Cutting edge journalism: Facebook, curation and start-ups

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London’s news:rewired conference has become a key date in the diary for anyone interested in cutting edge journalism. Thomson Foundation’s Hosam El Nagar attended the most recent event at which Facebook and curating in journalism were among the themes discussed.

The one billion users of Facebook alone generate four billion pieces of content on a daily basis. That is an awful lot of content! Add to that everything else that is being posted and published online and it is soon clear how important it is to be able to filter information.

People’s social network acts as the first filtering system. What your friends deem interesting enough to share produces some 2,200 pieces of content you are able to see per day. Then Facebook uses an algorithm to reduce that to a more manageable number, based on your perceived tastes and habits.

Facebook for journalists

To encourage journalists to distribute their content socially, Facebook created the option for journalists to allow users to follow them instead of “friending” them. Reporters can now create a professional profile and selectively target their posting to specific groups amongst their followers such as by age or geographical location.

Cory Haik who curates the Grid, Washington Post’s live storytelling platform, pointed out that only some 20 per cent of US readers or less use social media to access news. She sees the Grid as the way to deliver social content to the remaining 80 per cent.

Like others leading the way in this camp, they encourage users to provide content centred around events and then use innovative approaches to err... “storify” it. For example, the Grid used the networking website MeetUp to allow tweeters from all over the US to give information about their journey to attend the Presidential inauguration and communicate with each other.

The data produced a national picture of the geographical flow of people, some of whom were also interviewed to add depth and colour to the story.

Man v computer

Curation could be looked at as currently in a battle between two approaches: human - creative, intelligent, editorial but inconsistent  - versus computer - intelligent, consistent, but static. And judging by a previous man versus computer challenge involving a Russian chessmaster, perhaps one can imagine what the future holds for us...

A collection of tweets and other posts from the day reveal a lot about the themes which followed such as the ubiquitous data journalism, more social media discussions, mobile journalism and a round-up of Google’s tools for Journalists.

What was also interesting for me was the fact that start-ups like Scoopshot and Newsmodo, which launched on the day of the conference, were still vying for business as a content exchange centre.

Many have tried to take this space by acting as an interface between potential contributors and media organisations and leveraging on the pervasiveness of smart phones with cameras etc. But no one has yet succeeded because of the abundance of and the non-verifiability of the supply on the one hand, and the lack of demand from media organisations on the other.

Authenticity

Theoretically, Scoopshot can give any organisation the ability to reach a vast network of mobile photographers  - and vice versa -  while guaranteeing authenticity by limiting the photo taking and uploading to its mobile app. Should news agencies take note?

Newsmodo, on the other hand, is trying to bring together freelancers and organisations globally through its site: a kind of journalists’ LinkedIn in which you can also sell and commission work safely.

In the end, I think the deciding factor will be whether or not anyone can make a living on these platforms.

What also struck me was the approach of the showcased start-ups, all digital only publications started by young journalists who have chosen to specialise either locally or by subject, or both. I think there is a fundamental and very traditional business truth there, which will be the subject of my next blog post.

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