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Social Media and the BBC
The Re-Making of Crisis Reporting
By Valerie Belair-Gagnon
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Table of Contents
Acknowledgements
Abbreviations
List of Table, Charts and Illustrations
L...
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Social Media Are Not Discretionary Anymore!
Chapter 3: A New Order
Introduction
The Arab S...
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Introduction
Crossing the Rubicon
On Thursday 7 July, 2005, during the morning rush hour, ...
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output (Boaden, 2008).
Boaden also remembered that during these events, the BBC staff foun...
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agenda, for most of the stories. Because most news output reporting the
official line, whi...
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audiences, is at the core of this book.
This book explores the role of social media in cri...
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book explores the ways in which social media have led to changes in journalistic norms
and...
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et al., 2011:1376). Yet social media are also used in other types of coverage.
Social medi...
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BBC crisis reporting since 7/7. In doing so, it looks at the norms and practices
engender...
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newsroom over time. In the last part of the chapter, I discuss the rise of social media
e...
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Social media and the BBC (excerpt)

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Since the emergence of social media in the journalistic landscape, the BBC has sought to produce reporting more connected to its audience while retaining its authority as a public broadcaster in crisis reporting. Using empirical analysis of crisis news production at the BBC, this book shows that the emergence of social media at the BBC and the need to manage this kind of material led to a new media logic in which tech-savvy journalists take on a new centrality in the newsroom. In this changed context, the politico-economic and socio-cultural logic have led to a more connected newsroom involving this new breed of journalists and BBC audience. This examination of news production events shows that in the midst of transformations in journalistic practices and norms, including newsgathering, sourcing, distribution and impartiality, the BBC has reasserted its authority as a public broadcaster.

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Social media and the BBC (excerpt)

  1. 1. NOT FOR REPRODUCTION   1   Social Media and the BBC The Re-Making of Crisis Reporting By Valerie Belair-Gagnon
  2. 2. NOT FOR REPRODUCTION   2   Table of Contents Acknowledgements Abbreviations List of Table, Charts and Illustrations List of Social Media Timeline Introduction Crossing the Rubicon Crisis Reporting in a Digital Era Structure and Chapters Overview Chapter 1: ‘Auntie’ Takes on Social Media The Emergence BBC and Audience Participation The 2004 Asian Tsunami: The Rise of UGC in Journalism The London Bombing Attacks: The UGC Hub in Action The BBC’s White Paper: A Public Service for All Taking Social Networking Seriously Chapter 2: Tweet or be Sacked! Integration The Saffron Revolution in Myanmar: From Emails to Self-publication New Guidelines The Mumbai Attacks: Reassessing BBC’s Norms The Iranian Elections: Twitter and Real-time Journalism The New Editor’s Job The Haiti Earthquake: The Power of Crowd-Sourcing
  3. 3. NOT FOR REPRODUCTION   3   Social Media Are Not Discretionary Anymore! Chapter 3: A New Order Introduction The Arab Spring New and More Training: Social Media as Part of the Furniture The Death of Osama bin Laden Twitter and New Journalistic Guidelines Newsgathering and Source Selection News Distribution From “Should We?” to “How Should We?” Chapter 4: New Structures, New Actors in the Newsrooms The Return of Techies The News Cycle and Social Media The Social Media Editor Social Media Education New Guidelines Tech-Savvy Journalists Re-defining Reporting Chapter 5: The Connected Newsroom Social Networking and its Impact on BBC Journalism Old and New Features of Journalistic Practices and Norms New Relationships, New Roles Conclusion: Global Crises, Local Responses Appendix 1: Unpacking Social Networking Notes Bibliography
  4. 4. NOT FOR REPRODUCTION   4   Introduction Crossing the Rubicon On Thursday 7 July, 2005, during the morning rush hour, coordinated terrorist attacks affected the London public transportation network. At 8:50 a.m., three bombs exploded between Kings Cross and Russell Square, outside Edgware Road and Liverpool Street stations of the Underground. An hour later, another bomb exploded in a double decker bus at Tavistock Square, near Russell Square. These attacks, quickly dubbed “the London bombings” or “7/7,” claimed 52 lives and left 770 injured. Trapped in the London Underground, witnesses used their mobile phones to record and take pictures of the events as they unfolded. Unable to deploy journalists to the bombing sites, the BBC relied on eyewitness accounts and victims’ stories. Alexander Chadwick, a survivor, snapped a cellphone camera photograph of the evacuation of Kings Cross. Chadwick emailed the picture to yourpics@bbc.co.uk. Around 11:30 a.m., the picture landed on the desks of BBC editors. It quickly became the iconic picture of the day. Other mainstream news media organisations such as The New York Times and The Times used that picture on their front pages. Chadwick’s case was not isolated; as the day progressed user-generated content became the main source journalists used to cover the attacks (Borenstein, 2009; Boxer, 2005). In a speech in 2008, BBC News Director, Helen Boaden recalled that: Within 24 hours, the BBC had received 1,000 stills and videos, 3,000 texts and 20,000 e-mails. What an incredible resource. Twenty-four hour television was sustained as never before by contributions from the audience; one piece on the Six O’clock News was produced entirely from pieces of user-generated content. At the BBC, we knew then that we had to change. We would need to review our ability to ingest this kind of material and our editorial policies to take account of these new forms of
  5. 5. NOT FOR REPRODUCTION   5   output (Boaden, 2008). Boaden also remembered that during these events, the BBC staff found that many of the amateur shots were “better than those supplied by the photographic agencies” (Boaden quoted in Barnes, 2008). The publication of Chadwick’s picture on BBC News platforms was a watershed moment in BBC journalism. In the eyes of many journalists, the publication of that iconic picture highlighted the increasingly blurred boundaries, the social network available to reporters, and tensions emerging from new forms of interactions between journalists’ and audiences’ accounts of events. Referring to the events surrounding 7/7, Richard Sambrook, former BBC Global News Director says that, like never before, the audience became involved in telling stories to journalists: By day’s end, the BBC’s newsgathering had crossed a Rubicon. The quantity and quality of the public’s contributions moved them beyond novelty, tokenism or the exceptional, and raises major implications that we are still working through. Not the least of these is how to handle this volume of material. Our small hub of four people was overwhelmed and is clearly going to be inadequate as we go forward. Of course, the BBC has used phone-ins, amateur video, and e-mail in its programs for years, but what was happening now was moving us way beyond where we’d been before (Sambrook, 2005). The BBC reacted to the influx of citizen material during 7/7 by building journalistic structures to integrate this type of material into journalistic output. A UGC Hub journalist claims that a week after the bombings happened, the UGC Hub team was set up: That proved to be a hugely significant story from an audience content point of view–user-generated content point of view because the content that we were getting from the audience on that day was determining our
  6. 6. NOT FOR REPRODUCTION   6   agenda, for most of the stories. Because most news output reporting the official line, which was that there was a power stop in the underground. We saw pictures of a bus that had exploded at Tavistock Square. 7/7 was a significant story for the BBC. Audiences helped the news organisation report the story with stark eyewitness pictures. Before 7/7, audience material had shaped the news, from Abraham Zapruder’s film of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas’s Dealey Plaza, to videos, pictures and eyewitness accounts of the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001 (Allan, 2013; Bélair- Gagnon and Anderson, 2014; Borenstein, 2009). Today, the quantity, quality and affordability of such material make every citizen a potential reporter (Cornu, 2013). The possibility exists for many future Zapruders than it was in the early days of professional journalism in the late 1800s and early 1900s (Gant, 2007). On 7/7, pictures, videos, and eyewitness accounts travelled through social media and e- mail, and landed on the BBC news desk, helping journalists put the story together. This continued for weeks after the attacks: on 21 July the BBC received 67 pictures and 33 videos, and on the day of the arrest of the suspects, the BBC received an additional 20 pictures (Douglas, 2005). After 7/7, the BBC had crossed the Rubicon, claimed Richard Sambrook (2005), signalling a turning point for the BBC’s relationship with its audiences. Although social media have enabled new forms of reporting, such as blogging, and a stronger reliance on user-generated material in reporting, BBC journalists are concerned with how social media affects their daily work. Anchored in the ideals of public service, and with expectations that it will pursue accuracy, balance, impartiality, and objectivity, the BBC faces a challenge: it seeks to incorporate social media into its reporting while maintaining its reputation and quality of content. The BBC strives to maintain its authority with audiences, licence fee payers, and engage them in a collaborative dialogue. This dynamic, involving a computer-mediated communication between reporters and
  7. 7. NOT FOR REPRODUCTION   7   audiences, is at the core of this book. This book explores the role of social media in crisis news production. It also unfolds social processes and tensions that have developed in professional practices and norms at the BBC. At the heart of this book lies the idea that the BBC’s struggle to understand and manage social media in its crisis reporting should be interpreted in the context of journalistic conventions, and the BBC in a period of politico-economic, cultural, socio- technological and institutional change. The BBC re-imagination of social media is part of a large-scale project of the organisation to become closer to its audiences. As Steve Barnett and Andrew Curry argue, changes at the BBC “have not been achieved without conflict. Change is woven into British society and political life. It has been praised and “stripped open” (Barnett and Curry, 1994:10). Crisis Reporting in a Digital Era This book examines the ways in which social media have transformed BBC journalistic practices and relations with audiences, and how journalists and audiences articulate this new logic of communication in crisis reporting. Crisis reporting refers to “surprise events that challenge key organizational values and demand a swift response” (Olsson, 2010:87). It is relevant to study changes in crisis reporting for several reasons. First, people’s ordinary lives are interrupted, which prompts them to contribute UGC material to news organisations. Second, from the perspective of the “former audience” and journalists, crisis reporting contributes to increased integration of social media in news reporting as opposed to daily news reporting. Third, it is also important to make the distinction between crisis reporting and other (daily news) modes of reporting. Crisis reporting scholars have claimed that social media provide “a new space of reporting with significant consequences for what was covered, how and why” (Allan and Matheson, 2004:7; Allan, 2013; Allan, Sonwalkar and Carter, 2007; Andersen, 2012; Balaji, 2011; Beckett, 2008; Chouliaraki, 2010; Murali, 2011; Riegert et al., 2010). The BBC has, for example, appropriated citizen journalism in its own “cosmopolitan vision” by incorporating “ordinary voices” in its news output, wrote Chouliaraki (2010). This
  8. 8. NOT FOR REPRODUCTION   8   book explores the ways in which social media have led to changes in journalistic norms and practices. It answers the question: have social media enabled new spaces of reporting in which “ordinary” citizens contribute to traditional reporting, created new structures within the newsroom, and encouraged a more “collaborative” type of reporting of crisis reporting? This book extends the work of scholars such as Mervi Pantti, Karin Wahl-Jorgensen and Simon Cottle to the case-study of the BBC, crisis reporting and social media. “Today’s journalists speak about and reflect on their own practices in the context of disaster reporting may yet help us to better understand how journalists, correspondents and news producers both conceive and perform witnessing with respect to major disasters and ground such practices within the organisational and cultural milieu of contemporary news production” (Pantti et al., 2012:93). Placed in an international context, this book also explores the effects of social media on the largest public service broadcaster news production (including sourcing, newsgathering, and distribution) by examining news production processes and tensions, particularly in contexts of crisis reporting. It also answers the following questions: to what extent have social media transformed BBC journalistic practices and relations with audiences? How have journalists reported crisis news events since 7/7 and what does this reportage tell us about which journalistic practices and norms are manifest in crisis reporting? How have BBC journalistic structures changed in relation to social media, and what are the effects on power relations in the newsroom? By addressing these questions, the book contributes to the revision of the blurring lines between ordinary citizens witnessing and traditional journalists reporting global crisis news events. Social media are global and have had a special significance in crisis reporting, such as coverage of the 2011 protests against authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, commonly dubbed the “Arab Spring.” Journalists are more inclined to use social media in the context of crisis reporting, particularly where they cannot access immediately the area under scrutiny and try to “learn from on-the-ground sources” (Lotan
  9. 9. NOT FOR REPRODUCTION   9   et al., 2011:1376). Yet social media are also used in other types of coverage. Social media are also critical in domestic crisis reporting. For example, the Glasgow airport bombing in 2007 and crowd-sourcing experiment with the London tube strike in 2010 each played a critical role in the BBC’s adoption of social media. Other events, including the UK elections in 2010, were also important in terms of political candidates using Twitter. Also, although the news organisation appears to centralise its social media endeavours within the UGC Hub in London, English regions have also developed their own social media goals and strategies. BBC journalists nevertheless remain accountable to the general rules binding the news organisation. This book gathered information from direct observation of the BBC newsroom, interviews with 50 journalists and senior managers, and document analysis of BBC reports, studies, and the websites of BBC News and the BBC Academy. The fieldwork was conducted in 2011 and the book describes changes that have taken place since the watershed moment of the London bombing attacks of 7 July, 2005. Since 2011, other global crises have occurred, including the continuing coverage of the conflict in Syria. This book describes and analyzes the early usage of social media at the BBC from 2005 to 2011. It contextualizes social media practices and norms within the history of the BBC. Changes in journalism affects how journalists report crisis events can be understood through the concept of “media logic” (see Altheide and Snow, 1979; Dalghren, 1996; Deuze, 2008). In crisis reporting, journalists use norms that are specific to their profession: accuracy, impartiality, verification and balance. These norms are, in turn, articulated in the new technological communication infrastructure (social media) which allows people to interact and leads to new power relations in the media logic and the news discourse presented to the audience. The media logic framework is helpful for understanding processes of management of social media in changing journalism. Structure and Chapter Overviews Part I of this book, “Crisis Reporting in a Digital Era,” explores the use of social media in
  10. 10. NOT FOR REPRODUCTION   10   BBC crisis reporting since 7/7. In doing so, it looks at the norms and practices engendered by the socio-technological and polico-economic context in which journalists meet social media. Chapter 1, “‘Auntie’ Takes on Social Media,” traces the transformation of BBC since the emergence of social media. This chapter describes how journalists have used social media in crisis reporting since 7/7 and how journalists have used these events to reaffirm traditional journalistic norms and practices. I focus on the link between technologies and journalistic norms and practices in the context of the BBC. I argue that social media need to be understood in relation to socio-political changes occurring at the BBC and in the journalism. We should interpret the struggle to understand and manage social media in BBC journalism in the context of crisis reporting, journalistic conventions, and the BBC in a period of political, economic, cultural and institutional shift. In this chapter, I show that the re-imagination of social media in BBC journalism is part of a large-scale project of the BBC to become closer to its audiences. Chapter 2, “Tweet or be Sacked!” provides an analysis of crisis reporting events between 2006 and 2010. During these years, the new communication context indicates an increasingly growing overlap between social media and journalism. To make this point, I explore several significant crisis news events: the Saffron Revolution in Myanmar (2006), the Mumbai attacks (2008), the Iranian elections (2009), and the Haiti earthquake (2010). Chapter 3, “A New Order,” discusses how as the upshot of socio-technological changes, politico-economic changes occurring at the BBC and the media industry, the period post- 2011 journalists had recognized social media as part of their toolkit to improve their reporting. I argue that we should interpret the struggle to understand and manage social media in BBC journalism in the context of crisis reporting, journalistic conventions, and the BBC in a period of political, economic, cultural and institutional shifts. Chapter 4, “New structures, new actors in the newsrooms,” maps and analyses the role played by techies in articulating journalism in social media contexts, particularly in newsgathering. This chapter compares and contrasts changes in the structure of the
  11. 11. NOT FOR REPRODUCTION   11   newsroom over time. In the last part of the chapter, I discuss the rise of social media education and link it to the emergence of the BBC College of Journalism, created as an upshot of the 2004 Neil Report. This chapter argues that social media have created a demand to manage this material in the newsroom. At the same time, we notice the emergence of new structures in the newsroom and the return of tech-savvy journalists defining social media in BBC journalism, a breed of journalists that drove BBC early success online in the late 1990’s. This chapter reflects on techies and the politico- economic, institutional and socio-technological conditions that have led to their return in power in the newsroom. In sum, the return of techies in the newsroom and the combined effects of politico-economic, social, institutional and technological shifts suggest that journalism in crisis reporting has become much more collaborative. The conclusion, “The Connected Newsroom,” reflects on the extent to which social media have transformed BBC journalistic practices and relations with audiences and how these transformations speak to broader issues of journalism, media institutions, and technologies. The preceding chapters have been descriptive in identifying structures, actors, norms and practices in the new media ecosystem, charting old and new boundaries. In this chapter, I shift my attention to the new media logic and outline the struggle of the BBC to manage social media in its journalism as well as the emergence of new structures and actors in newsrooms. This chapter argues that journalists use values and practices that are specific to their profession such as accuracy, impartiality, verification, and balance. These are, in turn, articulated in social media, which allows people to interact and gives rise to new power relations in the media logic and the news discourse. I argue that while the BBC initially struggled to manage social media in its journalism social media have contributed to the architecture of information that is being presented to its audience during news events. This series of changes has led to a more collaborative approach to crisis reporting, insofar as new structures accommodating this new logic have supplanted the structures that existed in the media logic pre-dating social media.  

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