Thursday, June 21, 2012

Addressing crime through social media and celebrity: A shift away from mainstream media agenda setting?


A video message from the band Metallica is making the rounds on social media, attracting more than 400,000 views on YouTube since its launch a week ago.  The clip has a somber tone, but contains no music.  It was posted by the Virginia State Police and has been tweeted by the FBI.   In it, Metallica singer James Hetfield asks for leads in the Morgan Harrington murder case and highlights the $150,000 reward. (Virginia Tech student Harrington disappeared outside a Metallica concert in Charlottesville, Va. in 2009.  Her remains were discovered in a remote field about 10 miles from the concert arena.)

Over the years, law enforcement has appealed to the public through traditional media for help in solving crime.  Authorities share sketches and descriptions of suspects to be broadcast during TV newscasts and published in the local newspaper.  And celebrities petition for worthy causes in publicity events to attract mainstream media coverage.  But pairing police and a heavy metal celebrity on social media to catch a killer seems out of the ordinary.  Or does it?

Increasingly, law enforcement agencies and celebrities alike are reaching out to the public directly via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.  The Boston Police Department, for example, @boston_police, has nearly 42,000 followers on Twitter, and the sheriff’s department in the small Louisiana community of DeSoto Parish regularly shares information with its 4,700 Facebook friends.  Metallica has nearly 26 million ‘likes’ on its Facebook page. 

By reaching fans, friends, and followers directly through social media, alternative sources such as these may be having an impact on the traditional media’s agenda-setting role.  Nearly four decades of research has shown a strong relationship between what the news media cover, and the issues and events the public deems important. But in an expanding social media environment with myriad information sources and emerging technologies, that role may be shifting. My research on the outpouring of tweets that followed the discovery of Morgan Harrington's body showed support for alternative-source agenda setting on Twitter. Metallica's condolences were linked to and retweeted more frequently than news stories of the discovery.

As the search for Harrington's killer continues, alternative sources persist in promoting Metallica's plea for help.  While mainstream news media did cover James Hetfield's message, the reporting overall, began and ended the day the video was released. But views of the Metallica video on YouTube continue to rise as the FBI, heavy metal fans, and others tweet and Facebook Hetfield’s plea, hoping to catch Morgan Harrington’s killer.

Video research presentation produced for ICA 2012:



Thursday, May 10, 2012

Learning about augmented reality

QR codes suddenly popped up in Reid Hall during Spring Term 2012, after students in ‘Digital Media and Society’ studied how the codes can be used to augment reality. 

Under deadline, they quickly researched some of the physical ‘realities’ of Reid Hall and posted the information to their blogs. One student even made a YouTube video with an iPad she’s using as part of the course.  They then used QR code generators to make the codes that link to the digital content.  Reid Hall visitors can scan the codes with their phones or iPads to access the posts. 

In other assignments, the students have also created:
  • animations on technological determinism (here, here, and here)
Still to come are videos on technology and change at Washington and Lee, and research on digital media content.




Thursday, November 10, 2011

Student journalists cover local elections with the iPad 2: Quick, clean, recommended


The video and still photo cameras on the iPad 2 made substantial contributions to our student journalists' local election coverage this week. In addition to our usual arsenal of digital tools*, we included an iPad 2 Wi-Fi unit, borrowed from the university library.

It made for relatively unobtrusive newsgathering, which led to timely slice-of-life video pieces. We've been covering video storytelling in class for the past month, so the concepts and hands-on experience with a prosumer HD camera transferred well to the iPad. Our goal was to shoot self-contained vignettes that we could send up to YouTube unedited.

In the morning test-run, we shot at the Lexington polling center, where Stephen Peck recorded this brief voting machine piece. We readily embedded it onto a story page, 'Inside the voting process.'

After the polls closed, Peck became the roving iPad producer, capturing video at election parties throughout the area. Here, he records reporter Diandra Spicak giving an update, which he quickly uploaded, and we tweeted and posted to our Facebook page.


Peck said he especially liked the ease of uploading video on location where Wi-Fi was available. Looking forward, we hope to add 3G units to our student journalists’ toolboxes, facilitating storytelling through technology.



*Our election newsgathering tools also included a JVC GY-HM100 HD video camera, Zoom H2 audio recorders, Canon A2200 for still photos, and reporters' notebooks and pens.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dig for documents to give breaking news context

When you’re covering breaking news, do you use documents in your reporting? If not, maybe you should. Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Gilbert turned to documents when reporting the Gabrielle Giffords shooting story for The Wall Street Journal. It took persistence, but it paid off.

When Gilbert’s editor asked him how fast he could get on a plane to Arizona, he was right on it. In no time he was out of Houston and on the ground in Tucson, going after pieces for The Journal’s team coverage of the story. Early on, Gilbert said, he made a FOIA request for Pima Community College records on suspected shooter Jared Lee Loughner, who had attended the school. He said that when he asked for all communications and reports concerning Loughner and campus police, “They shot back with, ‘we can’t release that.'”

But he didn’t let up, and got the documents--which revealed that faculty and students feared for their safety when in class with Loughner. Gilbert said police stood guard outside a classroom because an instructor felt Loughner might become violent. WSJ.com embedded the records into the online story, a practice Gilbert finds enhances the reader’s experience.

Gilbert recommends developing a “document state of mind,” encouraging reporters to think about how records can corroborate or contradict what people say. “Numbers don’t have an agenda. Sometimes the people behind the numbers do,” he said.

Before joining The Journal, Gilbert reported for the Bristol Herald Courier in Virginia. He won the 2010 Pulitzer for public service for his series on conflicts over natural gas wealth in Southwest Virginia.

Gilbert spoke to my digital journalism students during his visit to Washington and Lee University earlier this week. Thanks to Toni Locy and the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation for bringing him to campus.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Technosociality and The Three Questions

Live Tweeting at the Online News Association Conference in late October brought to mind a story from a talk by Buddhist Monk Ajhan Brahm. He was retelling Tolstoy’s fable, The Three Questions, about a king seeking to avoid failure. The king consulted a wise hermit, searching for answers to questions about when, what, and who is important. After a long ordeal, he learned that the most important time is now, the most important task is to do good, and the most important person is “he with whom you are.”

But it just doesn’t seem that simple when it comes to conferences and live tweeting. Who and what gets your full attention when you’re in the Grand Ballroom with a panel presenter, audio-visual screen content, an audience, your Twitter feed, a new iPad, the conference hashtag, concurrent panel hashtags, WiFi going in and out, and more?

Listing the pros and cons of this experience might help.

Pros:

You might have a richer conference experience if you follow live tweets. The salient points that are tweeted might help you focus on what’s important.

Live tweeting gives you a record of points you tweeted—just like taking notes!

If panelists are following Twitter they might address audience tweets during the presentation.

If you recognize tweeps from regular Twitter chats (like #wjchat), you can later talk to them in person—maybe even have dinner together.

You can introduce yourself to people whose posts you recall seeing on the convention hash tag feeds when you see them in the elevator, or in the coffee line during breaks.

Find people to socialize with when they send out announcements about meetups.

You might decide to follow people based on their wise or funny tweets.

Learn who you might want to avoid based on their mean or snarky remarks.

Find out who’s tweeting from a bar during sessions (this can be good or bad, depending on your perspective).

Move to a more interesting session based on the tweets coming out of its hashtag. Cupcakes and beer with designers and coders, or Google maps? Again, your call.

Cons:

Heads are down, so it's not easy to make eye contact when you're pulling up a chair at a breakfast session table.

Speakers might give a less engaging talk without eye contact from the audience.

Can you really multitask as well as you think you can? What are you missing while you’re typing away? (I must admit I replayed a radio story about a week after I heard it in a session, and didn’t recall one of the sound bites from the first time around. And this was a story about a body farm!)

You might be too exhausted from reading Twitter all day to read a book before turning out the lights.

I invite you to add to the list. And, do you think the hermit would give the king the same advice in our age of Twitter?


Friday, September 17, 2010

Hostage-taking live on Twitter

Was this the Discovery building gunman? The Twitterverse, including some mainstream media, said it was, but...

Twitter is fast becoming the go-to venue for live breaking news. While that means great potential for journalists and the public, it also brings a new set of issues to be grappled with. This is unexplored territory for many legacy newspapers, and a fork in the road for broadcast media—despite their rich history covering events as they unfold. With Twitter, anyone can contribute to the information stream, either on location with a smartphone, or elsewhere, online. That can enhance reporting, but may also complicate it, as the Sept. 1 hostage-taking at the Discovery Communications building in Silver Spring, Maryland, illustrates.

The news broke on Twitter at about 1 p.m., with early tweets from the public referencing cops, guns, and a shootout/hostage situation. Soon a photo appeared on yfrog, a Twitter photo service. It showed someone in a courtyard who appeared to be carrying a rifle, and the caption identified that person as the gunman.

The picture spread quickly, and at least one D.C. news organization retweeted it unconfirmed. MSNBC sought confirmation for the image using social media, and posted it on its photo blog with the headline,
Is this a picture of the Discovery gunman today? We don't know.

The blog Gawker also had its doubts: “This supposed photo of ‘the gunman’ is making the rounds, but it's most likely a law enforcement official.” As it turned out, Montgomery County police later confirmed the person in the photo was one of their tactical officers, not the hostage-taker.

While social media messages can benefit us by conveying instant awareness and updates of events, they can also create legal and ethical conundrums in real time. Issues concerning accuracy, privacy, safety, bias, and fairness loom large in the social media sphere.

Digital journalists can confront these issues by taking the time to review their own state laws governing recording and use of audio, video, and still images, and to contemplate ethical guidelines for using social media and reporting live. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers resources to help with legal aspects of reporting. The Radio Television Digital News Association provides ethical guidelines for social media along with scenarios for discussion in the newsroom. And the SPJ Code of Ethics gives guidance for journalists in all media. Taking time to address these issues now can enhance responsible journalism in today’s digital media environment.