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Media experts discuss preparing for the UK's first real 'hashtag election'

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Media experts discuss preparing for the UK's first real 'hashtag election'

Jim Waterson, Deputy Editor at Buzzfeed UK; Alberto Nardelli, Data Editor at the Guardian; Sarah Lester, Executive Editor at Manchester Evening News; and Mark Frankel, the Assistant Editor of Social News at the BBC spoke on a panel dealing with the new approaches reporters might take to ensure they produce engaging, balanced and social journalism chronicling the UK poll.

Here’s what they shared about how they are getting ready for the elections:

The ‘hashtag election’

The 2010 general election already saw social media playing a big part but panelists agreed this will be the first 'real' social media election, or the ‘hashtag election’, as BBC’s Mark Frankel called it. 

“This time, social has changed everything,” Manchester Evening News’ Sarah Lester began. “It will inform how we source, create and share our content.  We’re going to put our audience first: readers will help us decide what we cover. We’ll use Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr and Vine to source content.”

Analytics will also play a vital role in the Manchester Evening News’ coverage: “If it’s not being read it’s [probably] not worth it. If it’s not doing well we’ll stop doing it or look at it in a different way.”

“We’re also planning some mobile-friendly regional maps,” says Lester, “Where you can click through maps for all regional areas...and live blogs will be the bread and butter of what we do.”

Data journalism

The panelists also indicated that data will stand at the centre of coverage, alongside social media this election.

According to the Guardian’s Data Editor Alberto Nardelli, there are three fundamental changes to how data will be used differently to the previous election: “We will have access to more data than ever before, we have access to experts and fact-checkers on Twitter and other platforms in a way we didn’t 5 years ago, and data journalism has become much more mature,” he said. 

However a greater amount of available data also presents new challenges. Nardelli stresses the need to balance accessibility with the complexity of data. False information and rumours spread quickly on open platforms and they influence people’s opinions and perceptions. 

“Just having lots of numbers and figures isn’t in itself a good thing. There is a big distinction between information and knowledge,” says Nardelli. “Often data without humanity is meaningless, it’s about connecting data with stories.” 

Mobile is first

Mobile is a priority at BuzzFeed says Jim Waterson: “60 to 70% of our readers are on mobile, so everything needs to look great on mobile.” 

Rather than a webpage preview BuzzFeed UK tests its article preview on dummy iPhone screens before publishing. “We won’t publish it if it doesn’t look good on mobile,” Waterson said.

According to Waterson there are two types of stories BuzzFeed is interested in reporting while covering the general elections: “We’re interested in either very niche topics, or the mainstream ones that get big traction. We are not interested in the middle ground, which is already really well served by a lot of other places.”

BuzzFeed’s journalists will also be focusing more on sourcing stories from Instagram and Facebook instead of Twitter, since the platforms are better at surfacing undiscovered content and are not as well understood or closely followed by journalists as Twitter.

Keeping the election debate balanced

Maintaining a balanced debate and filtering the noise on social media are at the core of BBC coverage, Mark Frankel told the audience. 

Frankel said the challenge is to make sense of the noise, but still stay across everything. Because social media will play such a big role during the campaign, events will occur in which the breaking news will be discussed on social platforms before appearing as stories on news sites, raising questions about how best to filter and make sense of social media noise.

“Do you become a part of someone else's campaign by sharing a political meme? Political memes are very shareable but they are not necessarily an issue; how much do you want your journalism to remain focused on NHS, on education, on the economy?” he asked. 

With politicians and parties speaking directly through social media the challenge will be to find the right balance between reporting the debate that’s happening on social platforms and producing shareable content - while keeping the focus on the important issues. 

Frankel also said it is important to to keep in mind the platforms your audience is on: “Politicians are on Twitter and Facebook, but the young audience is, for example, on Snapchat and Instagram. How do you balance your desire to be where the candidates and the politicians are with the need to be where your audience is?”

While the reality of planning election coverage kicks in, with cuts and capacity issues newsrooms need to be prepared to do more with less, he added.




2015-02-04 13:58

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