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Data security in newsrooms is a massive unknown – the worst thing we can do is ignore it

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There are two types of newsroom. Those that have lost data, and those that will.

Last week I was at Eurovision’s news conference – NewsXchange. It’s a fun and thoughtful annual gathering of leaders from (mostly) public service broadcast newsrooms across (mostly) europe.

I produced a session about two currents threats to journalism as I see it. The first is that journalism is increasingly put into the same category as terrorism when it comes to government investigations. This has massive implications for protection of journalists’ sources. If we are unable to keep a secret, because terrorism legislation forces us to reveal it when asked by authorities, how can we expect a whistleblower to trust us with information which is absolutely in the public interest?

The second threat is that large media organisations are increasingly seen as a prestige target by hackers. One example: TV5 was taken off the air for around 18 hours earlier this year.

At the start of the session I asked the audience a set of questions about their news organisation and security of their data. They voted using personal push-button handsets. I want to share the results here as we didn’t have enough time in the session to analyse them in detail.

If you are relatively new to data security threats, they might shock you. Sadly, for the most part myself and the experts I had with me on the panel found some of the results all too predictable.

I should stress this is not a statistically accurate survey, it is simply meant to be an indication of the thoughts of the people in the room at the time.

Using a VPN

VPN use: An easy one to start with, and I’m pleasantly surprised that over a third of people use a secure connection on their own computer.  However the number of people effectively saying ‘I know I should, but I don’t’ is where I expected it to be.

Data safety in the field

Data safety away from base: I asked here specifically about how reporters treated any data-carrying equipment once it was out of the office. How well do they stick to the IT rules?

I was particularly interested in the results of option two, as it’s an indicator of the extent to which corporate IT policies get in the way of newsgathering workflows. In many cases side-stepping the rules temporarily in order to speed the story back to base is acceptable as long as you’ve assessed the risks well enough.

I wasn’t prepared for a full two-thirds of the voters either not knowing when their reporters might be taking risks with important data, or not knowing what procedures were even in place!

Mobile phone data safety

Mobiles: I’ve seen this on many occasions.  A reporter can’t get their work phone to do what they need it to, so they use their own phone, and half the respondents do not think this is an issue! The danger here is that a personal mobile phone is far more likely to be a ‘leaky’ data device. For a start, what happens if it gets lost or stolen with contact details of anonymous sources on it?

Newsroom data breach expectations

To what extent are you expecting a data breach: I am glad to see that most people are realists. It is extremely hard to prevent attacks, what matters is how you prepare for one and what you do afterwards. (The data theft from UK phone company Talk Talk had occurred just a week before. It was the third such attack and the company head didn’t even know if the data was encrypted or not! Astonishing.)

Effectiveness of protection systems

How effective do you think your corporate systems are: At least 20 percent of the respondents have a false sense of security, half need to ask better questions of their IT chiefs. Only a third of those who pushed a button are ready to properly plan for the attacks that will certainly come.

 

A quick note to the results: I’m displaying the questions in the order they were asked, but I don’t know the total number of votes that were counted, and of the 180 or so people in the room, not all would have voted and not all might have voted for all the questions.

I always welcome insightful comments. If you know something which would add to our understanding of these results, please let everyone know.

 

 

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Written by Robert

3 November, 2015 at 12:29 am

No more NBC Nightly News podcasts. The bigger loser? NBC News.

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NBC NIghtly News podcast in iTunes

Soon to be available nightly, zero days a week

The flexibility of being able to download audio and video programmes to my mobile devices is one of the things that’s revolutionised by media consumption in the last decade. I have a 64GB ipod which is pretty much dedicated to podcasts, and it’s usually complaining that I’m about to run out of space.

I’m a massive consumer of documentary and current affairs, but I watch very little on-the-day TV news. And thanks to NBC’s decision to kill the podcast feed of Nightly News, I’ll now be watching even less.

I’ve been downloading NBC Nightly News pretty much every day for the last couple of years. It’s a great contrast to UK daily news programmes. I enjoy the different presentational style, I enjoy the different editorial decisions. But I also enjoy the very traditional collection of ‘stuff that happened today’ packaged into one simple bulletin.

NBC Nightly News discontinued

There’s a helpful announcement pointing me in the direction of other ways to watch, via the dedicated app, or on the web, but here’s why the other options don’t work for me:

Both the app and website options need a live internet connection.  I don’t always have one. The fantastic thing about a podcast or download is that it works wherever you are, even when your connection is patchy. I’m almost always enroute somewhere when I’m watching, hence my internet is always patchy.

Neither the app or wesbite options allow me to watch at anything other than real-time. I have something like 35 programmes on my device and in order to fit everything in, I almost always play things back at a faster speed.

This may seem extremely geeky (and I admit it probably is) but I often listen or watch up to 5 hours of media in a day, and I only have about three hours to do so. The ability to compress time is really valuable.

NBC Nightly News screengrab

I chose an ipod specifically because is has the best implementation of this that I’ve found so far, as it attempts to keep the pitch the same, while increasing the speed. It doesn’t sound normal, but it isn’t so strange that you can’t listen or understand for quite long periods. A 30 minute show magically becomes 15 minutes long and I have 15 minutes to watch something else.

The audio version of Nightly News will still be available yes, and I could download that and play it back at a higher speed. However, without the pictures, I would do better with a dedicated radio programme instead, radio reporters don’t constantly refer to things you cannot see.

I don’t know the reason NBC are getting rid of Nightly News in video, but in doing so, mainstream TV loses another viewer and they hurt their overall accessibility at a time when ease-of-access is one of the most important things for a media producer. Make it harder for people to get to your offer, and the majority just won’t bother.

If I had the time, I could probably do a screen-scrape of their web video and get the programme back, but there’s so much competition out there, I’ll probably just switch to something else.

I never cease to be amazed at how organisations suffering from audience-flight make decisions which will exacerbate the problem, but at least my ipod has a bit more space now.

Score: Innovation 1, mainstream media nil. Again.

Written by Robert

1 February, 2015 at 10:13 pm

BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat – How to stay relevant

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Facebook – only part of the current solution

For completeness – here’s the full version of the piece I wrote for the BBC’s College of Journalism website.

It’s since been republished in full by the EBU on their Eurovision Journalism Now site,

On a side note, Newsbeat won Gold for Best News and Current Affairs programme at this year’s Sony Radio Awards. We’re all very proud.

As always, comments are invited, read and appreciated.

—–

About 18 months ago, I was asked by the BBC’s College of Journalism to go to a meeting in Radio 1’s newsroom. The instructions were vague: “Not sure what they need, but they’ve asked for a social media specialist.”

While I’d listened to their main programme, Newsbeat, I’d never actually been to Radio 1 before. It’s different from the rest of the BBC, even geographically. For decades it’s been in a separate building and even now, in the rebuilt Broadcasting House, it’s on its own floor, it has a different entrance, and you need a special access pass to get in.

The newsroom produces hourly bulletins and daily programmes for Radio 1 and 1Xtra. These are tailored to the target audience, 16-29 year olds and the core news topics reflect that: music, technology, entertainment, health, politics.

The main Newsbeat editions pack a huge amount into their 15 minute timeslot, and sound like nothing else on the radio.  Have a listen to a recent edition. 

So what did Newsbeat want?

“We need to know what the future of news is, for our audience”, said one of the Assistant Editors.

(So, nothing too big then!)

This turned out to be a fascinating question, and one that’s relevant to the entire organisation. What the future of news is for a 16 year old, turns into the future of news for the bulk of the working population about 25 years later.

Mandate for innovation and debate

Radio 1 has a very specific direction from the BBC Trust in its service licence, to “experiment with new technologies”. For News in particular “listeners should be encouraged to … provide feedback, ideas and stories and offered regular opportunities to engage in debate.”

Debate and conversation would be a key component of the next few months, both within the newsroom and with our audience. We wanted to be sufficiently plugged in and accessible, and extend the methods we used previously – email (already choked with press releases) and phone text message.

The shakedown of early social media sites was over, both MySpace and Bebo, had slid into irrelevance. Twenty-whatever-year-olds don’t use email, and figures from audience research suggested that text messaging was on the decline as well.

Newsbeat already had a page on Facebook, it was performing well.  The statistics suggested that nearly 40% of Facebook’s UK users were in Radio 1’s target age group of 16-29 which meant us potentially reaching millions more people. But we didn’t understand necessarily why we were there. We didn’t have a strategy yet.

I had two questions: How much better could we do if we put more effort into it? And, can we increase online engagement, try to attract a different audience to the one already listening on the radio?

Let me point out, that the existing audience isn’t bad, radio industry listening figures from early 2013 put Newsbeat’s reach at over 2 million people a week, but, this audience is falling quarter-by-quarter and the FM radio audience is older than Radio 1 has been told to aim for by the BBC Trust.

Fostering conversation

In surveys we’ve conducted in 2012 the standout comment was that our audience wanted more opportunities to share their opinions.

We know those opinions are worth listening to, and our aim is to keep the quality of that conversation high, but we didn’t have the resources to read and moderate everything all the time. The BBC has long had its ‘house rules’ for web boards. These didn’t seem appropriate on Facebook, after all, it wasn’t an area the BBC controlled. So we slimmed them down. We’d hide a post from general viewing if it was:

a) abusive (Radio 1 has led campaigns on anti-bullying online)

b) illegal or encouraged a crime

c) off topic

The quality of the discourse really took a jump up when started to talk more with our audience. When the conversation looked like it was getting off-topic, we would try to steer it back on course. If someone had a question, we’d answer. We asked questions back. Question, clarify, it’s what reporters do.

Newsbeat’s style is informal, but the web can be more so. That doesn’t mean we relax our language further, but we don’t get distracted when our audience does. Teenagers vent and swear, but they’re doing this on Facebook and Twitter (usually using their real name) not the BBC’s website. Their friends can see what they writing and if they’re ok with it, we generally are too.

The effect it’s had on listener engagement has been pronounced. We regularly mention on-air where people can join in the conversations and our presenter, Chris Smith, has become adept at summarising several of those messages live as they come in. We’ll often ring people back to record comments in their own voice. It’s a great way to prove that we actually use all this interaction and that there is a benefit to people taking the trouble to share what they know.

Being active on a platform you don’t control felt liberating for me. I once helped run BBC News’ first web comment forum, ‘Talking Point’, which later became a successful World Service Radio programme and a couple of name changes later is called ‘World Have Your Say’.

‘Talking Point’ was exclusively email based and worked by a journalist painstakingly cutting and pasting comments back into a webpage. Here’s an example of the early days.

Technologically and socially, it feels like we’re light years away from that now.

Fit in – stand out

One of the first things we looked at online was Newsbeat’s tone-of-voice. When the info you’re posting gets mixed together in a newsfeed of (normally) real friends, you need to fit in, lest you be unfriended/unliked.

However, when some of the stuff you’re telling people may be important to their health (a recent story looked at side-effects of dermal filler injections) you want those stories to stand out.

Social media is image driven, photos get attention. Apart from anything else, they take up more space on newsfeeds and stand out a little more. Photosharing apps get heavy use; No wonder Facebook bought market-leader Instagram.

Pictures are our highest rating type of content for social media, they can explain with a single glance. Any modern phone creates them fast and shares them faster.

Twitter

While communication gets ever more mobile, the humble SMS text message seems to being replaced by chat applications like WhatsApp, and by 2012’s top social media tool for us, Twitter.

Newsbeat’s gone from zero to over 21,000 Twitter followers in 2012. When we started, we knew that there were 6 million people in Britain using it, the majority in the 18-34 age range, a significant part of Newsbeat’s audience.

Part of the increase is down to increased smartphone use. About halfway through the year we reached the tipping point where the stats showed that more people we accessing us on their phone, than on a desktop computer.

Day-to-day, one of our reporters is on hand to talk to the audience on Twitter, and while the programme is on-air, provides a live feed of additional background information. It’s “second screen” for live radio.

How effective has it been?

We more than doubled our online reach in 2012, and the engagement – people talking about Newsbeat stories on Facebook – tripled.

We’ve also been able to increase the number of stories we can cover. Newsbeat would normally rack up around 2,000 web stories in the course of a year. When we added in the social media platforms, we found the amount of content we published had increased around 60%.

Social media views can amount to a 10% increase in our audience overall, important at a time when traditional radio listening is falling.

The type of stories we’re able to cover has changed, some that we’d have huge difficulty in getting otherwise. Recently we covered the unusual cases of rape claims against men which turn out to be false.

We received several private Facebook messages from men who were affected and wanted us to know what the accusation was like for them. Had we not been a simple button push away, I don’t think we would have received these.

We’ve been able to provide an active forum for the opinions of our target age group that we can represent every day. The debate over 18-24 year olds having to work to receive a benefit payment achieved a record, with 800 people commenting on a single story.

We had a viral hit for this photostory about a fire in Chicago which turned the building into something like an ice sculpture.

One in three who saw this the pictures we posted, shared them with someone else. That’s massive, not just for Newsbeat, but for social media response as a whole.

I’ve also learned that a lot of things are completely outside your control. You can’t implement a set of procedures and then sit back anymore. The environment is changing too quickly. New tools constantly appear, the use of familiar ones shifts little by little meaning the way you handle them has to alter as well. Sometimes you’ll wake up and find a site has been completely redesigned, with functions you used daily, suddenly no longer there.

Next steps

Relevant news and information is a core part of Radio 1’s offering but staying accessible is getting harder. Fewer people in our target age group listen to the radio and those that do are listening less.

In the last year we’ve succeeded in increasing the reach of our original journalism. We’re making up the difference in falling radio listeners online and are able to use sites like Facebook as an extension of our own publishing platform.

It’s clear we need to continue to position Newsbeat’s tailored news service in front of the people it’s designed for, and the stats show 15-24 year-olds continue to desert live radio. Why would you carry on listening when online music and TV services, and social networks fulfil your needs?

Bar the relatively new Newsbeat website, the last time Radio 1 made a big shift towards where to audience was drifting to, was in 1988 when the station transferred to FM.

With Tony Hall, the new Director-General placing emphasis on future strategy, the time is arguably right for change. The audience is clearly drifting mobile now. Newsbeat, rather than being primarily news on the radio, will become a mobile news brand, inherently social, more visual, and with the ability to go live to any of our users, and with a much better way to listen and interact with our audience.

The key question for us now is: For someone just starting to listen to Radio 1 now, aged 16. What does Newsbeat look like in 5 years?

The issues haven’t changed, but how we report and deliver those stories must.

Written by Robert

13 June, 2013 at 1:40 pm

News, social media and BBC Radio 1

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Mobile and digital

You can listen to the radio on this. Chances are you don’t.

I’m a tad proud today. I’ve become just learned enough to be invited to write for the BBC College of Journalism’s website.

The future of news has become something of an obsession and a specialty over the last three years. I’ve been part of a team looking closely at the way newsrooms work and factoring-in new ways of working incorporating, in my case, social media.

For a chunk of that time, I’ve been working at Newsbeat, on BBC Radio 1. It is has been a brain-stretching joy to be back in a radio newsroom. The place buzzes with energy. Even with the alarm going off at 5.30am, it’s a place where you look forward to going into work.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far, on the college’s own site.  This has been tidily subbed down to fit their style, but in a couple of days, I’ll post the longer version.

If you work in journalism, radio, or social media, I hope it’ll be interesting reading, and I would really appreciate your comments.

Written by Robert

23 May, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Posted in journalism, radio, social

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Why crowd-sourced films are the biggest disruptive force I’ve seen in years

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Vyclone screenshot

Warning: Severe disruption ahead

Something new for entertainment executives to stress over

Over the last few days, I’ve been playing around with a mobile video app called Vyclone.

Check the site, download and play, but I urge you to play with other people who have the app in the same room. It’s really important you do, or you just won’t get it.

If you’ve ever been to a large event, videoed it, and have then been disappointed at the results, you’ll love this app. If you’ve experience of storytelling in video, the possibilities will probably charm you.

If you work for a commercial broadcaster, or in electronic distribution rights for events, it will probably stop you sleeping at night.

Vyclone finds all the other people in the same place as you, recording the same thing, and stitches their videos together into a multi-camera shoot. If you don’t like what it does automatically, you can make your own camera mix.

It’s the most disruptive, fascinating, troubling, creative, delicious, innovation I’ve seen in years. This is a game-changer.

Some perspective: 15 years ago, worried rights-owners would try to ban people bringing video cameras into their events (some still do). They had already sold the TV rights to another company and were obliged to protect that sale.

With mobile phone video, there were too many people to police, but they quickly realised it wasn’t a threat because these individuals made rubbish content. They weren’t organised and had no scale or impact. The individual YouTube stats for the uploaded videos proved that.

These elements have now irrevocably changed. A crowd-source video app offers both organisation and scale, automatically.

Let’s say I’m at Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend music festival. I’m recording Nicki Minaj performing ‘Starships’

(top chune btw). My camera only gets a general view of the stage. But at the front, two other people I don’t even know are recording the left and right sides of the stage. One might have Minaj in full close-up. Yet another person is recording the crowd and their friends further back.

The app stitches all of those shots together into a music video.

If you’re a broadcast professional, I can already hear your say “it still won’t be as good as our planned, directed TV coverage”, and you are absolutely right. But, here’s the kicker:

It’ll be good enough.

YouTube doesn’t amass millions of eyeballs a day because it’s professional. It has content that for the most part, is just good enough for the few minutes those millions want to watch.

Now, take my music festival scenario and imagine instead a riot. Or a war zone. You see how powerful this might be for news gathering?

There’s still a long way to go obviously. For now, you actually have to be recording through an installed application for the auto-mix to work. There’s a limit of 4 other cameras in a single mix. The video quality is, well, from a mobile phone. All these will improve and become less restrictive.

But even now, it’s good enough.

There are fights to come. The technology raises massive issues about whether anyone can “own” the resulting video when anyone is free to remix and share the individual parts.

Given the massive, lucrative sporting event about to engulf my home city of London, I’ll give you one last scenario to imagine the impact of a crowd-sourced, non-owned, multiple camera recording:

The men’s 100 metre final.

I wish the International Olympics Committee a good night’s sleep.

Written by Robert

25 July, 2012 at 12:23 am

Meeting Amadou Mahtar Ba

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Amadou Mahtar Ba & Nick Kotch, originally uploaded by R Freeman.

Amadou is the first of the visiting speakers this week. He’s head of the African Media Initiative. They aim to improve media freedom, strengthen professional journalism standards and increase investment in African media.

Some of his main speaking themes:

The media are critical in shaping Africa by promoting democratic governance and economic growth.

A background into the development of AllAfrica.com – a need for Africa to tell its own stories, particularly at a time when many newspapers did not have their own websites.

The rise of mobile phones as a content creation device and a content distribution tool.

The need for journalists to act as facilitators and moderators of debate and constantly ask who their audience is and how they are best reached.

Written by Robert

31 August, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Business, journalism, training

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First visit to Nairobi

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I’m in Kenya for the first time!

I’m with a group of journalists being hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies.

I’m hoping to add some pictures to this a bit later once I’ve got my camera hooked up and the internet speeds have got a bit faster come 5pm.

Practising taking photos

Written by Robert

30 August, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Posted in journalism, training