journalism Lab in Nebraska. Legal restrictions are strict though, so it is important to do your research about what is and is not allowed first.
Social media and crowdsourcing
Of course, social media is a hugely useful tool for any journalist, from news gathering to reporting, and for general engagement, but in this session several examples were discussed which demonstrate its particular use to investigate stories, using the crowd.
Ian Katz, now editor of BBC Newsnight, spoke about some of the examples at the Guardian, where he was previously deputy news editor, which showcase the impact social media can have in driving investigations.
He referred to cases where Guardian reporter Paul Lewis used social media to gather more information on incidents. One example given was the death of Jimmy Mubenga, who died while being deported by plane in 2010. It was through Lewis's tweets that he was connected with people on the same flight, Katz said.
There was also reference to the way social media can offer journalists real-time feedback or ideas to develop the story in new ways.
Earlier in the session, Pool had talked about how he was able to interact with his audience in the comments section under his video livestream while capturing video, placing the viewer in the role of "a crowdsourced producer".
In this case, Pool's audience was assisting him in checking facts, he said, as well as offering "tips" or simply requesting he turn his attention to different locations around him.
And Katz identified this idea of "interactive editing", as a potentially useful tool which still requires some work to perfect.
"My fantasy as editor is having a smart audience saying you're looking at the subject the wrong way," he said, adding that they are well aware there are "people in the audience who know more about the subject".
But he said early attempts to reach out for interaction caused him to be "hit by such a torrent of suggestions", and that this overwhelming wave of communication made it "almost impossible to interact with them" at this stage.
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