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Public notebook

Innovation in news: Al-Jazeera Labs

Image: Al Jazeera Labs website
Image: Al Jazeera Labs website

Fascinating to see how Arabic and English news service Al Jazeera is approaching the innovation imperative with its Al Jazeera Labs project.

In the first couple of months of this year the company has rolled out many deals and pilots in interesting areas, according to a great report on Journalism.co.uk. I’m especially intrigued by things like its experiments with Creative Commons licensing of content and use of data visualisation in news stories like the recent war in Gaza.

The map is using both mainstream media reports and what people are saying in social media, via Usahidi, a “platform for crowdsourcing crisis information”. It is designed to help build up a picture of what is happening in a crisis situation – be it a natural disaster or a military conflict – based on what people are saying (by text, blog, Twitter etc.) on the ground.

Image: Al Jazeera's Gaza map on the Ushahidi platform
Image: Al Jazeera's Gaza map on the Ushahidi platform

It’s a very interesting concept, and interesting to see serious attempts to make sense of and filter the rich information – with all the sensible caveats about reliability – that personal content from people involved or near to a crisis situation create.

Here’s a map that has been created from data about the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Image: An Ushahidi map of incidents in DRC Congo
Image: An Ushahidi map of incidents in DRC Congo
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Public notebook

Edge of a riot: Social media, balance and truth in the news

Image: A police line forms toward the end of yesterday's Gaza protest in London (credit: Rich Lewis)

When I was a student in 1994 I was on the front cover of The Indpendent the morning after a riot outside the Houses of Parliament.

The image was of a grimacing, dreadlocked fellow’s grimacing face lunging over the line of police shields.

(No, that wasn’t me…)

The picture spoke a thousand words. It told the whole story. The whole story of a photographer standing the other side of police barricade.

The image looked as if it was taken in the heat of the disturbance. In fact it was a while before anything had happened, when what would become a riot was still a peaceful protest against the Criminal Justice Bill. The man was drunk and on his own. I saw him have a tussle with the cordon of police and – rightly so – being arrested and taken away.

Far from being part of an angry mob there was no one behind him. Well, I was – a few metres back and hence I was in the shot.

Being *in* the protest was a very different experience to being the safer side of the police lines.

After yesterday’s protests in London about Gaza yesterday turned to violence, much of the news coverage is, understandably, about the riot, with few of the images and little of the copy dwelling on the rest of the day of protest. If it bleeds it leads, as they say…

Image: A policeman in riot gear at yesterday's protest (credit: Tyron Francis)

The non-bleeding, peaceful protests get their own coverage in social media. A search for “London protests” filtered by most recent brings images from today’s pro-Israel protests in London, then hundreds of images of yesterday’s March. There are the beginnings of trouble in there (police changing into riot gear as the mood gets uglier, fireworks going off outside the Israeli embassy) and some of the actual violence.

No doubt that in part reflects the priorities of people caught up in the violence (taking part / trying to get away rather than documenting the moment) but perhaps also gives a more proportional balanced view of how the day unfolded. The creativity and passion of the protesters, the diversity of people taking part, the scale of the event are there in the hundreds of photos people have uploaded.

Image: A family on the protest march (credit: Tyron Francis)

The truth is more prosaic, less dramatic, slower than the news cycle. But at a time when churnalism and misinformation is decaying the media’s usefulness as a truthful recorder of events, sometimes social media is where we need to turn for the facts.

: : I went back to the Flickr search as I finished this article and there were many more images of the violence at the end of the day being posted…

There are of course,

For a protester’s-eye view of being on the the march have a look at this:

Gaza protest in London from maryrosecook on Vimeo.

This one follows the news media’s format a little more closely, with the most of it being of the rioting at the end of the day. In big protests like this one, there are often people who are really there with the hop of provoking and tkaing part in trouble, masking their hooliganism as political activism.