Grasswire Community Reflections on 2015

From events that shook the globe to news that was out of this world, these are Grasswire’s top stories of the year — in no particular order — as chosen by some of our community members.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner Resigns (Sept. 25)

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner meets Pope Francis on Sept. 24 (Speaker John Boehner/Flickr)
John Boehner’s resignation as House speaker will always have special meaning to me. It happened to be the first story I wrote as a part of Grasswire, and it was only the first piece of what became an extremely busy news day in the newsroom. You could feel the energy in the newsroom, as we scrambled to cover the Pope’s visit, the resignation and the myriad of stories that also broke that day.
— Andrew Okwuosah (Twitter)

The search for the crew of SS El Faro (October)

As Hurricane Joaquin was developing near the Bahamas, a cargo ship departed Jacksonville, Florida en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico with a crew of 33. The ship, the SS El Faro, was reported missing on the evening of Oct. 1, 2015. A search and rescue operation was launched, but eventually, after finding cargo containers and some debris floating around the Bahamian coast, the U.S. Coast Guard came to the conclusion that the ship and crew were lost at sea. It is likely that human error was a factor. An NTSB investigation attributed several safety violations to the ship’s parent company, Tote Services. Family members of the crew filed lawsuits against the company for failing to advise El Faro to cancel the trip or return to port.
— Carol Alfonso (Twitter)

The refugee crisis in Europe (Ongoing)

The refugee crisis was an early story we covered using the Slack newsroom format. It exploded from being an ongoing story that sat low in the news — as it was in essence last year’s story — to being the biggest issue covered in the news.
This explosion of coverage was caused by the collision of the tragic image of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body on a beach and the buildup of refugees at a Budapest train station a few days later.
This story exploded soon after I joined Grasswire. To me, the hours spent trying to figure out where the refugees were and when buses were arriving, using social media reports from local journalists, combined with trying to figure out the positions of various countries in terms of whether they would accept refugees, is Grasswire at its best.
The story itself was so vast and rapidly-changing it is hard to summarize but the constant stream of refugees crossing Europe and the reactions — both positive and negative from governments and people alike — will continue to feature high in the news for at least a few years, and the impact of this movement will linger for decades to come.
— Tom Taylor (Twitter)

Terror attacks in Paris (Nov. 13)

I think my top pick would have to be the Paris attacks. Not only did current users contribute as the story was continuing to break, but we gained so many new people during the process. And in that, many people contributed to make all subsequent updates concise and full of information. We were able to fact-check as we went, and I think that speaks well to how Grasswire really works.
— Justin T. Gann (Twitter)
Memorial at the French Embassy in Moscow, Nov. 15, 2015. (Stolbovsky/Wikimedia Commons)
Although I’d watched Grasswire grow from its very early days, it wasn’t until the Paris attacks that I felt the need to find out how it worked and whether I help in some way.
I’d seen a single tweet about an explosion at a restaurant near the Stade de France and was trying to work out exactly what was happening. Then, maybe 15 minutes later, a stream of tweets started appearing, slowly at first, gradually building into a torrent. People were talking about all sorts of terrible events, but the information they were sharing was jumbled and garbled and saying contradictory things.
This spurred me to join the Grasswire Newsroom. I wanted to find out if this place could help make sense of what I was seeing, and to help get clear information out into the online world.
I joined a Slack channel with around 50 users online, all finding and verifying information, videos and pictures. Flawed (sometimes patently false) information was rapidly debunked. Real news was clarified, tweeted and posted to the website. The stories around an extremely complex and rapidly changing series of events was quickly distilled down to the facts, or at least as close as we could get at the time.
For several days, as events unfolded, I spent a lot of time there, following the many stories that made up the whole, helping to get good information out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
In fact, I’ve been a bit of a fixture in the newsroom since, covering all sorts of stories worldwide, from Burma to Britain to Brazil and beyond.
I just needed the push to get started.
— Fergus Kelly (Twitter)

NASA Announces ‘Definitive Signs’ of Liquid Water on Mars (Sept. 28)

I liked the “Water on Mars” story because it was nice to see so much focus on a positive news story about our expanding knowledge, and I enjoy thinking about destinations for [U.S. presidential candidate Donald] Trump.
— John Feras (Twitter)

Mass Shooting in California Leaves 14 Dead, 21 Wounded (Dec. 2)

2015 was the year I was introduced to Grasswire and realized it was very near the kind of news platform I was looking for and wanted to contribute to. My top stories of the year aren’t necessarily ones that were the most popular, but ones that I as a contributor thought were most interesting. The freedom to piece together information for contributor-defined stories from disparate sources and create a unified source of reliable information is one of the best things about the platform, and one reason I will continue contributing as I can.
The speed at which the newsroom moves during quick-breaking events is almost exhilarating at times, and exhausting afterwards. The feeling of the voracity in which tweets and news come in, combined with the process to verify and check and make sure we produce good, factual information, is a unique one. Knowing that the content is being judged and that screwing up even the small details can prejudice readers against a platform means not only finding information is important, but makes the verification of the information that much more critical. Properly executing this and producing good content sometimes hours ahead of the “traditional” news media is a great learning experience and something that we can take pride in.
— Stephen Repetski (Twitter) is an open news platform where ordinary Internet users fact-check and report the news alongside professional editors. Want to contribute? Learn more about our open newsroom here (or just jump right into it).

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