Monthly Archives: November 2014

www.legal-issues.com

The freedom the internet now provides to journalists and the general public alike allows information and media to spread around the world with ease and speed. However, there are many legal issues and dangers for journalists that span both print and the internet, which become far more complicated and easy to forget when working with the world wide web.

Copyright is designed to protect intellectual property. For example, if a newspaper wants to use photographs of a particular event, the photographer must agree to let them use it, and in many cases, sign over the copyright. This allows the newspaper to use the image freely without risk of being sued. However, since the rise of the internet and advances in technology, photos can be uploaded, shared, and downloaded from almost anywhere in the world.

white-copyright-copyleft-symbol-sign-women_designThis leads to complications as many people glance over the fact this material is still under copyright; the most common misconception being that anything on Google Images is available to use freely. It is also easy to forget that when uploading pictures in particular, you sign over the use of the image to the site hosting it (such as Facebook) which you can inadvertently agree to when signing up to the website. If the images are being used under ‘fair dealing’, such as for school projects where no profit is being made there are usually no issues, however if the picture is intended for commercial use then organisations can be faced with huge costs.

In a spell working for a student-run music website, I encountered an issue just like this; a cover photo we had used for one of our feature articles was under copyright and we had been oblivious the whole time. After being faced with a potentially huge fine, which with being students and all, we had absolutely no method of paying, we had to take extra care when sourcing images on the internet and painstakingly browsing through Flickr to find images free for use.

We had to fight hard to show we had no intention of making money from the images and it was purely a student website, and it was scary to see how easily mistakes such as this could be made.

Microblogging and blogs now allow the masses to get their voice heard and opinions out into the public domain. The freedom of the press is allowed because there are certain journalistic codes of practice that people are expected to abide by; but these become harder to enforce and content becomes harder to regulate when it is the general public posting information on these sites.

Users are allowed honest (and sometimes, harsh) opinion and fair comment with regards to others, but this should avoid attacking another person and should be based on factual evidence.

As Twitter and other blogs can reach a massive audience, inaccuracies, mistakes, or releasing potentially damaging information can be very costly, as it can cause defamation and be deemed libellous. Everyday bloggers are now seeing the potential threat of libel, as the information can be passed around the internet in seconds.

Sally Bercow is one such example of how Twitter use can lead to allegations of libel, as it shows how hints and jokes can be defamatory because of the amount of followers she had amassed. The unsubtle allegation that Lord McAlpine was guilty of sexual abuse cause damage to his reputation and distress, and finally ended in Bercow paying an undisclosed fee in damages.

mcalpine1

Despite these dangers of the internet in modern journalism, I feel there is no better way of engaging the public in issues that are in their interests.

Since a large percentage of the population are on Twitter or have access to the internet simply through their mobile phone, it is the best way to spread information and let the press fulfill its role as the fourth estate.

The barriers between journalists and the public are broken down through these technologies, and whilst there are issues with copyright and libel, it is fair to say that most methods of publishing online are flexible in editing their content and allow scope for reply.

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Storify This!

Before starting the News and Journalism unit, news curation and tools such as Storify were completely unknown to me. It seemed however, a completely necessary tool for modern journalism as soon as I learned of its uses.

News curation is a method of filtering the news, organising and sharing the most important information on a particular topic.

Storify is one such tool for doing this, as users can pull information from a variety of sources and lay out the information in a simplistic, easy to read timeline. For example, I was able to take information organise it in a preferred order and produce a multimedia timeline of news from this wide range of sources:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Getty Images
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Google+
  • Flickr
  • Youtube

Storify, I found, was particularly useful when trying to find out the core of a story, as it removed all the news noise from multiple sources and presented me with the clearest facts and most important information.

Whilst at the time, a live blogging of a football match keeps me up to date with the game, after the match has finished it unnecessary to read through all the text again. Storify can pull highlights and events out at present them in the same chronological order, showing only the things I want to see.

There is a debate as to whether news curation can count as journalism on the grounds that it is simply pulling information from sources rather than gathering news first hand. However, if we look at traditional journalism, editors for newspapers decide what is important, what should be on the front page, and how the news is ordered. A news curator simply does this using media as the source of information and presents it through Storify rather than print.

The most important aspect of Storify was the ability to merge existing information such as tweets and photographs, and create a new point of view on an issue. Storify allowed me to add in text of my own to express myself, so I took highlights from the Liverpool vs Real Madrid game and explored it at a different angle; how journalists used social media to engage an audience in debates as the game played out.

storify2

The key to Storify is that we can all now curate the news, we all have the ability to decide what is important to us, and we all have the ability to present these issues in our own way.

By exploring topics through social media, I found both facts and reliable news from organisational sources (such as the BBC), but more importantly I was able to incorporate opinions of the general public that had been expressed in response through Twitter.

Storify, overall, gave me a much wider view of an issue than just reading a newspaper or online feature. It pulled in a variety of sources, information and opinions, and granted me scope to use this information in a way I saw fit.

Although none of the information was sourced by myself, I still felt like I owned the piece of work I had created; it was my personal ordering of events and information, to support the issue and opinions I was focusing on.

Give A Dog A Phone: Reflecting on Microblogging

Using Twitter for journalistic purposes has opened my eyes to the power of social media. Before undertaking the News and Journalism unit this year, I had only the smallest insight into how useful Twitter can be with the speed of information, level of interaction and expression of opinion. I had used my personal Twitter account before to follow accounts that took my interest, and particularly useful ones such as BBC Sport, which gave me news and live tweeting of football matches straight to my phone. This was far easier than having to check a website or browse through the television channels, and despite this being one of the main reasons Twitter is so powerful I had somewhat overlooked it as a work tool.

As I began to delve deeper into the uses of Twitter, I began to see in black and white all the individual uses of the social network. Andreas Kaplan outlines the uses of Twitter in his article ‘The Early Bird Catches the News’, and it was easy to see how they related to my own account.

The majority of my timeline was at first just my friends and celebrities providing an ambient awareness; small details of their lives that painted a picture of the world around me.

I then began to significantly notice the use of marketing research, customer services and advertising on Twitter; based on my follows advert tweets began to be pushed into my timeline, accounts followed me based on my interests or location, and prompted me to feedback to them via Twitter.

Whilst using Twitter for my News and Journalism unit, one of the most significant aspects that struck me was the availability of information and, mainly, other people. Through a couple of hashtags and searches, I was able to talk to anyone, anywhere in the world. People I thought were not contactable in the real world were now just a click away and I could express my own opinion to them, form a debate, and interact with others talking about the same subject.

I was prompted to post questions to my feed regarding journalism, and then journalists began interacting with me. Twitter became a huge pool of information with room to question, interact and comment on news unlike through other media.

One of my own posts on this blog, was in fact inspired by information I found on Twitter; information I doubt I could have found with such ease anywhere else.

Twitter’s sense of involvement is something I had not experienced before; I began to feel involved in the world of journalism, accepted into this global community within a social network.

My retweets and questions actually contributed to the flow of news, as I helped topics to reach a larger audience and expressed my own opinions. If these tweets contained links then myself or anyone I had retweeted to had the option to pull further information from the linked website. Likewise, it would only have taken one giant journalism organisation to retweet something I had posted, and my opinions could be pushed into thousands of people’s timelines.

The mass audience, the speed of information, and freedom of expression all make Twitter an unbelievable platform for microblogging. It was easy to juggle my personal and professional life by organising my follows into lists, and my own timeline became an insight into my work as well and my own interests.

The experience on Twitter wasn’t without its flaws however, as the 140 character limit became an issue. Whilst this wasn’t too important with regards to news updates, as these often contained links to detailed articles, expressing my own opinion would sometimes have to be spread over a series of tweets or I’d be forced to sacrifice my grammar to fit in the word count. There were also issues with reliability of news, as the unverified accounts and hearsay floating around Twitter could very easily provide misleading information.

Overall, I gained many skills in communication and technology from this experience, and found a very valuable source of news for pretty much anything I can dream of, right in my phone.

The Need to Tweet

There is no doubt that in recent years, the way in which we consume the news is changing. The emergence of Facebook and Twitter as the dominating social media of today has opened up a world of possibilities when creating, connecting and sharing the news.

The speed at which these sites can be updated with breaking news in one of the main reasons they have become so useful is journalism, and they are a valuable source for directing users to full stories and other sites. Every news organisation that I follow, for example, will Tweet headlines as they break followed by a URL leading you to an in depth story.

We have even seen the introduction of live reporting due to social media journalism, whereby consumers are fed information as it happens; there really is no quicker way to hear the news, and since nearly all of us have smartphones, we can download the articles, videos and information straight into our pocket wherever we are.

Another key reason why social media is so powerful is that the visibility of news is huge. Twitter alone boasts 284 million active users, so it’s no surpise that social media is now rivalling, and in some cases, overtaking traditional forms of media as a main source of news.

52% of news consumers say that they now recieve some information from social media.

Check out this infographic showing how people read the news:

infogram

Above all else, the interactivity and audience participation allowed by social media is the defining distinction from traditional forms of news.

It could be argued that with television programmes and radio broadcasts, we passively read the news, whilst the information is simplified to address a wide audience. Twitter and Facebook give users scope to share, like or comment on the news that is being reported. Not only does this present a new freedom to express opinion, but also allows journalists to engage with their audience. The once impenetrable barriers between the general public and news organisations are being eroded by social media.

Social media has the ability to create a global community; users from all over the world can connect with each other at the click of a button, and information can be passed on with absolute ease. The power of social media cannot be undererstimated, as the freedom of speech can have both advantages and disadvantages.

During the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, Facebook users in Egypt rose from 450,000 to 3 million, providing a space for communication and planning, and only today, a viral social media campaign to find Jasper the dog lead to his rescue. The dog, who was lost on a mountain, was rescued after more than 6000 people raised awareness about his disappearance through the Twitter hashtag #FindJasper.

However, social media and freedom of speech is not without its flaws – in 2011 the London Riots lead to Blackberry Messenger being shut down, as it became too easy to employ the app when organising crime and broadcasting messages to a large audience.

Social media is now a necessity when it comes to journalism. Journalists will use it to share and even source information, and the general public can engage, interact, and share news of their own.

UntitledSee how Twitter asks “what’s happening?” That’s the only tool you need to become a journalist yourself and spread the news.

The Freedom of the Press

Following on from the discussion of journalism in a communist society, it is fair to say that journalism in a democracy is far without its flaws. The freedom of the press in the UK has many benefits, and allows journalists the space to report on subjects that the public should know about.

However, this freedom, I believe, has led to a blurring of the term ‘news’, and now a fine line between organisations reporting on what the public needs to hear as opposed to what they want to hear, has been crossed.

Since there is no formal privacy law in the UK, journalists are free to report on anything they see fit within reason; hence the huge wealth of celebrity trivia seen in the press which is dressed up to look vaguely newsworthy.

Here is where journalism in a capitalist and democratic society falls down; many organisations are now focused on selling the news, and if celebrity trivia sells, they’ll report on it.

The freedom of the press, in my opinion, can lead to a dip in quality and lack of direction in the news. There are huge sections of news websites and magazines dedicated to ‘celeb gossip’, whilst some stories are even laughably pointless in some cases:

Obviously, it is not the fault of the celebrity figure involved in the story that these stories make it to the news, but by placing themselves under a media spotlight they unfortunately must be prepared for scrutiny.

Whilst injunctions exist to prevent the media reporting on certain issues, private information still has a tendency to leak into the news. In a society based so much on free speech, and handed social tools such as Twitter, it is no surprise that celebrity injunctions such as that of Ryan Giggs, do not prevent gossip from reaching the masses.

Some people would argue injunctions undermine the freedom of the press, but it is also fair that celebrities should not have to resign their private life as soon as they become famous. This is where journalism must pay extra care in reporting in the interest of the public, not reporting the public’s interests.

The freedom of the press has led to many journalistic breakthroughs. Invasions of privacy, in some cases may even be morally justified for the greater good, but this is highly unlikely when it comes to celebrity trivia. However, the Watergate scandal, whereby journalists attained information about Nixon’s corrupt methods of election in 1972, was ultimately serving the public whilst the source of the information, ‘Deep Throat’, had gained the information in a questionable manner.

In more recent years, a BBC film ‘Baby P, The Untold Story‘ is a work of investigative journalism that blows apart the misconception of Baby P’s story. The film undermines the story that social workers held a huge responsibility in Baby P’s death, and instead picks apart organisations such as The Met and even Great Ormond Street hospital, who all played a part in failing the child.

The film is a great public service as it brings to light the issues the public should know about. It can be argued that news to the masses is consumed passively, and we do not question what we are told, and this was clearly the case until investigative journalism uncovered the truth about Baby P.

We undoubtedly need the freedom of the press, but it must be used in the right and respectable way.