What I found while studying news, disinformation and the audience they (mostly) share
How could someone possibly believe that?
Like many journalists and media researchers, I’ve found myself asking this question about disinformation that has gone viral via social media. Though I’ve spent years learning how and why disinformation is created, I’d never had the opportunity to explore the motivations of the people who believe and share these stories. That is what led me to do more in-depth research during my year as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford.
Over the course of six months, from December 2018 through the spring of 2019, I conducted in-depth interviews with nine Americans who were selected for their relationships with both disinformation and mainstream news. I had planned to interview more participants, but life circumstances got in the way.
Through these conversations, I came to the conclusion that the media industry isn’t facing a disinformation problem as much as an engagement problem. It isn’t merely the insidious and convincing nature of disinformation that drives people to consume, believe or share false news, but is also a profound disconnection from the mainstream media and how it works.
How the JSK Fellowship is teaching me to learn to lean on others
The last year has turned my life upside down in so many ways. The JSK fellowship gave me the time, space and perspective to find out what I want to do with my life and my career. It gave me a home and a community when I felt adrift. And more recently, the fellowship has given me a protective cocoon during what has been one of the hardest times of my life.
Nothing could have prepared me for April 1, 2019. As a journalist, I’ve always hated the carelessness of April Fool’s Day and the hoaxes it inevitably spawns. In 2014, I lost my job on this day. This year on this day, I found out I have cancer.
It felt almost Shakespearean. The heroine is on top of the world, confident of her life and its direction, only to be felled by a major setback at what should have been her time of triumph. While it is never a good time to find out something like this, I’m lucky it came at a time when I have had so much support. All I had to do was learn to take it.
I’ve never been good at leaning on others. I hate asking for favors, but I love fulfilling them (blame my Ohio Methodist upbringing). For the past several years, I followed the advice of many a management book and “faked it until I made it” and part of that was also pretending I never needed help along the way. Admitting vulnerability and weakness was not an option, or so I thought. I’ve learned in my time at Stanford to embrace my vulnerability in the workplace, but I wasn’t prepared to have to do so in my personal life.
But then April 1st came.
At first, I tried to stay my usual self. Less than an hour after my diagnosis, I got on the phone in my doctor’s parking lot to interview for two different jobs. Then I had to call my mom and tell her the news. Looking back, I can’t decide if that chain of events was possible due to toughness, denial – or outright insanity.
My first instinct was to hide it, not only from all of my friends back East, but also the people who see me every day at Stanford. I didn’t want anyone to see my eventual deterioration. It quickly became evident that I couldn’t entirely keep my illness to myself. How do you reasonably answer a question like, “How are you?” without lying?
When I finally told the other JSK fellows, I felt a sense of relief I hadn’t expected. It didn’t feel like a defeat, it felt like a weight had been lifted. After the initial hugs and promises of support, my friends in fellowship really showed up for me in a ways I didn’t know I needed. In fact, I was a little embarrassed at first, to accept it.
They started delivering dinner to my house every day to take the load off my supportive and overworked husband. They offered to run errands and rides to where I needed to go. They’ve given me excuses to bail on things I didn’t feel like doing and taken notes in classes I had to miss due to my appointments. Within our circle, we can laugh at the absurdity of what I’m dealing with, whether that’s trying on hilarious wigs in pursuit of the one that’ll make me feel most normal or taking advantage of my newly minted designated driver status. They even all got temporary tattoos in homage to the one on my right arm reading: More. I have never been so touched.
Above all, my fellowship group has given me the confidence to keep dreaming and planning for my future, despite cancer being an unavoidable part of it. To many people in my life, my day-to-day health and status as a patient is an all-consuming aspect of our relationship. I’m encouraged not to worry about what I have to do, to just focus on getting better and let the future happen later, when this is all over.
But that’s not me. The other fellows know it and didn’t let me forget it.
I’m taking on the future I want regardless of what cancer has planned. I can learn to lean on my friends and colleagues, to ask for help when I need it and take time off (and naps) without guilt or fear of looking weak. I will take a new job and give the best of myself despite the fact that I’m sometimes tired, nauseous and have no hair of my own anymore.
As Sheryl Sandberg said in her 2017 commencement speech at Virginia Tech, “There are times to lean in and there are times to lean on… If you are there for your friends and let them be there for you…that won’t just make you more resilient, it’ll help you lead a deeper and more meaningful life.”
As much as it dominates my life right now, I can’t afford to let 2019 be my lost cancer year. This is the year of completing my work on disinformation and trust via Project Disconnect. It’s my year of establishing new lifelong friendships through this program. It’s my year for finding myself.
Thanks to JSK, 2019 is my year for new beginnings.
As journalists and media professionals, we don’t like to think someone is better at our job than we are, especially those who seek to undermine our work with misleading or outright made up narratives. So when I ask journalists, “What does disinformation do better than journalism?” I expect a few raised eyebrows.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to present my forthcoming research project to a selected group of professionals in journalism, technology, education and philanthropy at the Newsgeist unconference, organized annually by Google and the Knight Foundation at Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in Phoenix.
On Saturday morning, An Xiao Mina, Director of Product for Meedan and strategy lead for the Credibility Coalition, and I led a conversation with attendees examining the strengths of journalism and disinformation and what we in media should seek to learn from those strengths. We cheekily called it “Defense Against the Dark Arts,” inspired by none other than the first-year wizardry class in the Harry Potter universe, where students learn about dark magic and how to handle it.
We split the group into four small groups and challenged them to come up with examples of unique strengths of high quality journalism and the countering strengths of effective disinformation. Here is a sampling of what the group came up with.
Strengths of High Quality Journalism*:
Experience and professional training
Many steps, voices and layers involved before publishing
Rules of ethics, code of conduct
Legal liability for what is published
Adherence to industry norms of objectivity and fairness
A shared mission to inform and tell the truth
Support and checks by editors and copyeditors
Empathy through a community connection
Complicity in community action
Complexity in explaining big data, trends and human stories
* We are well aware these are strengths exhibited in only the best of newsrooms. Not all publishers are created equal in this regard (but it would be cool if they were).
Strengths of Effective Disinformation:
Speed of publishing
Novelty and excitement of new information
Responsiveness to news events and reactions
Cooperative amplification between competitors
Simplification of difficult subject matter
Trust through a lack of affiliation and complicity with institutions
Liberated from legal and ethical norms
Playing to emotions, fears, biases and reactions
Recognition of altruism as a motive for publishing (i.e. shedding a light on unknown/hidden information)
Audience participation (i.e. share this to help spread the word)
Tapping into a community’s passions and beliefs
Allowing the audience to feel as if they are part of an investigation or exposure of truths
Drives a desire to share
Successful business model driven by attention economics
Great at targeting on Facebook and other social networks
Offering related content on the same topics
Identity validation of the reader
The bolded strengths above were those we as a group felt are aspirational to be adapted into (or improved) in legitimate journalism practice. Obviously we do not want to incorporate unethical or illegal behavior into our practice, nor do we want to engage in any of the extremes of disinformation. “Simplification of difficult subject matter” in a disinformation context might be oversimplification, and “Drives a desire to share” might be “Manipulations emotions to compel sharing.” It’s important that journalists working in good faith get the balance right.
But many of these strengths are worth of being aspirational. Some of them — like “engaging visuals” and “drives a desire to share” — are skills we are always seeking to improve to compete on a level playing field with more social media-savvy outlets. Others — like “tapping into a community’s passions and beliefs” — are strengths we used to have as news practitioners, but maybe have lost our way in some markets.
These conversations also brought about questions for further reflection in our newsrooms and communities about how we as journalists might improve and what affect those changes might have. These questions also inform my own questions as I embark on my JSK fellowship research.
How is best for news outlets to show information contextually? What effect, if any, does that have on its trustworthiness?
What is the effect of decontexualization of information on the audience?
How much does the brand of the news outlets matter (if at all)?
Does personalization of the news affect its trustworthiness to skeptical audiences?
What is the role of psychological self-preservation in building “echo chambers” for our news consumption?
So what do you think?
Do you agree or disagree with anything in the above strengths lists? What else would you want journalism to learn from disinformation and those who participate in it?
Feel free to comment below or start yelling at me and everyone else on the social network of your choice.
An Xiao Mina contributed to this post. Read more about this year’s Newsgeist from Mathew Ingram
Steve Buttry, a journalist for more than 45 years, died February 19at age 62of pancreatic cancer.
I knew it was coming, but I still wasn’t really prepared for the news that Steve Buttry was really gone. The man who seemingly bounced back from everything – be it layoffs, professional disappointments, cancer (twice) – wasn’t bouncing back this time.
Steve had so many friends in the journalism world, each with their own treasured memories of and debts owed to a man who had a bottomless capacity to give. I’m no different. I owe Steve for nearly everything I have.
If it weren’t for him, I’d probably be working in PR or marketing in Ohio after being laid off from my last job as a journalist several years ago. Even aside from the obvious affect on my career trajectory, I also think I’d be a fundamentally different person if it weren’t for Steve (and not for the better).
Steve accepts the Rich Jaroslovsky Founder Award at the Online News Association conference in September of 2016. Click to see his speech.
I first met Steve the same way a lot of people did – via Twitter. After a long career as a reporter and editor, Steve had reinvented himself as a social media trainer and digital journalism thought leader. I had started following him because of his blog. I was social media editor at the Cincinnati Enquirer at the time, and mostly figuring out what that role was and the impact I could have if I only had a voice. He was a life raft for my flagging enthusiasm about journalism. We had struck up a correspondence over our shared challenges in teaching social media to unwilling newsrooms.
Just today I read over our DM correspondence from those few months – and even then, he gave more than he ever had to. He gave me tips on how to apply, ideas of how to best pitch the job I wanted, and above all he gave me an interview. I must have applied for 100 social media and journalism jobs in the “big cities” and had never once got as much as a reply before. That was all Steve.
In the spring of 2010, Steve hired me on as social media producer at what would eventually become TBD in Washington, DC. That job, the people I worked with, the move to the coast from Ohio – all of it was the beginning of a new life for me. It put me on a map I didn’t even know existed. More than every awesome perk that came out of that job, the best (though it took me years to realize it) was learning how to live a good life from Steve.
The TBD engagement team, summer of 2010: (L-R) Me, Jeff Sonderman, Dan Victor, Nathasha Lim, Lisa Rowan and Steve Buttry.
When I first moved to DC, I felt so much less experienced, ambitious and worldly than everyone around me. But not Steve. He lived for his time with his family and friends – and I noticed early on that he spent so much of his time doing favors for others – inside and outside our company. He had mastered the art of the network, with friends in seemingly every city, with lives he touched everywhere on his travels. I can’t adequately explain how good it was for me back then to have a fellow Midwesterner showing me every day that it was possible to excel in that world of the “coastal elite” and not lose touch with your personal values.
As a newsroom leader in that environment, he seemed to savor capturing lightning in a bottle. At our brainstorming meetings for the community engagement team, he’d encourage us on even the most far-flung of ideas. He was always the one best at teasing out something tangible from the flights of fancy.
A few years later, Steve provided me with more life-changing chances. One was inviting me to co-teach a social journalism class with him at Georgetown University – which I would go on to do for four terms (and which piqued my interest in finishing my career in academia – like Steve). He hooked me up with my first few gigs training other journalists in using digital and social tools – which became something of a second career for me. He also was instrumental in hiring me on at Digital First Media – giving me a way out of the social media world and into my first job as a manager.
In six years, Steve granted me more favors than any one person deserves. And the most amazing part is that all of what he did for me, to him, probably wasn’t even that big of a deal because he did it all of the time. How many times in his long career did Steve Buttry do someone a favor? Be it speaking to a class, giving a recommendation, passing on a job opportunity, making a introduction, judging for awards, teaching newsrooms, giving rides, sticking up for an employee or coworker…he did it all of the time. Literally every day – right up to the end of his life.
There’s no easy way to repay a debt that large, save for continuing the work.
Last month, I sent him the following in a message exchange that would end up being our last:
I want you to know this: It is because of your influence that I never leave a tweet, Facebook message, voicemail or email from a stranger unanswered. I’ll never say no to a young (or not-so-young) journalist who reaches out to me for advice, help, ideas or feedback. I never refuse a journalism professor who asks me to speak to their class. I always take the meeting, even at the most stressful of times, because you did it for me and it made all of the difference.
The least I can do, that any of us can do, is to live the best kind of life possible – the way Steve did. We take the meeting. We get on the flights (and tweet about the delays). We teach. We give favors big and small. We are there for others – when the time comes, they are there for us.
Thanks for the lessons, Steve – and thanks to Mimi and the rest of the family for sharing him with an entire grateful industry for so many years.
I haven’t really done any extemporaneous speaking since I was last required to as part of a college honors class, but I had a lot of fun doing it and I wanted to share it here with you. Obviously, these are the prepared remarks and I deviated a little bit in real-time (h/t to Steve Buttry for giving me the idea to post it here).
It’s great to look out at this crowd and see so many women working in this business – and who seem to know what fashion was like in the 1930s.
Admittedly I haven’t been in the business as long as some of you, but journalism in the past 10 years has felt like dog years to many of us – we’re all aging seven years with every one that passes. Everything keeps changing so fast. As soon as you learn one newsroom system or social media tool or pick up the latest lingo, another has come along to take its place.
When I first graduated from college, newsrooms were already cutting back instead of hiring. For me at least, this prompted an immediate career change. Instead of being a reporter as I’d always wanted, I decided to work on the web. There were tons of jobs out there for people who knew basic html, had journalism skills and were willing to adapt.
And thank God I did, I have no idea what I’d have been doing otherwise. (Between you and me, I really wasn’t a very good reporter anyway – mostly because I hate using phones)
I recently attended a reunion for those who worked at Kent State University’s student newspaper. Of those who attended school with me, I’d estimate less than 10% are still working as journalists. Some never even started. Many have been laid off in recent years, myself included.
It was at this reunion that one of my friends, one of those former journalists, took me aside. He’d heard I’ve been teaching journalism students at Georgetown University.
He says to me, “How can you give these kids hope? There’s nothing out here for them. There aren’t enough jobs for all of us that are already journalists.”
There is some truth in there. Enrollment in journalism schools continues to rise even as more traditional journalism jobs are disappearing.
But he is wrong. Journalism isn’t dying, it’s just changing. There’s a lot of reason to hope – not just for the kids still in school, but for the rest of us too. It IS a terrifying time to be a journalist, but it is also a very exciting time to be a journalist.
While the past few years have seen cuts in traditional newsrooms, there have been new ones starting up. We have new local and hyperlocal news sites and new investigative teams at the likes of ProPublica and the Texas Tribune.
We also have data geniuses and programming geniuses — all of these people we may not have recognized as journalists in years past — but they are out there working to reimagine journalism for the future. They’re making new tools to make our jobs easier – creating new ways to tell stories and, yes, make money.
Aside from all of that, this is an exciting time to be a woman in journalism.
Women are filling journalism schools faster than men. We have more women in our newsrooms than ever before – with hopefully more to rise in the ranks in the nest few years. Hell, we have a woman leading the New York Times, for crying out loud!
We also have many women among those striking out on their own to cover news the way they want.
Take Arianna Huffington. Whatever you may think of her, you have to admit she’s very smart.
In The Huffington Post, she created a booming media business that is changing the way we do journalism on the web. They found a formula that makes good journalism possible. It isn’t always elegant, but it works:
Cute cats + celebrities/ weird news = $ for reporters
And this investment in reporting paid off. The HuffPost won its first Pulitzer this year.
On a much smaller scale, there are other women making a successful go of it on their own.
Women like Tracy Record, who way back in 2005 — which is ancient history in internet years — started a personal blog about her neighborhood in West Seattle. In late 2007, Tracy quit her job as a TV news producer to work full-time for West Seattle Blog while her husband sold ads.
West Seattle Blog grew into a hyperlocal powerhouse that inspired other journalists to strike out on their own.
Tracy isn’t exactly cracking open Watergate, but she provides news that clearly matters to those who live there. With the aid of reader tips and paid freelancers, WSB covers local crime, traffic, business development – and even lost pets.
All of this certainly wasn’t easy. Tracy and her family worked up to 20 hours a day for years to keep the site updated and filled with ads. She didn’t take a vacation until August 2009, when she could pay people to keep an eye on things back home.
But she did it by training her journalism skills on something she truly cared about – and it showed to her readers. Her engagement in the community – in person and online – drove readers to trust her to know what’s happening. It’s kind of old fashioned, if you think about it.
Back on this side of the country, we have Laura Amico, who runs the site Homicide Watch in Washington, D.C.
When Laura moved to DC with her husband, Chris, there wasn’t exactly a plethora of reporting jobs available. A crime reporter by trade, she was disappointed in the lack of local crime coverage. So she decided to change that.
In the fall of 2010, she launched Homicide Watch, a blog dedicated to covering every homicide in Washington D.C. — from crime to conviction. Laura sought to put a face and a story to many victims whose deaths went largely unrecorded by local media.
If Laura were working within a larger news organization, she might not have gotten the resources or the time to run a project this big. By doing it on her own, with the aid of donations, grants and other sources, she was able to tackle this project her way.
These women are just two of the many out there doing news their own way – outside the traditional system. Now I’m not here to tell you that you all need to go out and start new websites or invent some new journalism tool (though it’d be cool if some of you did). What I’m saying is that so long as there are people with the will and the know-how, there will be journalism. And so long as we have women willing to step up and, if need be, go it alone – we’ll have female journalists running the newsrooms of the future.
So what can you do to help?
1. Push for more women to take on leadership roles in your newsroom. Support your female coworkers and competitors – because their successes are yours, too.
2. Speak up in news meetings, even if you aren’t an editor. Push to get your ideas heard both inside the newsroom and out in your community.
3. Don’t take no for an answer. On a panel aimed at female freelancers earlier this week in New York, a news website editor said he found male freelancers much more likely to follow up on a rejected story pitch with more pitches. Female freelancers, he said, he rarely heard from again. Don’t stand for that. You guys aren’t quitters.
4. Get out of your comfort zone and stay competitive. Do some freelancing outside of your beat area – maybe in something you wish you knew more about. Learn some basic programming. Start a blog, even if it is just to experiment.
5. Promote your expertise on social media. As women, we hesitate to sing our own praises – when we should be shouting from the rooftops to bring attention to the work we’re doing. We can’t afford to stay too quiet, lest all of those men on Twitter overpower us.
6. And finally, if you’re a veteran journalist, become a mentor to a young woman. Point her toward data journalism or beats in business and government — areas still dominated by men. Help her career develop – and you can probably learn quite a bit from one another.
If we support one another’s big thoughts and downplay our fears. If we occasionally dare to go out on a limb – maybe it won’t be such big news the next time a woman takes over a major media organization.
So we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the launch of Google+ (in June). While many journalists and news brands have embraced the platform, many more either waited to hear more from the canaries in the coal mine or signed up only to abandon it for more engaging pastures.
In short, Google may not have a lot of engagement going on (yet), but it does help your readers find your stories in Google searches, so that’s a good enough reason to invest some time on this platform as an individual and as a brand.
I’d like to pass on some best practices and tips for using G+ for reporters and brands, so please share your tips and success stories in the comments.
First, let me introduce (or re-introduce) some of the basics.
At the Knight-Batten Symposium at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, keynote speaker and Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth made a provocative statement. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something like, “Thank goodness social media wasn’t invented yet on September 11.”
She noted how horrific it would be to read the final tweets or Facebook updates of those destined to die in the Twin Towers or watch YouTube videos from inside the burning buildings as people are jumping out. And she’s right, it would be horrific….but I don’t say “thank goodness” to that lack of social media. I imagine, “What if?”
I say, if today’s social media had been around, those who perished on September 11, 2001 could have been the storytellers of their own history.. When I put this wondering onto my Facebook page and Google+, it prompted a great discussion with other journalists and social media users.
Cory Bergman of BreakingNews.com disagreed with Weymouth’s premise, “That’s like saying, thank goodness there was no live TV — we didn’t need to see the towers collapse.”
Angel Brownawell agreed with Bergman, saying, “We would’ve all had A LOT of information to consume and sift through, but it wouldn’t have been any more distressing than hearing about the last voice mails, answering machine messages or the live TV images.”
Which journalists wouldn’t look, albeit squeamishly, for the last words and moments of fellow Americans, intentionally left behind for history and final goodbyes? We would have been able to sift through the mounds of social media data to piece together the story in a way we still haven’t been able to manage. We’d know who was there, how they died and exactly what happened to them. We’d have known went through the minds of those who chose to jump from the Towers. We’d have known exactly how a plane went down in a field in Shanksville, Pa.
On my Facebook page, Jeremy Binckes of TBD extolled the value of those first-hand reports,”The one thing about the attacks we’ll never know and will never be CERTAIN of is,”What was it really like? … It’s the one angle of the story we’ll never really know firsthand.”
My former soccer coach, Jim Boyd, noted on Facebook, “Perhaps having social media would have changed the events on the planes in a positive way.”
Law enforcement would have benefitted from social media, too. It would have helped to know who was in the Twin Towers or the Pentagon and who was just missing after the confusion. Recounting and videos of emergency rescues from these scenes could have helped inform safety procedures for future events.
Even aside from its use for journalists, law enforcement and historians, I think social media would have been a vital way for the nation to come together with friends, family, and strangers for comfort. Remember what it was like the night Osama Bin Laden was killed? Nobody could have felt alone with such a networked world out there.
Bruce Warren noted there was a bit of social media in use at the time that brought he and his friends together.
That morning I was on a public message board with people I had met through a band. Many lived in NYC and were posting updates all morning. Also helped to make sure everyone was accounted for that we could think of on there. Was not uncommon that day to read an update, then hear it via the media.
Brownawell and my friend Lauren Worley noted the importance of AOL Instant Messenger on 9/11.
“I was living in Washington, D.C. at the time, and it was the only way I could communicate with my family to let them know my coworkers and I were ok where we were, ” Worley commented on Facebook.
Brownawell had a similar story.
“I remember hoping into an AIM chatroom that day and night, and talking to about 30 or so people for dozens of hours about what had happened. Not Facebook, not Twitter. But still online social interactions. Perhaps if Twitter had been around, I would still be in touch with those people today.”
If you’re to believe Agence France-Press – and many journalists who I’ve personally met – “regular people” don’t have the same copyright protections on the web as journalists. This isn’t true and hasn’t been true – and I’m glad a court said so.
AFP tried to argue in court that by uploading his photos to Twitter/Twitpic, a professional photographer was giving them permission to use and repurpose them. Last week, a court in New York’s Southern District declared what many of us already knew – putting photos on TwitPic doesn’t just make it up for grabs.
When I tweeted about this, I had a couple of journalists tell me it didn’t protect Twitter users’ photos, just those of journalists. This is a pretty common assumption I hear around the web and in the newsrooms I’ve worked in, so I don’t feel too out of line pointing out Virginia journalist Jordan Fifer for this tweet:
He said the ruling only protected professional photographers and that the Fair Use Doctrine protects news outlets who want to use Twitpics without permission. Not true on both counts, though the latter isn’t as cut-and-dried.
Sorry it’s been so long, but it’s been crazy busy as TBD’s preparing for the holidays and other events. This’ll be a quick one, just a few links I’ve been reading of late. Have a happy Thanksgiving, folks.
Social media roundup
How Investigative Journalism Is Prospering in the Age of Social Media – Great ideas from several resources gathered by Vadim Lavrusik at Mashable on how to use social media in investigative reporting and newsroom projects. Includes tips on Crowdmap, Storify, Twitter crowdsourcing, data searches and more. A great post to pass on to the social media haters in your newsroom.
In this disturbing bit from FishbowlDC, a Washington Post editor says “crediting the original source of a scoop isn’t “a requirement or even important” because “all news originates from somewhere” and “unless one is taking someone else’s work without attribution (that is, plagiarizing it) any news story should stand on its own and speaks for itself as an original piece of work.” Hm.
There are similar curation tools out there, like KeepStream and Curated.by, though they focus primarily on collecting tweets (Correction: KeepStream also allows for Facebook integration). Storify, on the other hand, allows a user to organize various media (text, documents, video, images) and social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) into an orderly, linear presentation. The story pieces retain all of their original links and functionality – and the full presentations are embeddable on any site. It has a very easy-to-use search for social media keywords and works using a drag-and-drop functionality. In other words – it’s easy multimedia for even the most technologically challenged journalist.
It has a couple of downfalls, the biggest of which, to me, is the lack of hard timestamps on content from Twitter (though that’s largely Twitter’s fault).
In the weeks since the Nieman Lab actually used Storify to explain Storify, many journalists and bloggers have taken the opportunity to experiment with the tool – with incredibly varied results. Here’s a few interpretations of just how Storify has been and can be used in journalism.
1. Organizing reaction in social media. The Washington Post gathered reaction from Twitter and Facebook to the resignation of Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee last week. While there are a lot of tools once could use to do this (Quote URL, Twitter search, Cover it Live), the Storify approach looks very clean and was likely very fast to put together. It’s a great tool for on-the-fly curation from various social media sources.
2. Giving back-story using past content. PBS NewsHour had a different take on Rhee’s resignation. Going beyond the basic topic archive page, their piece created a summary of Rhee’s past challenges with DCPS, weaving in stories, videos and scripts from their archives with some curated social media reactions. It is similar to a traditional story in its scope, giving the full background on Rhee’s tenure with reaction quotes via social media.
3. Curating topical content. NYU Studio 20’s East Village used Storify and a very sharp web presentation to create SocialDiningNYC, a site that has collect and curated information on NYC restaurants. Each venue has it’s own Storify line collecting reviews, reactions, media and info – and each file is linked from a primary hub site. The key to making this look nice was the consistency with which each Storify file was built and worded.
4. Displaying a non-linear social media discussion or chat. Penn Professor and Wired blogger Tim Carmody used Storify to illustrate an amusing Twitter quest he took on to get a few key social media contacts to follow him. He pulled together the entire back-and-forth between him, the people he was trying to engage and his current followers. It looks a lot better than TweetSpat (and involves more characters) and it makes the conversation seem more linear than it likely did in real time. This is a fun idea – and it could be great for archiving Twitter chats into some modicum of sense.
5. Creating a multimedia/social media narrative. Last Friday, I used Storify at TBD to make sense of an ever-changing series of events involving a death outside popular Washington D.C. nightclub DC9. In the course of one day, the story took a lot of twists and turns, illustrated in the narrative by tweets (from both news orgs and those reacting), photos, video and documents. Reading down the story, you can get a feel for how the events developed and evolved in a way that’s not entirely dissimilar to more traditional narrative stories. I talked a little bit more about the story behind this piece to the Nieman Storyboard, if you want to know more.
6. Organize your live tweets into a story: Michael Margolis of GetStoriedused Storify to tell the story of his time spent at the National Storytelling Festival. He weaves in quotes and experiences from the scene as tweets from throughout the day. I could see this as being very useful for reporters who live tweet press conferences, government meetings and events. Using this method, those reporters could focus on Twitter in real-time, then build a story from those tweets (and others’) when the event is over.
7. Collaborate on a topic with readers. Seamus Condron of ReadWriteWeb tested out Storify with RWW’s Twitter followers. He posed the question “My day would be a lot easier if Twitter…”. The story builds out from there with responses to the prompt from followers, @RWW replies and contextual info from other media in response to reader contributions.
These are likely just the beginning of what’s been done or could be done using Storify. I have dreamed up a few more ideas if you’d like to think about using this tool on your site.
8. Create a timeline of events. I know from experience that it can be a big pain to build an attractive online timeline without the aid of a designer. I think Storify’s interface would be a quick way to pull in text and other content into a timeline format that could look nice without any fancy HTML.
9. Display audience content from across platforms. Say you’re asking your readers to give you photos, videos and reactions based around an event or topic. You put out this call on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and on your site. Instead of gathering all of this content and re-publishing it on-site, you can organize all of those updates, comments, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, Twitpics and emailed-in multimedia into one Storify file without any CMS nonsense.
10. Live curate live tweets from the stream. If you have multiple reporters or sources live-tweeting a news event, pull them together quickly and in an order that makes sense in Storify. Sure, you could pull all of their tweets or use a hashtag using other means, but this way you could choose to select only some tweets – and it wouldn’t matter who used a hashtag or not, as you can search for tweets via keyword.
So you’ve got a great idea for a user-contributed map you need to launch RIGHT NOW. Ushahidi’s Crowdmap makes it pretty easy, and hopefully this post makes it even easier. All examples shown are from TBD’s Crowdmap for D.C.’s election.
Also, check and see if anyone else has done your map idea with a Google Search. If someone else has already built a map of what you want to do in the same area, maybe you should just help them out instead of replicating the work.
2. On the deployment setup page, pick a url, name and tagline for your map. Keep SEO in mind here to make it easier to find. (You can edit this later, so don’t sweat it too much). Click Finish.
3. Click on admin dashboard for your map or go to http://yourmapname.crowdmap.com/admin
This is your map’s Dashboard. Bookmark it. Your map is now live and activated. If you need to launch it right now, you can – though there’s further additions and customizations you can do. Note: With the default settings, people will only be able to submit reports on the site.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of social media policies. While I recognize a lot of companies need to have these policies in place to cover their butts in court, I generally frown upon anything that gives journalists any excuse to not communicate openly with sources and/or readers via social media.
So this isn’t a social media policy. It isn’t sanctioned by any bosses or lawyers or governing bodies – and I think it’s just right. Take that for what you will.
10 Social Media Guidelines to Live By
Follow the Golden Rule with social media content. Don’t use anyone’s stuff without getting permission and giving credit – you’d want that, right?
As with anything else, make sure you verify news from social media before running with it (or even re-tweeting it). Think of social media as a tip generator, not a reporter.
Make corrections quickly – and don’t try to hide them. Your Twitter/Facebook followers will notice – and they will quickly forgive mistakes so long as you are transparent.
If you don’t know something, just say so. It’s OK – and someone may have the answer you need.
Always remember: The Internet is public and permanent. Everything you say – even what you think is private – could be found and documented. Act accordingly.
Furthermore, if you wouldn’t say it on air or in a story, don’t say it at all.
You don’t have to get special social media accounts just for work. Many journalists (myself included) use one account to span both worlds. Not everyone is comfortable with that, so it’s your call.
Even if you have separate social media accounts for work, keep your profession in mind. To the law (and to readers and sources) you are always a journalist in everything you do.
Friending, liking and following may sound like chummy words, but these are things you need to do to get info from sources on social media. If you think it might make you look biased, put a notation on your page/bio that says why you do it.
Immediacy is part of the fun and news value of social media, but no post is so urgent as to not need a second look. Read and think before you post.