Hard News by Russell Brown


The new riot reporter

For those of us in the business, there was no more intriguing figure to watch in the English riot coverage last week than Guardian reporter Paul Lewis, who filed night after night from a series of locations -- hoodie-up, so as not to stand out from the mobs he witnessed.

Lewis used Twitter not only as a reporting channel, but as a research tool and navigation aid, asking people he didn't know for directions and verifiable information on where looting and violence were happening. He was also receiving some of the same information as the rioters themselves, via Blackberry Messenger.

All kinds of new-era editorial issues come up here: how to verify tips from the public? How to decide which Blackberry messages -- news the wrong people could certainly use -- to report and when?

But Lewis has form here: it was he to whom a stockbroker passed the mobile phone video of Ian Tomlinson being heavied by police -- he collapsed and died shortly after -- during the G20 summit protests in 2009. Had it not been for that man with a phone, no ne would have been called to account for Tomlinson's death. The unit Lewis heads at The Guardian essentially specialises in the use of social media and electronic communications as reporting tools.

Naturally, he had a few things to say in the course of this extraordinary discussion on Sky News UK, in which Conservative MP Louise Mensch insisted that no one should be at all worried by her government's musing about switching off social media the next time there was a crisis:

After quite a lot of to-and-fro, we have Paul Lewis booked for an interview early tomorrow morning, which we'll edit up for use in this week's Media7. I'll also be talking to Canterbury University researcher Bronwyn Hayward, who has spent the last three years studying British youth trends and was not terribly surprised when alienation broke out.

Then, later in the show, I'll be talking to Greg McGee about how and why he "outed" himself as ostensibly female crime writer Alix Bosco. I've asked my friend Stella Duffy, lesbian writer of lesbian thrillers, for some comment, and it would seem that McGee isn't the only writer working under gender disguise.

If you'd like to join us for tomorrow evening's recording, we'll need you to come to the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ between 5.15pm and 5.40pm. As ever, try and drop me an email to let me know you're coming.

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