Jonathan Barrett is the managing director of real-time information discovery platform Dataminr.
When disaster hits, people’s first port of call for information and updates is increasingly becoming social media.
While broadcast has traditionally been our go-to for breaking news, changing consumer habits and preferences mean that 44 per cent of UK adults now use social media to source news stories (Ofcom, November/December 2017 to March/April 2018).
Technology, for all its virtues, has some drawbacks. Social media has given us almost limitless ability to communicate, but it has given rise to an information landscape which is hard to wade through.
Journalists can feel the brunt of this dynamic. They are charged with monitoring, analysing and then verifying social media information on a day-to-day basis — and beat their competition to the punch, too.
But it is not all bad news, as technology can help out in this shifting environment. Journalists want to be able to focus on what they do best: writing great stories. To do this, they need to bring on additional tools to help surface the relevant stories breaking across locations around the world.
Journalists have been sifting through data, searching for reliable sources for their next story long before the digital age came around. It is nothing new.
Traditionally, newsrooms were tipped off by trusted sources, waiting to gather enough verified information to break a story. Without the rivalry of the internet, newsrooms were often the first in the know about an event.
That has all changed now, as outbreaks surface on social media feeds almost instantly, meaning the first to know about events are usually those with their eyes on a smartphone screen.
This is why it pays for newsrooms to leverage more advanced technologies, to cut through the noise and provide real-time alerts to journalists as soon as an event happens.
New York Times has shown this to be possible, noting how real-time alerting tools have been indispensable for their business. However, it also means newsrooms do not necessarily have to be in the local area to be tipped off.
Real-time alerts mean that journalists can start the verification and reporting process there and then, often minutes before they would have otherwise.
A toolbox of technology
In the fast-paced world of journalism, there is, however, no quick-fix tech solution or silver bullet to the challenges presented by the digital age.
Instead, newsrooms must adopt a combination of the best available technologies and strategies. Journalists need to create a toolbox of parts, each serving an individual role in a collective process.
New and better technologies will always appear, and with it further challenges for journalists to overcome. It is the job of the newsrooms to ensure their reporters have the best systems at hand to adapt, respond and remain competitive.
Collaboration is key
As more journalists opt to work remotely or freelance, communication and collaboration between teams has never been so essential.
"With social newsgathering, you’re working in a real-time environment, so it’s very important that your team is also of that mentality in terms of real-time updates," notes Derek Bowler, head of social newsgathering at The European Broadcasting Union, adding that failure to collaborate effectively means that news team runs the risk of losing out on an exclusive story scoop.
Integrating collaborative technologies such as Slack into the newsroom can ensure that an entire team is clued in and aware of every step of a breaking story as it is happening.
From pitching, producing, updating and measuring the reach of stories, platforms like Slack facilitates communication in one central hub, be that at other ends of the newsroom or the Atlantic Ocean.
Simply having the ability to collaborate on one platform can be the key for teams to find content at the right time, and act on it in enough time to break the news.