Pop-Up Newsroom #GE2017
How we turned a university classroom into a live newsroom creating a unique on-the-job training and innovation experience with real-time social data and content
On 8 June 2017 we invited 28 students from the First Draft Partner Network’s Academic partners—City University, the University of Sheffield, the University of Leeds and Goldsmiths—to City’s campus in London for a social newsgathering training and innovation sprint: the inaugural Pop-Up Newsroom, organized and hosted by Dig Deeper’s Fergus Bell and Meedan’s Tom Trewinnard. We didn’t prepare the students in advance by introducing them to tools or techniques. We didn’t tell them anything except that they would be trained in social newsgathering and we would be monitoring the goings on of election day.
We also invited a select group of newsroom products to attend. We wanted to give them access to the newsgathering and journalism as it happened, presenting them with a unique opportunity to observe and participate in the newsroom. We wanted to get product teams involved for two main reasons: Firstly, to offer both general technical advice as well as specific advice relevant to their products; and secondly to allow this observation and feedback opportunity to inform their own product development.
There are so many tools you can use to utilise information on social media. It was incredibly useful learning how to use these tools and actually put them to use in a real life newsroom setting.
— Pop-Up Newsroom Participant
A new approach — design thinking for editorial
Having participated in recent election reporting events, it would have been straightforward for the Pop-Up Newsroom organisers to define a detailed workflow ahead of time. Pop-Up Newsroom, however, is a fundamentally participatory concept: we wanted to create space for new ideas and engage the participants in the process of defining what we would do for the day and how we’d do it.
To facilitate this process, we used a couple of human-centered design methods advocated by the Luma Institute (helpfully packaged by Harvard Business Review as a Taxonomy for Innovation) and Knight’s Prototype Fund. We started by gathering some statement starters — ways of framing the problems and opportunities we were facing on election day.
In What Ways Might We:
- use new tools to create context?
- learn quickly while still reporting the election?
How Might We:
- overcome the challenge of verifying second-hand information?
- quickly find valuable information for reporting?
Getting the Newsroom up and running
Once we had gone through the first stage of this design process, the journalists identified four key areas that we would need to monitor:
- Polling Station Issues
- Fake News
- Breaking News
Further efforts to streamline the workflows brought this down to two core areas; polling station problems and security.
And so, we set about building workflows to search for and monitor for any problems that might be happening as people headed out to vote.
The first step was to crowdsource all of the possible words and phrases might use to indicate a problem. These were then turned into search strings so that the journalists could become familiar with building complex searches and using Tweetdeck for large-scale monitoring. Unique to Pop-Up Newsroom, the words were also picked up and analysed by engineers from Krzana who plugged that data into their platform and thus improving the results that it was able to spit out. The journalists and developers worked side-by-side to get the best possible combinations.
Through my participation in Pop-Up Newsroom I developed a strong understanding of the verification process, which I am confident will serve me well as an aspiring journalist.
—Pop-Up Newsroom participant
We also wanted to run media monitoring simultaneously with the social media monitoring and so we dedicated a team to using Spike. This media monitoring team were keeping an eye out for reports of issues that were being picked up by boots-on-the ground reporting and feeding them to the two editorial teams that we had established. This meant that those teams could look for supporting evidence on social media that would back up the claims reported by local media and in-turn might be of use to those outlets that were reporting it.
Formalised Training and Onboarding
Pop-Up Newsroom is about understanding through doing, although we did need to convey some theory throughout the day. We had prepared materials and so they were ready when we got to natural pauses or logical places to deliver it.
Only after we had worked out our newsgathering process and started to think about verification workflows (mapped to Meedan’s Check) and monitoring criteria did we deliver some verification theory.
We used those opportunities to onboard everyone on the tools and platforms they would be using. Represenatives from Check, Krzana and NewsWhip/Spike all delivered highly tailored training on their products based on the requirements the teams had determined in the early part of the process.
We also provided basic training on Tweetdeck and building search strings in Twitter, as well as the power and limitations of the other platforms (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat) and their native functionality.
Learning by doing
There was certainly a clear shift in the day from training lab to functioning news operation and it appeared to happen of its own accord. The presence of live data meant that the training and theory could be applied to real-life information and content very quickly and the journalists slipped into doing the task at hand.
We also came across an encouraging problem: our monitoring was working better than expected and we had a lot of content that needed to be verified. The editorial work needed some direction and the simple introduction of a team news editor made everything run much more smoothly. A clear lesson learned for next time.
By this point in the day, we had journalists from First Draft Partner Network member organisations looking at our output, which meant that BBC, Press Association and the Guardian were across what we were finding and the stories that we were breaking.
Mapping Workflows & Documenting Findings
This has just been an outline of the project that we took on but we have a lot more findings that we will be analysing and sharing. We had a person dedicated to documenting the entire day and recording the evolution of our innovation as it related to both technical development and editorial workflows and verification techniques.
We mapped all of the workflows that we created, building on previous work that we had done meaning that we improve with every iteration and share those findings in a way that will hopefully benefit as many newsrooms as possible.
We’ll be publishing the full report on Pop-Up Newsroom GE2017 with all our findings in the coming weeks.
Oh yeah and it isn’t an election day without election day pizza.
We did this with some great partners. Thank you so much to Google News Lab for powering the inaugural newsroom and for the support of the First Draft Partner Network, City University, Krzana and NewsWhip.