Open Journalism Leads The Way In Investigating The Crash Of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17

from the just-the-facts dept

Several days after the crash of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine, still very little is known about what happened. Things are made much more difficult by the refusal of local armed groups to allow inspectors full and free access to the crash site. It is in precisely this context, where traditional reporting finds it hard to provide useful information, that an alternative — open journalism — shows its strengths.

One of the central questions concerning the MH17 crash is who fired the missile that seems to have been responsible for its destruction. In the absence of official news, it’s natural to turn to the Internet, putting together the many scattered pieces of information to form an overall picture of what happened. That’s what the Open Newsroom project has done, as explained here on the Storyful blog:

As images and videos purporting to show the missile system in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine began to flood in, Storyful, alongside other journalists and social media experts in our Open Newsroom and elsewhere, worked to verify this information and determine the veracity of these claims. From the images and videos, we were able to determine that members of the Donetsk People’s Republic separatist militia, at the very least, did appear to have access to an anti-aircraft system capable of an attack like the one carried out on MH17.

Open Newsroom was launched last year by Storyful, now owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Here’s a good explanation of the thinking behind the site, and of the benefits of working collaboratively, in the open:

In the competitive, now-is-the-deadline world of news, sharing information openly is a tough thing for news organisations to come to terms with. Traditionally, you don’t share a half-baked story before it’s ready, and risk losing a scoop to a competitor. That’s just madness. Because Storyful provides journalism as a service, our news clients obviously don’t want us doing that either. They want what we find first.

There are times, however, where the scoop isn’t the goal, and where being open about your processes benefits everyone. Where there’s a fake image or document being circulated, it serves the entire media to help stop it in its tracks. It serves to slow down ridiculous speculation, which only adds to the noise and obscures the facts.

Doing this effectively can mean drawing in the people who are best placed to help. That demands a certain amount of openness and vulnerability. You need to share what you already know in order to allow others to build on it. And sometimes, the best-placed people will be other journalists.

So we’re creating a space for that on Google+, and with a small, experimental group, it’s looking really promising. We have had contributions from independent journalists like Eliot Higgins and James Miller, NGO experts like Peter Bouckaert (Human Rights Watch) and Christopher Koettl (Amnesty International) and a host of others chipping in, along with members of Storyful’s editorial team.

Eliot Higgins, mentioned there, and who writes under the pen name of Brown Moses, is one of the pioneers of open journalism. He is probably best known as the unemployed Briton who became the world’s leading expert on Syria’s weapons, purely using open source information found on the Internet — central to open journalism. As Mathew Ingram explains:

One of the most fascinating things about Brown Moses from a journalistic point of view is that he is completely self-taught, and gets no income from what he does — he appears to be motivated purely by curiosity, and a desire to get the truth out where everyone can see it, something that is a fundamentally journalistic impulse. And yet he has no training as a journalist, and probably wouldn’t qualify as one even under the broadest interpretation of a recent U.S. “shield law” aimed at protecting journalists.

Higgins has also been working on locating the missile launcher using open resources, and he has just announced a Kickstarter project called Bellingcat, which “will unite citizen investigative journalists to use open source information to report on issues that are being ignored”:

Bellingcat will bring together both critically acclaimed and emerging citizen investigative journalists using open source information to investigate, collaborate, and report on worldwide issues that are being underreported and ignored.

Open source information, which is information freely available to anyone through the Internet — think YouTube, Google Maps, Reddit — has made it possible for ANYONE to gather information and source others, through social media networks. Think the Syrian Civil War. Think the Arab Spring.

At a time when newspapers and magazines have diminishing resources for detailed and possibly long-term research on important but often obscure stories, and when journalism is increasingly constrained by governments and companies in terms of what they are allowed to report on — even in supposedly “free” Western societies — open journalism is likely to play an increasingly important role in verifying and reporting on the facts that the powerful do no want exposed. And those are, after all, the only kind that really count.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “Open Journalism Leads The Way In Investigating The Crash Of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17”

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18 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Nice knowing you

Open Newsroom was launched last year by Storyful, now owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp

Because Storyful provides journalism as a service, our news clients obviously don’t want us doing that either. They want what we find first.

Conflict of interest much with the new owners?

Also…

Where there’s a fake image or document being circulated, it serves the entire media to help stop it in its tracks. It serves to slow down ridiculous speculation, which only adds to the noise and obscures the facts.

I’m not sure if the person making that comment is aware, but the vast majority of ‘news’ put out by the large news groups is noise. They love noise and ‘ridiculous speculation’, as it gives them endless material to make fluff pieces from.

Now I’d certainly agree that to those involved in real journalism and news reporting, who focus on accuracy over speed or flash, having incorrect information called out as such is very important, unfortunately, the ones who fit those qualifications are in the minority these days.

Paraquat (profile) says:

Journalism on the Internet

Well, I just did a bunch of research on the Internet, and I learned that “they” are spraying chemtrails from civilian aircraft. The chemtrails consist of tiny nanorobots which we inhale. They flow through your blood stream and get into your brain, then take over. By doing this, “they” control our thoughts.

Fortunately, I also learned on the Internet that you can buy various devices to protect yourself. There are machines which can blast the nanorobots out of the sky, or filter them out of your blood. Or best of all, you can take over the nanorobots and send a reverse signal so that you can control “them.”

And don’t get me started on how you can buy a device to communicate with aliens living right here on earth that you can’t see or hear normally because they live in the 8th dimension. Of course, if you can’t afford such a device, you could instead visit Sedona, Arizona, where there are numerous wormholes that access to the 8th dimension, not to mention the 5th, 6th and 7th.

Journalism on the Internet – fair and balanced.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I was thinking that “open” news sounds like a very good way for governments to set up sock puppets. It even sounds like a reasonable way to get socket puppet “real people” to submit stories, interviews, images, whatever to the open news organizations, quickly building up a wall of bullshit that will be eaten up like ice cream on a hot day.

I could just picture Putin setting up an American based open journalism deal that makes RT look unbiased.

Mr. Oizo says:

Too few people trust our propaganda..

Time to open the big guns: Rupert Murdoch’s open journalism platform. Ha. What a joke.

I just read some of the entries and it doesn’t offer much else than what the Euromaiden facebook pages presented during the initial riots in the Ukraine: propaganda without end. One entry for instance claims that the commander in eastern Ukraine accidentally admitted that they do talk to Russia. And then concludes that it makes all the other evidence in the audio-tape true as well.

This is known as a glitch: present some truth and then conclude something else. Few people can detect such glitches because it requires a conscious and logical approach to things.

Dawn Dawson (user link) says:

Open "Journalism"

It continues to be disappointing to see those cashing in on others expertise. Many don’t care as they swoon over the supposed notoriety when in reality most with a solid knowledge base continue to be taken advantage of by working for free. And now they want people to “buy in” for the “privilege”? If the experts were hired Storyful wouldn’t have to crowdsource information like: what does this say can someone translate, is this the xyz location and other similar inquiries. I’d rather stop using social media than continually be taken advantage of by greedy corporations and businesses and that includes the Federal Government. Crowdsourcing especially with disasters and emergencies is proving to generate more mis-dis information than help. My specific area is Social Media and Emergency Management and can say most information out there is only someone’s opinion of what is really going. As long as people promote themselves as Social Sleuths you can be sure that some of the information may not be even what they think it is.

just somebody says:

more propaganda

=He is probably best known as the unemployed Briton who became the world’s leading expert on Syria’s weapons, purely using open source information found on the Internet — central to open journalism.=

too bad his findings and conclusions were all bogus.
you should not just post stuff without checking out the facts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: more propaganda

It’s actually really fascinating: an online collaborative effort using open-source information to debunk an online open-source analysis. Followed, of course, by various and sundry de-debunkings (rebunkings?) and random aggregations of self-referential facts and analyses proving definitively that… something. Not to mention the de-de-debunkings…

All I know is that the good guys are objectively right and the bad guys are disingenuous liars. And that I like Antoine’s Necklace.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 more propaganda

It’s actually really fascinating: an online collaborative effort using open-source information to debunk an online open-source analysis.

I agree. Very interesting indeed. Although I did get a little lost as to which bunk was being debunked at times.

Kind of proves the old adage though: There’s always three sides to any disagreement. Your side, my side and the truth.

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