Apr 08

Watchup: New Way to Get News

I think I see where local and national TV newscasts may be headed — to a customizable newscast on a tablet.  Although it’s been around for nearly two years, I just discovered Watchup.

This tablet app, designed by European journalist Adriano Farano, pulls stories from many legacy media orgs such as CNN, AP, Univision, PBS and WSJ, among others. It starts playing when it loads but you can tap and play from a menu, plus it is searchable by topic –source or topic business, tech, politics, entertainment, humor ideas, sports– or by source.  And you can customize it to your preferences.

Watchup includes hard news as well as those on the softer side. Today I looked at stories ranging from a Wall Street Journal video on the Malaysian plane search to an ABC story on the Oscar Pistorius trial to a NYTimes feature on heirloom jewelry.

As you see below, the app runs one video nearly full screen but gives a ribbon of screen shots of other stories across the top. You can see the source (bottom left),  vote on what you like or forward on email, twitter, or text (bottom right).


Here is what Watchup looks like on an Ipad.

Tech Crunch says the app just got an injestion of $1 million  from sources including Microsoft Venture. The Nieman Journalism lab called it a “Hulu for news junkies” and it won a Knight News Challenge two years ago — where have I been that I missed this.

Leave a comment below about what news apps you couldn’t live without?

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Apr 01

The Skimm: An Edgy Way to Get News

Skimm_logo_squareCapturing the eyes of young women professionals and delivering the news — that’s the goal of a new daily newsletter, The Skimm. Right now it only comes in email. I was turned on to it by one of my students.

It’s an edgy missive, with quips and wit, which doesn’t follow traditional journalism formats but has  news at its heart. The business news website Fast company says behind The Skimm are two 20-somethings who produced at NBC News, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg.  They got the idea for the newsletter after repeated queries from their women friends about what was in the news, and how to sound like they knew what was going on because they were too busy to keep up.

Here’s a sample posting:

  • Usually, I’d say no but you never know what could happen. That’s the idea right now in Turkey, where local elections just took place. Normally local elections aren’t the most exciting events, but the stakes in yesterday’s election were pretty high. The elections were a big test for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled for more than a decade and is battling corruption allegations and security leaks, and his party. According to preliminary results, Erdogan’s party came out on top. Erdogan, who has been feeling out a run for president, celebrated by vowing to pursue the “traitors” who have accused him of corruption. Yippee.

I like it. Just waiting for the app to come out. What do you think? And what news ways of getting news are you using? Feel free to comment below.

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Mar 21

Tips on Verifying Video from Others

I’ve been writing several posts about all I’m learning in the  Verification Handbook. It’s new, free, and worthwhile. Download it on a mobile device and read it over the next few weeks.

The chapter writer, Malachy Browne, from Storyful, says to presume that what you are seeing is not the original, so you need to start by finding the first post and who is behind it. Here are a few of his tips for figuring out if what you are seeing is true:

  • Find keywords on the page on which you see the video, search that platform on those terms and then filter the dates so you can find the earliest version.  Then look for contact info for who posted it. Now your research has just started — find out about that account and who is behind it.
  • Look for clues in the video —  signs or business names. Find the location on Google Street View or look for photos taken in that location to see if they seem to be similar.
  • Compare the video to images on other media platforms or social media to see if they show similar events, locations, backgrounds
  • A new trick for me — if you are checking the date, know that on YouTube the upload time is Pacific Standard Time. 

I hope these tips entice you to read the Verification Handbook.  It’s well worth it.

We live in an era where we have to be suspicious — and our readers, viewers, and listeners are counting on us to give them good information.


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Mar 11

Tips from BBC Pro on Verifying Photos

We’re getting a lot of snow, even blizzard conditions, in Central New York and I wonder if bogus snow pictures will find their way around the Internet.

In the new Verification Handbook (a definitive guide to verifying digital content for emergency coverage)Trushar Barot, from BBC, offers many good tips for how to check the accuracy of photos.  

He says BBC uses a 4-point checklist, which makes good sense to me:

  1. Establish the author or originator of the image
  2. Corroborate the location, date and approximate time the image was taken.
  3. Confirm the image is what it is labeled or suggested to be showing.
  4. Obtain permission from the author or originator to use the image.

Other tips from Barot that I found helpful:

  • Sources usually talk in descriptive terms about where they are and what they see. If the person is vague, be skeptical.
  • Ask the photographer to send additional images. This helps you verify as well as get a sense of how the event rolled out.
  • While many people suggest you look at the  metadata, or Exif data, from the photo (make/model of camera and time stamp), he said, which I didn’t know, that  Instagram,  Facebook and Twitter  strip out the metadata.
  • Use Google Translate to read signs in languages you don’t understand.

The Verification Handbook is well worth reading — and do it now, before a disaster or emergency when you need to authenticate something quickly.

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Mar 03

Reminders on Verifying Information

Every time I teach interviewing I tell students one of the questions that should always be on the tip of their tongue is, “how do you know that.”

I  promised some takeaways from the new Verification Handbook (see previous blog post) so let me start on what the authors say about verification, in general.

In his chapter of the fundamentals of verifying information, Steve Buttry, from Digital Media First, notes that the recipe for verification has three ingredients. First, he writes, is “a person’s resourcefulness, persistence, skepticism and skill,” stirred in with “[s]ources’ knowledge, reliability and honesty, and the number, variety and reliability of sources you can find and persuade to talk. ” Add to that — documentation. And there’s your recipe. And it turns out differently every time, depending on how those elements mix together.

Buttry reminds us that sources can be wrong.  Official reports often turn out to contain errors.  Here is the most important part of what he said, I thought:

“They may be lying maliciously or innocently passing along misinformation. They may have faulty memories or lack context or understanding. They may be in harm’s way and unable to provide everything they know, or unable to see the full picture of events as they unfold. Our job is not to parrot sources and the material they provide, but to challenge them, triangulate what they provide with other credible sources and verify what is true…

Very important tips to remember.  More specific tips from the book still to come.


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Feb 24

New “Verification Handbook” is a Must-Read

You’ve seen the picture of the Statue of Liberty with the swirling blue and gold clouds around it, right?  A fake.  Or the shark swimming verification_handbook_ssnext to the homes? Both went viral during Hurricane Sandy. Both creations. Fake. Never-happened.

So to help us  from circulating similar fakes  next time — check out the new Verification Handbook. Its purpose is to help reporters and news managers judge whether information they have is credible enough to distribute. These are the skills we all need to learn so that when big news breaks and we are diluged with tweets, instagram photos and facebook postings that we already know how to discern what’s real.

The handbook is a a website. but also available as a  free .pdf,  e-book and Kindle edition. It’s the brainchild of Craig Silverman, of Poynter‘s Regret the Error blog, but contains chapters from 21 authors from around the globe.  It’s packed with case studies from Syria, Japan and Nigeria, as well as the U.S. Kudos also to the European Journalism Centre, who helped coordinate this.

I haven’t gotten through much of it yet but already see it is valuable for professionals and students. And I’ll try to summarize a few of the tips in coming weeks.  But here is the table of contents, so you can see how valuable it could be to you and your news organization:


So check it out now: Verification Handboook.  A chapter a day and you’ll be ready for that next big news story.

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Feb 10

Check For State Databases To Undergird Reporting

In the last post, I talked about finding people through public records.  What about finding data in public records or knowing what available in databases?

When you are in a crunch in a breaking news story or when you need statistics or information to beef up a story — to give you the edge — do you know where to go to find information in public databases.  If you’re already scouted some out or have links bookmarked, you will be so grateful when you need info in a pinch.

One place that probably has a lot of info is your state government. It might be worth an hour one day to go figure out what is available online.  New York is a model in having recently put a lot of content online via one portal, Open New York.  It also includes some local and federal data, as well. Take a peek and marvel.

To find out where online databases exist in your state:

  • check out links from a list compiled by the American Library Association Government Documents Roundtable
  • try searching on line by topic at a goverment website using the formula: “topic or subject” site:gov  Fill in the topic or the subject and put in your state’s domain if you know, such as “retail food stores” map site:ny.gov This will search for maps of retail food stores, but only on New York State government websites
  • call your state’s secretary of state office or attorney general office.

And if you know of other masters sites for state data, let me know below.

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Jan 28

Using Public Records to Find People

Public records have a lot of information about people, as well as records.   Here are 5 tips for ferreting out people through government records:

1. Get the county or region’s pet registry. People who won’t give their names or addresses to anyone will always want their lost pet returned and will register it.

open_secrets_logo_1502. If the person is politically active, check state campaign finance reports or the federal reports at Open Secrets or the FEC.    Occupations and addresses are usually listed.

3. Many governments put property tax or real estate information online. I regularly do an exercise with my students to find my home address, spouse’s name and the type of home in which I live.

4. Pipl aggregates a lot of data on the web and says it searches “the deep web.” It’s a long shot, and avoid the sponsored links at the top, but sometimes it can prove helpful.  Obviously, it’s best for people who have an online presence.

5. If you are tracking a top person at a company whose stock is publicly-traded, check out the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Edgar database. It gives info on the company but also compensation for top executives.

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Jan 16

5 Tips for Finding People

Get your new year off to a good start with a new plan for how to diversify your sources. Here are 5 tips:

foursquare_logo_1501. Need a real person, not an official?  Someone who is “living” the story you are doing?  If your story related to a location or venue, here’s a wild idea: Check Foursquare, the venue-based social media app.  The person who checks in the most at a venue is called the “mayor.”  He or she probably knows a lot about what goes on there.  The mayor often has a psuedonym, but check the mayor’s links to twitter or facebook and you can often figure out who the person is.

2. Check directories at governmental offices. See if your city or county has a phone directory on line. Or sometimes departments have them linked off their websites. For federal employees, check this US Government directory

3. Many professionals must be licensed and states often publish licensing databases online. Check your state to see if it has a directory like New York does.  Also consider Findlaw, a directory for lawyers or the AMA’s Doctor Finder.

4. When you need an expert in a particular field, check out Julian Sher’s fabulous list of lists of experts. Especially if you work web or radio, you don’t necessarily have to have a local source.

5. Many people, especially newsmakers, still have landline phones.  Remember you can find any published numbers in online phonebooks such as White Pages or Anywho. For  international numbers, try „Infobel  or Numberway


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Jan 06

5 Tips for Finding Stories in the New Year

One of our recent alums, a new TV reporter, emailed me recently asking for my handouts and tips on finding stories.  She’s struggling to come up with a couple pitches each day.  I think it’s one of the hardest parts of the job.  So here’s 5 tips:

  1. Meet sources. Take 30 minutes a week to meet with someone to develop contacts.  If you put it in your calendar, just like exercise or that dentist appointment, it will happen. You can probably spare 45 minutes (including travel) and the cost of two cups of coffee.  Stories come from people.  That’s my #1 tip.  And if that’s too much, alternate — every other week call three people  to schmooze in the 45 minute time period.
  2. Follow ups.  Check your station archives or the library’s database for the local newspaper (or even a national one) and see what was big news 6 months ago and one year ago.  There’s probably a follow-up there.
  3. Note dates. When you cover a story and know there is a “next step” mark that date — be disciplined. Always write it on a reminder list, calendar or to-do list. Have a system that’s easy and works for you.  Or see something on air or in the local paper that tells of an upcoming event, i.e. trial date, decision due, report out, then mark that down, too.
  4. Borrow good ideas.  Go online to other station/newspaper websites in your region. Then pick some for cities the same size as yours. What are they reporting. Probably a story where you are, as well.
  5. Read specialty pubs and sites.  Each week pick a different area/topic and read some specialty magazine, website or publication. For example,  The Packer (agriculture/food) consumerman.com, or Jet Magazine

Email me at readyreporter<at>syr.edu with other good story-finding tips, or leave a comment below.

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