Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, opened the second day of the 2018 Journalism Skills Conference at Harlow College by introducing a panel that discussed how journalists sourced and covered some of 2018’s biggest stories.
Branwen Jeffreys, the BBC’s education editor, chaired the panel. Jeffreys said: "It’s easy to forget how rich the variety has been of big stories to cover in 2018", including Brexit, the royal wedding and the World Cup.
Stephanie Finnegan, LeedsLive and ExaminerLive’s court reporter and former Journalism Diversity Fund bursary recipient, joined the panel to discuss how she overturned an order barring details of Tommy Robinson’s imprisonment for contempt at Leeds Crown Court, and the abusive reactions on social media following her reporting.
She said: "Robinson was arrested because he was talking about the trial publicly. It was an exceptional case because of the nature of what happened. Abuse on social media didn’t bother me, but once they started to talk about my mum, we had to get the police involved and the company issued me with a panic alarm."
The Salisbury Journal’s head of news Rebecca Hudson discussed covering the Novichok poisoning. She said: "Once it was apparent that something quite serious was going on, the international press started to arrive.
"The locals are only used to dealing with the Salisbury Journal and suddenly had to deal with journalists knocking on their doors in the middle of the night. We were battling with trying to cover a huge story and the international learning curve, and communicating with the Wiltshire Police was quite difficult.
"We needed to keep our local angle. Interacting with locals a lot more really helped, which built stronger relationships with our readers. We started a live blog, which hit almost a million page views."
Alex Marrow, a freelancer for Sky Sports News, talked about covering the World Cup in Russia. He studied Russian at university, and said it proved to be a great advantage while working there: "The challenge for us was to avoid any biased negative perceptions, and we had to get creative to cover the matches.
"For example, when we found there weren’t any hooligan incidents (the country was upping prison sentences to deter it), we got Russians and Mexicans to chat to show that people weren’t necessarily fighting each other."
Conference delegates then formed three specialist break-out sessions in innovative teaching methods, teamwork and assessments; public affairs and local democracy reporting; and recruitment, apprenticeships and broadcasting developments.
Following the sessions, Ian Hargreaves, professor of digital economy at Cardiff University and Mark Spilsbury, research consultant for the NCTJ, presented the findings of the NCTJ’s Journalists at Work 2018 survey.
The conference concluded with discussions about verification, fact-checking and creating trust in order to fight misinformation, starting with a panel chaired by Will Gore, executive editor of The Independent.
He said: "The primacy of trust and accuracy have very much come to the fore. If we produce content that the audience don’t trust, then they will go elsewhere."
Hazel Baker, global head of UGC newsgathering at Reuters, explained that her team of 12 collaboratively verifies content that has not been directly produced by Reuters by assessing evidence. She told delegates Reuters puts out about 100 pieces of user generated content per week, adding: "It is a pressurised environment, but it’s essential."
Adam Parker, digital news editor of Sky News, said: "Newsroom skill is improving, but I very rarely get to 100% verifiable on a video and aim for 90%."
Tom Phillips, editor of Full Fact, said he also never gets to 100%. Full Fact is a charity that focuses on data journalism and checking claims made by politicians and in the media. So how to achieve accuracy? "Ring up and ask. The same journalistic standards apply", said Phillips.
Matt Cooke, head of partnerships and training at Google News Lab, continued the theme with an hour-long presentation on verification and newsgathering.
He showed delegates a number of digital tools journalists can use for fact-checking, and pointed them to Google journalism training tools on g.co/newstraining to "make sure you and your colleagues know what technologies and tools are out there to be used."