Tag Archives: journalism

Trending Topics: What they mean and how to use them in journalism

If something is ‘trending’, it is being discussed and/or mentioned on Twitter as part of a keyword or hashtag phrase. From Twitter:

“Twitter’s Trending Topics algorithm identifies topics that are immediately popular, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis, to help people discover the “most breaking” news stories from across the world.

Most popular trending topics in 2010:

The results show that people were most concerned about serious news stories from around the world but also spent time discussing entertainment in the form of Justin Bieber and the newest Harry Potter film.

Any self-respecting journalist knows the importance of breaking news and so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the Twittersphere cos we often hear about it on there before AP gets hold of it.

They’re useful if you want to narrow trends down to countries or even cities to see what people are talking about in specific geographic areas. Think of it as a virtual vox-pop.

It’s also useful to gauge a range of opinions on a given topic in s very short space of time and without leaving your desk. If you want to follow a story more closely as it develops, you can do by clicking the hashtag (#), which collates all the tweets with that word or phrase into one place.

Most newsrooms now have a screen setup with Twitterfall or something similar- an app that brings together hashtag and keyword searches in real time.

But we must be careful when collecting data from hashtags and trending topics on Twitter. Although a global phenomenon with over 106 million users, we cannot over-generalise trending topics to be a realistic cross-section of the opinions of all members in any given community. Most Twitter users are young professionals or college students living in first-world developed countries with readily available internet access.

Digital Surgeons have put together a great infographic which compares Twitter an Facebook users. The majority of Twitter users are slightly older than those who use Facebook most frequently (26-30 compared with 16-24 age bracket). Plus Twitter users tend to be more technology savvy as a higher precentage of users log in on mobile devices compared with Facebook users.

To sum up then, Trending Topics are useful as a starting point to find breaking news and research opinion and comment on particular news items as a springboard for further research, but should not be used as a valid cross-section of society.

By Lucy Hewitt

How the BBC uses UGC to its full advantage: Part One

Fellow journalists. To what extent is is okay to use information provided from Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites? Your editor asks you to find some information on a specific topic and you find yourself flicking through thousands of tweets by the normal people instead of a verified source. Should you use citizen created journalism that you cannot 100% verfiy?

We are in an age of ‘internet’ where lots of information is sourced from the web and normal people like to contribute to the ongoing news and travel in particular via tweets and phone calls to radio stations.


Also, in bigger situations like Tunisia and Libya, citizens are sending in videos and photographs. But how do we trust this information and can we use it?

Matthew Eltringham, the Assistant Editor of Interactivity for BBC News, has tried for years to combine the BBC’s impartiality with the flood of user-generated content and social media communication whilst newsgathering for a particular story. Because the BBC wants to use all the information it can get from Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, emails, texts etc, Matthew has been working to combine UGC with other information.

So, comes the classification of the Light Side and the Dark Side. The ‘Light Side’ of the Line of Verification is something the BBC regards as ‘true.’ The ‘Dark side’ is not considered true. In the past, the BBC just wouldn’t have broadcast it if it hadn’t been verified by two sources, but times are changing. The rest of society, the public, already know what’s going on on the dark side because we live it; we see and hear it from first hand sources on Facebook and the like and experience it daily before big news organisations have time to verify it (mumsnet is a good recent example).

Using these dark sources is invaluable because not only is it coming from an online source, but it’s the best way to find and connect with your news! It’s more than just rumours, it is an informal narrative of the story you are trying to write. But just make sure you present it in that way and be clear to express it as a non-validated source. Of course, there are fuzzy or wobbly lines of verification, because information you find will have elements of truth in it. As Matthew says,
“We need to change our reporting activity to engage with ‘stuff’ on the dark side of the line 
as part and parcel of our daily journalism. Social media unleashes the capacity of people to publish and share rumour, lies, facts and factoids. We – as a trusted broadcaster (along with other journalists of course) – become increasingly significant as a reference or clearing house, filtering fact from fiction.”

We need it in this modern age and there is nothing wrong with using it. This distinction between what is produced by journalists and the public shows that even big corporations like the BBC are striving to incorporate UGC into their reporting so there’s nothing wrong with us doing it. On work experience at the BBC over the Christmas holidays, I was using Twitter and Hootsuite in the search of new and original stories. Perhaps this will be of help to you.

User Generated content in media discussed at the NUJ Student Conference

I went along to the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) Student conference last weekend and managed to get in a question to the panel about UGC.

From left to right: Marc Vallée (photojournalist) – Heather Brooke (campaigner & author) – Donnacha Delong (VP NUJ) – Shiv Malik (investigative reporter)

I asked what they thought about user generated content in journalism. As an example of UGC I mentioned how the Guardian published MP’s expenses details, and asked readers to take a look and find any information that they might have missed. This is what each of the panelists had to say:

  • Heather Brooke thought it was impossible for just one person to go though huge amounts of data like the expenses information. She said it was a great idea to put the information into the public domain so that more data could be analysed faster.
  • Marc Vallée used the example of the amateur footage of when Ian Tomlinson was pushed over by police at the 2009 G20 in London. This event led to his death. The footage was sent to The Guardian newspaper who published it. He explained that this is a great example of how the media uses UGC to its advantage. He said that twitter is also extremely useful for journalists. They can find out where people are and what’s happening. It is used a lot by paparazzi to find out where celebs are.
  • Shiv Malik thought that ‘citizen journalism‘ and UGC are very important. But he believes there still needs to be a skilled journalist to put the story together. He said that without the journalist and news organization the information wouldn’t get transmitted to as big an audience.
  • Donnacha Delong mentioned that the police at the G20 summit were trying to keep journalists as far away from the protests as possible. He said that journalists were told to go away for an hour or risk being arrested.
  • Shiv Malik concluded by saying that user generated content is not a replacement for traditional journalism. It does however compliment and add important information to journalism. It also helps keep the police and government in check because anyone can publish online and become a part of news.

By Kirsty Malcolm @kirstymalcolm

Karl Schneider from Reed Business International on how Business to Business publications are using User Generated Content

We had a chat with Karl Schneider, editorial Development Director of Reed Business International, about how his publications are using UGC. He told us that User generated images are the most widely used form of UGC across his Business to Business publications.

They use UGC because RBI is comprised of niche publications. It is therefore often more beneficial to use user content as it is their users that have the most knowledge and access to niche subject matters.

He gives a great example..Farmers Weekly live-tracked the spread of crop disease with data collected and mapped by users. UGC was then effectively helping save farmers crops. By providing more accurate and speedy updates issued by farmers themselves, they were able to share and spread information much faster and more efficiently than traditional media.

Karl told us that this is why UGC is important to RBI:

  • 70% of their revenue comes from online
  • They aggregate user sourced information eg. tractor theft/crop disease which is very useful to their audience, and therefore brings them to the website
  • They create structures so it’s easy for people to add their own information. This can help add essential information to a story that a journalist might not know
  • Forums can help create content for their journalists
  • They can immediately involve the audience in the journalistic process
  • Their readers can let them know what information they need thus creating story ideas for their journalists

If you want to hear more you can watch the interview here:

It could therefore be said that publications can benefit hugely from their audience’s specialist knowledge.

By Kirsty Malcolm @kirstymalcolm