How to crowdsource ethically in times of tragedy

Another weekend – and another murder on the streets of Gloucestershire.

My friends at the Gloucestershire Live website have been kept incredibly busy by a weekend of grim crime.

One, I should assure the parents of our current and future students, that is not representative.  That lovely, peaceful lake on our campus is no mirage. This is a safe place to live.

But I digress.

Part of the coverage of any such tragedy is the identification of the victim, the painting a picture of someone who once had a full and vivid life.

My friends will be – gently – on the case.

I say gently partly because the press regulator Ipso has raised the bar when it comes to media identification of people who have just died, with a landmark ruling last year.

But also because last weekend, the Gloucestershire Live team were unfairly blamed for being too quick off the mark in approaching the friends and family of Camran Green after he was killed in Cheltenham.

In fact the approaches on Facebook had come from the regional news agency, SWNS.

Editor Jenny Eastwood made it clear – on Facebook, and in response to heavy criticism of her staff, that they had made no approaches to Camran’s family.

It’s worth saying that Gloucestershire Live did use the material which SWNS unearthed.

And I would have done the same.

What’s more, it would have been the best-read story on the site by a country mile.

It’s another illustration of my favourite – and most heavily used here – journalistic saying.


People don’t tend to like seeing under the bonnet of journalism, don’t want to know what happens around the back of the scenery to ensure they get the stories they love to read.

Getting in touch with people who have witnessed or been touched by tragedy is one of the most difficult parts of journalism – ethically, emotionally and logistically.

Luckily, there is no shortage of advice.

This is is a great round-up from the last newsrewired conference while this has just been published by First Draft News.

They’re both very well worth a read, and provide some well-tested answers to the question I’ve posed in the headline.

The fact that crowdsourcing happens in public lifts that bonnet – and means the media have to be very careful. And thick-skinned.

I’ve seen some very witty replies to requests from Mail Online reporters for permission to use pictures.

And some people are just bluntly brilliant. When this was posted, The Sun came social media knocking.


And this was the reply.


In the end, though, there’s a rule of thumb that I’ve always fallen back on when dealing with any kind of potentially intrusive coverage.

It’s a set of questions that I’ve been urging my students to keep in mind at all times.

How would I feel if this was happening to me? How would I want to be approached? How would I feel if my mum/sister/best friend received this Facebook message?

If you ask those questions honestly and with emotional intelligence, I don’t think you can go far wrong. 


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