Yesterday thousands of protesters scurrying across London used a service called Sukey to get information about the movements of protesters and police.
Sukey, developed by University College London Students, collects information on what is happening at protests from a variety of sources. It gets texts, SMS messages and Twitter messages from protesters, checks police issued updates and has its own eye on the ground. Operators at a base then verify the information as best they can before issuing updates over Twitter and updating an an app which provides a real-time visual picture of what is going on.
Sukey certainly isn’t journalism in the traditional sense. There are no written or filmed reports, and it isn’t applying what are thought of as journalistic techniques to inform the public. Yet it does combine elements that traditional journalists are increasingly embracing as part of their art.
Crowd-sourcing information and verifying it to produce a cohesive picture of a chaotic situation is something the Guardian has decided can play a valuable role in its coverage. It’s a key part of the job that kept award-winning journalist Paul Lewis at the paper.
Though Sukey’s output isn’t in the form of an article or report of any kind, it is effectively a live blog, something most papers increasingly use at events. Social media journalist is is no longer a term of derision.
Of course Sukey is used as a tool for protesters to avoid kettling and generally give the police the run around. However, it also tries to avoid bias, and has even met with the Met police to discuss its role. That suggests a level of recognition that may be born of necessity, but that still gives Sukey a degree of respectability.
Those running Sukey do not seem to think of themselves as journalists, but in many ways they are merely a few steps ahead of the rest of the media in gathering, processing and sharing information.