Journalism is like tap dancing on quicksand

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By Kristian Bamforth

BuzzFeed – the media website that has taken the Social Age by storm with viral videos and popular lists – is now expanding into heavyweight investigative journalism.

James Ball started his job as special correspondent for the organisation just three months ago and said the terror attacks in Paris at the weekend highlighted the importance of verifying facts.

He told students at Leeds Trinity University: “The newsrooms who understand the internet best are the ones that stop and try and verify the facts the best.”

BuzzFeed started trawling through tweets about Paris checking for posts which were false, and then tweeted out a list of incorrect information, so people had a clearer idea of the true situation.

He said the organisation currently employs 20 reporters in its investigations department, with plans to recruit 10 more before Christmas and a further 10 by summer.

James used to work for the Guardian and played a key role in its award-winning coverage of Wikileaks stories as well as the NSA scandal involving Edward Snowden.

He gave trainee journalists some top tips about how to deal with sources.

He said it was important to use your gut instinct when weighing up the reliability of a source and also to take care to protect interviewees if the story was sensitive.

“Being honest is crucial. I’ve never told anyone that I can promise no-one will ever find this out, but I’ll do everything I can not to reveal your identity.”

James ended his talk saying: “Now is a great time to be a journalist but the jobs available now won’t be the same jobs in the next five years, so

keep your options open. There is no predictability. It’s like tap dancing on quicksand.”

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