Introducing the First Draft Coalition

Imagine the following situation: you’re sitting at your computer or looking at your mobile phone, when suddenly you come across a powerful first-person video on YouTube, or a visceral image on Twitter, depicting a breaking news event. You want to share it, but it’s coming from a source or a person you’ve never heard of before so you find yourself wondering… “is this real?” If you’re a journalist working in a newsroom today, it’s likely you’ve found yourself in this situation many times before, if not many times a day.

In those crucial moments in the aftermath of a breaking news event, like the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris or the earthquake in Nepal, eyewitness documentation can be essential to piecing together what happened. The revolution in user-generated news content presents a great opportunity to expand our view of the world, but it also raises entirely new challenges for the news industry to grapple with. How and where do you find these images? How can you verify that they are authentic and genuine? Do you have the right to use them? And what ethical responsibilities should you consider before publishing?

Launching today, the First Draft Coalition is a group of thought leaders and pioneers in social media journalism who are coming together to help you answer these questions, through training and analysis of eyewitness media.

Our founding members, from different organisations and projects, are each dedicated to raising awareness and improving standards around the use of content sourced from the social web. They are Bellingcat, Eyewitness Media Hub, Emergent, Meedan, Reported.ly, Storyful and Verification Junkie. Our aim is to open up the conversation around the use of eyewitness media in news reporting with a strong focus on ethics, verification, copyright and protection, and we want to reach and hear from everyone in the journalism community, including students, lecturers, local reporters and international editors.

With the support of Google News Lab, we’re getting straight to work on developing a new destination website that will feature essential training materials, plus a database of case studies, resources and tools. The site will publish regular articles, interviews and reviews covering all aspects of handling eyewitness media, including the most effective techniques for discovery and verification alongside ethical and legal guidance for publishing and broadcasting.

Here on Medium we are kicking off with a selection of articles and case studies from each member of the coalition. You can find out about the geolocation techniques favoured by Eliot Higgins from Bellingcat, let Malachy Browne from Reported.ly walk you through his verification process, hear from Storyful founder Mark Little about his experiences of viewing traumatic content and read thoughts from EMhub’s Sam Dubberley about the need to protect a victim’s identity when an eyewitness photograph or video goes viral. Josh Stearns reminds us of many lessons learned in his piece about the Boston Marathon bombings, whilst Tom Trewinnard from Meedan explores Facebook’s response to controlling fake stories. Fergus Bell shares advice for applying a two track verification system and in longer reads, Craig Silverman and Claire Wardle reflect on findings from their separate research projects for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

We are excited to share many more excellent blogs and resources over the coming months so follow us here and on Twitter to receive updates.