Wise Words from Andy Carvin

Andy Carvin

Andy Carvin’s Twitter profile photo.

Last Friday, Andy Carvin participated in Reddit’s Ask Me Anything (AMA). If you’re unfamiliar with Carvin’s work, he is the Senior Strategist, Social Media Desk at NPR better known as the virtual news anchor covering the Arab Spring from his bank of computer screens in DC. He is also the author of the newly released Distant Witness: Social Media, the Arab Spring and a Journalism Revolution. You can read up on Carvin at The Verge.

Carvin’s AMA provides excellent insight into the world of virtual reporting and sourcing for stories. Feel free to read the entire AMA or browse the excerpts I selected below.

On Video Authentication
“The most import thing to do is look for context. Is there something visible in the background that can be IDed, like a building or other landmark? If people are speaking, what kind of accents do they have? If there are weapons involved, what kinds are they? Does the timestamp of the video match the weather forecast, or the location of the sun and shadows?”

On Virtual Reporting
“I think they’ll become more common, but not as a replacement to combat reporters. I’d rather think my work complements theirs. A combat reporter sees and smells the horrors, and can look people in the eye when talking to someone. That’s what makes war reporting great. What I do is often painting a broader picture of what might be going on in a larger area, beyond one person’s visual POV. I can also sort through lots of information in real time. They’re very different types of newsgathering experiences, but both valid and needed, I think.”

On Time Zones
“I’m on the east coast of the US. By the time I wake up around 6 or 7, it’s typically just after mid-day prayers in Cairo or wherever. Protests kick into high gear after that, and last well into the night. So if I tweet between 7am and 11pm, let’s say, the overlap is usually pretty good. Plus I can always check my Twitter lists when I wake up to see what others have been reporting while I was asleep.”

On Asking for Help
“…if something seems fishy to me, I ask people to help me investigate it. It’s getting hard to report on Syria, for example, because misinformation is rife on both sides.”

On Posting Too Quickly
“I once shared a video that I described as an injured child getting prepped for surgery. Only after tweeting it did I discover that the child was dead, and they were washing the body, as is traditional prior to a Muslim burial. I felt awful about it.”

On Archiving
“One problem with social media is that we don’t have deep databases of content that’s readily available. It can be very hard to dig into a story that happened six month earlier, for example. That’s why I back up all of my tweets and use tools like archive.org to find archival material when needed.”

On Predicting the Outcome of Recent Demonstrations in Egypt
“Ask an Egyptian.”

On a Work/Life Balance
“I try to work a regular work day – 9 to 5. When I get home, I cook dinner, play with the kids, give them baths, help with homework, etc. I try to make sure we maintain that routine as best we can. I’ve also gotten better at taking breaks from Twitter. Writing the book was also a good mental reset for me; it was very cathartic getting it out of my system.”

On Covering Uprisings
“It can be really numbing at times: economies falling apart, civilians getting killed, etc. But I like to think that I’m doing my small part by bearing witness to some of these things and helping people better understand them.”

On Social Media Driven Revolutions
“…there’s plenty of evidence how much social media has been used during the Arab Spring. It’s been very well documented. What can be quibbled over, though, is what role, if any, social media has played in impacting the revolutions, either for the short term or long term. And the answers to those questions are going to vary widely depending on what country you look at and what aspect of the revolutions you’re referring to.”

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