How I did that

The days when journalists referred to their little black book of sources for stories are history.

Now, thanks to the internet and the spread of social media, anyone can be a source (or a journalist!), and great stories can come from anywhere in the world via the web. But there are over 150 million blogs, and more than 250 million tweets a day. How do we sift through these piles of information and identify stories in real time as they break? Once we have identified useful information, how do we then manage it and compile it in an efficient way into (award-winning) pieces of journalism?

The purpose of this session was to answer these questions by demonstrating new tools and apps to achieve these aims.

Laura Wheeler described how TOPSY can be used to find out what topics people are talking about on the web. It filters out spam and prioritises conversations by authority. To be flagged as ‘highly influential’ on TOPSY you must be in the top 0.2% of Twitter users, and ‘influential’ represents the top 0.5% users. It also has analytics that query the web for significant mentions of keywords, domains or usernames. For example, #UKCSJ sparked into life briefly, with over 1,000 mentions on the day of the conference (25th June), before plummeting after the conference. The student scholars were also busy tweeting from @absw, and generated a respectable 166 replies throughout the day (compared to a median of around two or three).

Once you have finished researching you need to manage everything you have found. Christine Ottery demonstrated Evernote, a tool that collates articles, notes web pages, images and audio into user-specified folders, and allows you to tag and easily search them from anywhere in the world. It is like a filing cabinet in the cloud.

Another tool to efficiently manage your life is IFTTT, explained by Dave Mosher over Skype from New York. IFTTT is a robot that moves things from one online tool to another, automating repetitive tasks so you do not have to do them yourself. It achieves this through recipes. An example given by Dave is a recipe that automatically transfers your Instagram photos to your Dropbox folder.

Once you have acquired all the necessary information and collated it, the next stage is to write and publish it. Christine Ottery described Scrivener, a tool used by the likes of Ben Goldacre to write books. Scrivener is a writing studio you can use to order and combine fragmented ideas to effectively structure long-form text such as books or feature articles. Finally, Laura Wheeler showed how Storify can collate online social media content such as tweets and photos, building up a story that ties these together in an attractive way. You can then publish your story to your blog with one click, and shine out amongst your 150 million competitors.

William Brandler, UKCSJ student scholar