In February 2015, several websites published articles reporting on the NBA legend Michael Jordan’s death caused by a heart attack, which soon proved to be untrue. It is not a solitary case of false information being redistributed so carelessly, and once again shows us how crucial it is to properly verify any kind of user-generated content, spreading so easily in the social media news scene. The fact that such a scene even exists is yet another example of how rapidly journalism is evolving. Although by some it is seen as a threat to quality reporting, those changes can, in fact, greatly improve the efficiency of news reporting – but only if they are dealt with properly.
Mark Little, the former RTE’s Prime Time presenter, had quite the right idea on how to solve this issue when he founded Storyful in 2010. The service, operating globally, partners with media companies such as The New York Times and Reuters to find, collect, and verify news from social media platforms.
Image courtesy of Storyful.com
The highly successful company not only employs professional journalists (whose number had risen from 27 to 75 in only one year), but also cooperates with highly qualified engineers and amateur sources. Apart from that, Storyful’s main tool is crowdsourcing, as the knowledge that can be found in what Jay Rosen calls “the people formerly known as the audience” often creates the most efficient method of news verification. The rule of the platform is to always have a source closer to the story, and that source should not be eliminated as primary only for not being professional, as authenticity increasingly becomes more important than authority in modern journalism. Little’s vision for what he essentially wanted to create was described in his report for the Nieman Foundation:
“When I founded Storyful in 2010, I imagined a news agency built for the social media age. I wanted to create the products and protocols that would equip other journalists to meet the challenges of the golden hour.”
In many cases the pressure on media outlets to break news first results in publishing incorrect reports, which subsequently are redistributed on Twitter, Facebook, or other social networks faster than any correction can occur. That phenomenon is exactly what the abovementioned golden hour, a term coined by Little, refers to – the first hour after news break is the most crucial moment to determine its credibility, or even more importantly, stop false information from spreading. The first time the content generated by the audience became a significant part of the official news coverage was during the terrorist attacks in London in 2005, and since then the readers’ involvement only became greater. Therefore, the golden hour is essentially what journalist’s work rests on nowadays – it is not anymore about who gets the news first (as the audience basically does that on their own), but rather about who knows the truth.
Screenshot of the Storyful.com blog
The innovation in the direction of crowdsourcing and content verification can also be seen in Eastern Europe, although the process is certainly slower here than in countries such as US or UK. Some of the examples could be a newly-established social media team operating in the Czech national television and verifying user-generated content, or Moldova’s news site Diez.md, using social media for sourcing and promoting stories.
Storyful became a pioneer in the field of modern content verification, but the future of journalism seems to offer a lot of possibilities for similar projects. As Little puts it, “journalists need to get comfortable with risk, transparency, and collaboration”, and let go of the idea that they have a “monopoly on truth”. And even though it may not be easy to sort the noise from the signal when the crowd verifies the news, such manner of sourcing is the only right solution in the golden hour era.
Featured image courtesy by Flickr user digital vincent.