How social media and online content can be used in breaking news – “Twitter key to tracing witnesses” in the Guardian’s coverage of Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga’s death

I had a look at social media journalism in action after hearing Dr Claire Wardle’s thoughts on the web’s advantages for research, content and collaboration.

This week’s Guardian cover story on Jimmy Mubenga is an important exposé of abuse of authority, which brings to mind their investigation into the death of Ian Tomlinson last year.

It also shows how online media can be used to research and break news.

Investigative journalist Paul Lewis has used crowdsourcing and multimedia techniques in both stories, and described Twitter as key to finding witnesses to Mubenga’s death on the BA flight 77 to Angola.

On Wednesday, October 14, Lewis asked the Twitter community for a freelancer in Angola, and informed his followers of the beginnings of the story.

The following day, after a short piece had been published on the second page of the Guardian, Lewis appealed for further information:

and received a reply from ‘Michael’, a US citizen, who was the third witness to come forward.

Michael’s account was documented in Friday’s front page story on Mubenga, and an audio file of his evidence was made available on the Guardian website, along with that of initial witness Kevin Wallis.

He stated that Mubenga complained of being unable to breathe while being restrained by deportation officers, and claimed that the official report from the Home Office and G4S was false.

The benefits for journalism of interacting with the online community are evident here, as the story was strengthened by the reporter being able to easily reach those directly involved.

Lewis, head of the Guardian’s multimedia and crowdsourcing special projects team, has said: “Twitter is not just a website and not micro-blogging, it is an entirely different medium – like email, fax or even newspapers. The way in which information travels on Twitter – the shape of it – is different to anything that we’ve previously known.”

The nature of the newspaper’s website means that new information can be uploaded as it emerges, without having to wait for the printed edition. Text articles on Mubenga were complimented with audio and video interviews with Mubenga’s family and an interactive visualisation of the plane.

Here is what I have been reading!
Twitter screenshots were taken at 23:09 on October 15.