Break the news responsibly

Our roundup format is slightly different this week, due to the attacks in Brussels. We decided to dedicate this release to breaking news, hoax verification, and vicarious trauma.

edited by Marco Nurra


There’s no point in being a journalist if you’re not going to provide factually correct information to the public.

When journalists spread hoaxes

On Tuesday morning in Brussels, two attacks took place in public spaces that are equipped with surveillance cameras: an airport and a metro station. However, it is very rare for surveillance footage to be released to the public in the hours following an attack as this usually takes several days. A YouTube video was widely shared on social networks Tuesday afternoon, its caption describes the scene as taking place in Brussel’s Zaventem airport. The footage is even stamped with the date of the Brussels attacks. The video actually dates back to 2011: it shows an attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. Many media outlets fell for it and published it on their own YouTube channels, before realising their mistake and deleting it. [France24 / Team Observers]

“Within the first hour of the Brussels airport bomb, someone took the videos, made them black and white, flipped them horizontally and super-imposed Tuesday’s date, making them appear new. And all the more difficult to verify. They spread like wildfire. Amnesty International’s YouTube Data Viewer played a big role in debunking the videos, by allowing us to easily search for screenshots from the footage. All of the steps and questions in our verification guide played a big part too. As hoaxers become more sophisticated, we will have to try all the harder to get the facts straight in breaking stories.” [First Draft / Alastair Reid]

“In breaking news situations editors and journalists have to make very quick decisions, under a lot of pressure, at a time when they are undoubtedly feeling the same turmoil of emotions that any member of the public does when a tragedy unfolds before them. You are often dealing with a very confusing set of information from a variety of sources, including people who have deliberately set out to post false information. We have to accept that we don’t always make the right decisions in the heat of the moment. And technology is pushing us into ethical situations that we have just never had to consider before.” [The Guardian / Martin Belam]

The problem is that it seems very easy to fool those media organisations that don’t use methodical fact-checking. Do you remember the Canadian journalist Veerender Jubbal pictured as a Paris terrorist?

The fake image, thus disseminated, was picked up by media outlets worldwide in the wake of the Paris attacks, including Sky Italy and Spain's La Razón newspaper. The latter published Jubbal's face on its front page, calling him "one of the terrorists." Though La Razón has retracted its allegation, the damage was done: In just a few hours Jubbal went from being unknown to the face of the Paris attacks. [VICE / Rich Stanton]

🔊 We’ll tackle this topic at ‪#‎ijf16‬:

📅 “The growth of fact-checking in a world of Pinocchios,” with Mevan Babakar, Itziar Bernaola, Julien Pain, Mark Stencel and Giovanni Zagni


Terrorists use the media, and it’s our fault

In the avalanche of uncertainty that followed the attacks in Brussels, the ISIS propagandists were able to dictate their story — literally word for word — to an international, and specifically Western, audience. Releasing the claim of responsibility first in English was no mistake. Directed, first and foremost, at the Western enemies of ISIS, the statement was a way to capitalize on the international media storm surrounding Brussels that day. Be it through headlines or tweets, the propagandists manipulated a global audience, opponents and sympathizers alike, to disseminate their message of intimidation and enhance the perception of ISIS’s threat. The technique is not new. [The Atlantic / Charlie Winter]

Nowadays, terrorists follow the successful strategies of professional companies and politicians in a perfidious way: instead of merely exploiting the media as an instrument, they bypass journalism altogether with the help of social media. […] Tweets are not a source journalists could or should trust, however difficult it is for journalists to report the story themselves. Without the amplification of mass media Twitter’s reach is still limited (as are its profits). [EJO / Klaus Beck]

🔊 We’ll tackle this topic at ‪#‎ijf16‬:

📅 “Covering terror attacks,” with Mohammed Adow, Lamija Aleckovic, Salam Khoder and Richard Sambrook


How to avoid falling for an Internet hoax

“Slow down. Double-check. Don’t share anything you can’t verify”

For Fergus Bell, co-founder of ONA’s UGC Ethics Initiative, handling UGC in an ethical way is essential for the future of journalism. “There are ways to be competitive and ethical at the same time. I think that it requires the industry to work together. There are certain standards that we can come to — just because this is new, it doesn’t mean that we can’t get together and talk about it.” [journalist.co.uk / Alli Shultes]

Social media activity and initial reporting around Tuesday’s bombs in Brussels underlined the need for newsrooms to have considered policies in place to guide reporters and producers when big news breaks. It is not just about separating fact from fiction, or verifying whether a photo is from the scene or an archive. It extends to the ethics of what and how you publish. [WAN-IFRA]

“We went through Charlie Hebdo and November 13th attacks,” said Samuel Laurent, who runs Les Décodeurs fact-checking and data viz team at France’s Le Monde, “so we are (sadly) quite used to these… and the hoaxes coming right after them.” […] The lessons he’s learned from covering the attacks in Paris are freshly relevant to covering Brussels, Laurent said: Slow down. Double-check. Don’t share anything you can’t verify. [Poynter / Kristen Hare]

This is a useful Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook, you can print it out as a PDF the next time there’s a breaking news event, especially if you are a journalist. [On The Media]

🔊 We’ll tackle this topic at ‪#‎ijf16‬:

📅 “Effective tools and techniques for verifying social content,” with Craig Silverman and Josh Stearns

📅 “Automating verification: how far can we go?,” with Douglas Arellanes, Sam Dubberley, Jenni Sargent, Jochen Spangenberg and Mark Stencel


News outlets need to cooperate on vicarious trauma

News is traumatic. Footage of air strikes, war crimes, protests, plane crashes, police shootings, bombings and massacres need to be verified and filtered by journalists before they reach the public. This can affect journalists in different ways. Organisations deal with issues of vicarious trauma — from those who know there is a problem but don’t really know what to do about it, to those organisations that do not know there is a problem and, therefore, do nothing. No organisation has found ways to truly solve the problem. [First Draft / Sam Dubberley]

🔊 We’ll tackle this topic at ‪#‎ijf16‬:

📅 “Making secondary trauma a primary issue,” with Andy Carvin, Sam Dubberley, Mark Little, Gavin Rees and Kate Riley

📅 “The responsibility of reporting graphic imagery: ideas for protecting yourself and your audience,” with Andy Carvin and Claire Wardle


International Journalism Festival is the biggest annual media event in Europe. It’s an open invitation to interact with the best of world journalism. All sessions are free entry for all attendees, all venues are situated in the stunning setting of the historic town centre of Perugia. Come and join us!

Perugia, Italy | 6–10 april 2016 | X edition #ijf16 | Free entry

⚡ ijf weekly roundup

International Journalism Festival is the biggest annual media event in Europe. It's an open invitation to interact with the best of world journalism. All sessions are free entry for all attendees. Come and join us!

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International Journalism Festival #ijf20 | 14th edition | 1–5 April 2020 | Watch #ijf19 on-demand: media.journalismfestival.com

⚡ ijf weekly roundup

International Journalism Festival is the biggest annual media event in Europe. It's an open invitation to interact with the best of world journalism. All sessions are free entry for all attendees. Come and join us!