True and False
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Smartphone cameras have become increasingly powerful in recent years, enabling anyone with access to a mobile device to take quality photos and film video from the scene of the story that can be broadcast.

And with access to more affordable data, eyewitnesses to a news event can easily post their materials on social media – and many do, turning social platforms into an important source for news and leads.

But how can newsrooms effectively find and verify stories from social media? Eyewitness media expert Fergus Bell shared some of his tips for setting up helpful workflows in newsrooms, speaking at the World Publishing Expo in Hamburg today.

Working with news from social media in an ethical way is key to maintaining trust, and being "sustainable in the way that we work in order to not ruin our chances of getting content like this in the future."

As many stories are now accompanied by visuals primarily sourced from social media, here are 4 things newsrooms should be doing to monitor, search and verify effectively:

Make it an integral part of the newsgathering process

"Monitoring social should be a part of the newsgathering process just like monitoring the agencies," said Bell.

"[But] often we see the most junior people assigned. It's not good to have them working by themselves."

If it does fall to a junior team member to monitor social media, he explained it is important to ensure they have access to more experienced staff to discuss the material they find and its relevance to ensure good leads get acted on quickly.

Don't assign it to just one person

An efficient social media monitoring strategy does not come down to one person doing everything.

"The more eyes looking at something, the better," he said, explaining how if more people see a piece of content, the higher the chances to quickly spot if it's a fake that has been doing the rounds online before.

"More eyes on UGC increases the chances of identifying whether you have seen it from another social source."

Have a clear verification process

The editorial experience from working with traditional content can also be applied to social media verification.

Bell said there is an increasing trend in newsrooms to over-verify material and establish "why you definitely can't use something".

"If you establish that you are not chasing the right source or the content is fake – you should just stop."

Having a well-established verification process in the newsroom before news breaks is key – it should including guidelines for contacting sources, getting permission to use the material, and independently verifying the content, concentrating on time, location and context, and should be "clear and understood by everyone".

Check out this eyewitness media verification guide put together by the First Draft Coalition, for example.

Add context and value

Rather than simply publishing videos or photos because they are trending, newsrooms should also try to establish the context around the materials and explain their importance.

Bell said readers come to news outlets in search of additional information and answers explaining the significance of user-generated content.

"Take it beyond what they’ve just seen on YouTube," he said.
  • Hear more from Fergus Bell at news:rewired 'in focus' on 21 October – a half-day event looking at the challenges of sourcing news from social in a quick and ethical way, as well as the skills and tools journalists now need for the job.

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