#MeshCon: @Storyful and the Rise of the New Journalism

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One of the most fascinating sessions at #MeshCon was this interview Mathew Ingram, Cofounder of Mesh, had with Mark Little, Founder and CEO of Storyful.

Former foreign correspondent, Mark Little had an epiphany: as a journalist he witnessed a revolution unfolding before his eyes, accompanied by a brutal realization that would alter the world of  journalism forever.

Two significant events contributed to this:

  1. The Election Protests in Iran, June 2009
  2. The Death of Michael Jackson, same timeframe

Iran Elections: The digital uprising heard ’round the world


Mark Little was a  correspondent during the Iranian Elections. He sat and watched the television screen… stifled. He, and many foreign correspondents, were forced to stay in their hotel rooms during the election protests as a safety measure. As close as they were to the scene, they were only able to get third hand accounts of the situation at large.

A recollection of what led to this “Twitter Revolution”

The protests began the night of 12 June 2009, following the announcement that incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won nearly 60 percent despite several reported irregularities. All three opposition candidates claimed that the votes were manipulated and the election was rigged, and candidates Mohsen Rezaee and Mousavi lodged official complaints…On 20 June, Police started suppressing these protests…

Never before have people used the internet in this way to organize and coordinate an entire uprising. Despite the fact that the Iranian government had closed universities, blocked web access, cell phone and text transmission plus implemented some very sophisticated filtering technologies, they underestimated a more determined and sophisticated youth culture. They had used proxy servers to redirect posts and transmit digital addresses. What’s more, net-free activists aided their efforts by hacking into Iran’s own servers, making it difficult for the government to effectively block access to the world wide web.

Dubbed the “Twitter Revolution, ” Ev Williams  was asked by the US government to postpone an  upgrade on the platform in order to grant Twitter access to the Iranian protestors. Despite Twitter.com and SMS being shut down, activists were able to use third-party applications to circumvent government suppression tactics and communicate with each other and to the world.

The Iranian government was ill-prepared for the sheer numbers  who had joined the movement. Their media blackout attempts were ill-fated. I think this has set the stage for any Autocracy to come to the blatant realization that control is out of their hands.

The Death of Michael Jackson: Twittersphere and the “Mum” from major news organizations

When I first heard of Michael Jackson’s death, it was on Twitter. I was on the subway and followed anyone who had accounts of his death. Everyone wanted verification from some of the news agencies. As per the LA Times:

With the death of pop star Michael Jackson, TMZ gave the most potent demonstration yet of its ability to stir the pot of entertainment news. The gossip site once again left TV networks and other traditional media outlets scrambling in its wake, even as they attempted to distance themselves from a source widely regarded as salacious, if not disreputable.

With the recent death of Farrah Fawcett, news outlets were slow to verify this fact. Twittersphere was abuzz with inquiries, waiting for the CNNs to validate TMZ’s report. According to Mark, as with traditional thinking, “News organizations were the gatekeepers of information…. if they didn’t report it, it didn’t happen”…

…However the 22 year-old with a smart phone didn’t care

In both accounts, the public had created a firestorm that alerted the world AND the news organizations to heed a the strength of a digital collective of voices.

No longer are people waiting for news organizations to validate information. Little intimated that with a smartphone and a connection to the internet, the rise of Citizen Journalism would force journalists to take a back seat to this revolution. As per Little,

Beforehand, journalists were the hackers, the diggers of information… Today we are managers of an overwhelming amount of information

This prompted him to re-invent the news agency. To give it a new mandate. To start it again… from scratch. The result was Storyful. The mandate for Storyful: To find the most compelling stories and content on the web. As a social news gathering organization, it needed to be equipped with tools to manage this abundance of content; find the content, and validate it.

Finding a story means listening for social signals. With heat-mapping technology, Storyful, scrapes over 2 million tweets a day to determine if something is happening. It’s as much of an art as it is a science to sit on the conversations and analyze them to determine events that are newsworthy.

The team relies on “forensic journalism” to source the original content.

The Key to Verifying the Story: Find the Gatekeepers

The only way of really verifying information is to rely on the community. Storyful has created tools to verify the location of the original content. From there, the team of journalists (currently at 35) will seek to identify who owns the copyright. The owner will typically reside in a community that is protected by a gatekeeper. The gatekeeper is defined as one:

  • who is closest to the story
  • who has standing in the community

The respect for a community is established differently today and has the ability to effect impact and conversation. A community is made of people whose reputation is based on consistency, authenticity and humility. It thrives on an authentic leadership vs. an authoritative one. These are how stories are nurtured and protected.

@Brown_Moses: The source of information

One clear example of one such gatekeeper, according to Wikipedia is @Brown_Moses


Eliot Higgins (born 1979), pseudonym Brown Moses, is an English blogger, known for investigative social media and weapons analysis on the Syrian Civil War.

Higgins’ analyses of Syrian weapons, which began as a hobby out of his home in his spare time, are now frequently cited by the press and human rights groups and have led to questions in parliament. His blog, Brown Moses Blog, began in March 2012 by covering the Syrian conflict. Higgins operates by monitoring over 450 YouTube channels daily looking for images of weapons and tracking when new types appear in the war, where, and with whom. He has been hailed as something of a pioneer.

With no formal training in journalism, military weapons nor travel experience to Syria, Higgins proclaims that he is self-taught. And yet, he is able to retrieve far better intelligence with much more speed and accuracy than journalists on the ground.

“Brown Moses is among the best out there when it comes to weapons monitoring in Syria,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. New York Times war reporter CJ Chivers said that fellow journalists should be more honest about the debt they owe to Higgins’ Brown Moses blog. “Many people, whether they admit or not, have been relying on that blog’s daily labour to cull the uncountable videos that circulate from the conflict,” he said.

Mark Little recognizes the @Brown_Moses of the world, who lead with trust and authenticity, and are able to shake up the the revolution. It’s these relationships with journalists that need to be surfaced and nurtured to sustain a news organization today.

Corroborate the story

As per Mark, validating the truth means doing an extensive search on the gatekeeper: analyzing his/hear social graph, his/her peer influences, and history.  The team will also validate the information from the video to verify authenticity. Extensive efforts go into finding a story, corroborating the information and knowing whether or not it’s worth exploring.

Lead with Integrity

This New Journalism has also given rise a change in practice regarding the attribution of content. Mark Little feels strongly about crediting those that provide content – especially given its abundance today.

Interesting fact: Only 16% of User Generated content is credited today. Little understands that protecting the content and giving it proper attribution is essential in building trust with these communities. It also opens the doors to a story. Storyful has indicated they need to be relentless in finding the “humanity” behind the story, to give it meaning.

Spread the Word

In December, 2013 NewsCorp announced purchase of Storyful for USD$25 Million.

NewsCorp understands the need to reinvent itself and most news agencies. The model for Storyful will be to distribute technology solutions by way of dashboards, feeds, real-time discovery tools to allow news organizations to monitor and pinpoint social conversations, and measure them.

The values baked in traditional journalism haven’t changed. However, Storyful is an example of how technology not only can disrupt and force a key cultural shift, but also forces traditional practices to turn on their ear and reinvent themselves not only in the name of progress, but also sustainability.

photo credit: topgold via photopin cc photo credit: gretag via photopin cc photo credit: davefleet via photopin cc

0 thoughts on “#MeshCon: @Storyful and the Rise of the New Journalism

  1. hessiejones says:

    BuckleupReads Storyful awesome, thanks for the share!

  2. hessiejones says:

    Soulati thanks Jayme!! Hope you are well! Storyful

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