Storyful Prepares for Coverage of Likely U.S. Attack on Syria

By Jennifer Moire 

Courtesy: The New York Times

YouTube is full of videos from the world’s hotspots, from Syria to Oklahoma tornadoes. But have you ever wondered whether what you’re seeing is real?

Enter Storyful, the journalistic arm of the social web. The organization calls themselves the world’s first “social news agency.” And, with a likely strike by the U.S. against Syria pending, the firm is preparing for a flood of coverage across social media.

The group’s e-books and in-depth guides are designed to arm journalists and students with tools to effectively use social media to help filter “news from noise.” The guides offer everything from tips on building Twitter lists to spotting fake photos and using geolocating services.

Their goal is simple:¬† Helping their clients verify what’s happening across the social web.

Storyful describes newsrooms as “intelligence agencies“; its own take on the traditional newsroom. Global news agencies have signed on to Storyful’s service, including Reuters, Bloomberg, The New York Times and ABC News.

Launched three years ago in Ireland with a staff of three journalists, their team has grown to 30 strong, two-thirds of whom are journalists, constantly monitoring channels such as YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram and Weibo.

While Storyful has worked to verify the footage from Hurricane Sandy to riots in Egypt and even an F18 jet crash, the group has gained attention recently for their work in Syria, where the agency spotted the first videos of a likely chemical weapons attack within an hour of the event.

The organization recently launched a Google + page and open Twitter feed in order to crowdsource its verification process. Storyful’s Open Newsroom project enables their followers on these channels to verify the content that’s shared online, making the process completely transparent.

David Clinch, Storyful executive editor, took some time to tell us how the agency is preparing for coverage of a strike on Syria by the U.S.

How is Storyful gearing up for the likely attack from the U.S.? And which social sites do you expect to rely on most heavily?

Storyful uses a proprietary system to discover and verify content and we are fine tuning that system to monitor Syria even more closely and to gather relevant video for our news clients. Our system monitors content from all social media platforms and we verify worth content no matter where it emerges.

Tell me about the Open Verification project on Google +. It sounds as if you’re crowdsourcing video verification–how will that play a role in Syria coverage?¬†

The Open Newsroom is an experiment in testing the power of having journalists, experts and others collaborate in an open forum to help verify video content. It has been extremely successful in verifying forensic detail on videos from Syria, including those from the recent chemical weapons attacks. Storyful often discovers this content very early and we can always make use of comments and context about videos from other sources on social media, but being able to bring this process together in one open forum has helped uncover even more detail than we can with our own verification. The test has proven that collaboration in the area of verification can help all news organizations benefit from better verification and also to debunk some videos.

How effectively are journalists using social media, in your opinion? What can they be doing differently?

Most journalists have adapted to using social media to help connect with their audience but many need to do a better job in understanding how social media can be used properly to discover news and content online and avoid the problem of linking to fake or misleading content.

What’s the future of citizen journalism and will it ever move out of the crisis phase and into more of the day to day part of news coverage?

We don’t use the phrase citizen journalism as it is misleading. Citizens can often find themselves at the scene of a news event and produce content and information that can be used by journalists. Amateurs can do great journalism but there is a still an important role for professional journalists to help discover and verify content wherever it comes from…citizens, amateurs, governments and professional journalists.

We do believe that citizens who produce great newsworthy content should be properly credited and compensated for that and that is why we are now managing the rights for UGC news content