Storyful is turning the news industry bionic, producing an intriguing combination of powerful technology to listen to the “signal in the noise” within user generated content, with the common sense that only a journalistic human brain can provide. What is the next step for this modern newswire built for the fast-paced social media scene? According to Mark Little, CEO of Storyful, the media’s future lies in the successful merging of social and video, and Storyful is already two steps ahead of the news industry in developing this trend. In GEN’s exclusive interview with Mark, he gives concrete examples of how Storyful can help media organizations develop a social-video strategy.
GEN: What is Storyful, and why is it useful to media professionals?
Mark Little: We would like to think of Storyful as the first news agency built for the social media age. We help news organizations discover, verify, and deliver the very best content that they can find on platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, and whatever new platforms emerge. The unique thing about Storyful is we use a combination of proprietary technology that we developed to filter the news from the noise on the social web, and we also have a team of professional journalists who are based in Ireland, the United States, and Asia. In short, we use the combination of technology and also good old fashion journalism to work out what is the best content out there and to make sure news organizations are getting user content they can actually publish.
What Storyful is increasingly doing is helping ordinary citizens make some money out of their content on YouTube. We are protecting their rights and helping them make some money on some of those big viral videos. The idea of licensing content is now something that we are entering into, it is not something we have done for a long time but we are starting to see that it is necessary to create an ethical business model for user content. At the moment, it is like the Wild West – nobody has established rules and protocols for how ordinary content is used by news organizations. We think there are mutual gains to be had if we can set up that type of system. Essentially, we play the role of an old fashion news agency but in a very new environment.
How does the selection process work in determining what videos are worth sending to your clients?
We start with a machine which helps us build the very best databases, such as creating Twitter lists for example. We would then look at a region and have the machine build a Twitter list by recommending the people who are the influencers in the conversation around that place. We look for all the people who are shaping a conversation and detect those in the crowd who telling us the most important things that are happening today in that conversation. Our technology also has the ability to monitor the speed of a conversation. When Pope Benedict was about to resign, we heard about it with an automatic alert which told us the conversation around Pope Benedict was going crazy. The technology gives us signals when something is emerging from that huge noise on social media, which is a necessary tool as 72 hours of video are uploaded every minute on YouTube. Storyful is essentially giving our journalists a head start in working out what is significant. Once we get the video we apply old journalistic techniques. We look at the sources, rate their credibility, talk to them, check details within that video to make sure the people are telling the truth, and also check the facts with other sources in the country.
It’s interesting that the Twitter lists are automated, as that is normally the role for social media editors. Do you think Storyful will replace the need for social media editors in the future?
No, what we would like to do is develop tools that will help social media editors do their job better. Our ambition has not been to provide content necessarily, but I want to give every social media savvy journalist in the world the tools they can use to do what Storyful does at the moment, which is to find the best and most relevant content. We think the future is a marriage of good old fashion human skills and smart technology, at the latter is important but it is not sufficient. What we want to do on Storyful is develop not just services that help social media editors, but also give them the tools to watch any conversation in the world and find the content, data, and signal they need. We want to turn social media editors bionic and give them the power of advanced technology to help them do their job more efficiently. It’s sometimes a pain to have to build Twitter lists, so we want to take that pain away from them. Sometimes it takes a long time to do basic checks on content, so we’ll help cut down the time it takes. We see ourselves in many ways as supporting the work of social media editors, but we certainly aren’t replacing them.
Can you give specific examples of how Storyful augments the coverage of developing news stories?
Syria is a great example of how we’ve developed a system for watching the most compelling videos emerging from all over that region. Obviously we have our machines giving us signals of videos uploaded by reputable sources, but what we are doing essentially is grading and verifying videos in a way that cuts away a lot of the work for our clients in finding the latest content. We also work on a two way bases with our clients as there is a 24/7 support so they can email us day or night looking for specific videos in Syria, or looking for our help in confirming details. We work very much with the foreign desks of our client organizations to make sure that we are providing the signal within the noise, and also help them verify key details.
Another great example would be the natural disasters that hit the United States recently. When all this content is coming at you at such a huge volume, it can be overwhelming. What we are doing is filtering the content and protecting news organizations against false content. Hurricane Sandy was probably a great example of hoaxers really pushing their game further, and hopefully people like ourselves responding better by detecting the hoaxes quicker. On any big breaking story, we can save our clients time and effort, and we can also give them a bit more security and peace of mind about the content they finally use.
In a recent interview, you predicted “YouTube will become the destination…They won’t go necessarily to a broadcaster’s channel on YouTube; they will seek out a much broader experience.” That is a pretty big statement, how do you suggest news organizations adjust to that change?
It is interesting that you say that, because I feel users will go to news organizations’ YouTube channels. I encourage every news organization to pay attention to their YouTube channel. Because YouTube hasn’t been a huge source of revenue for news organizations it has kind of been ignored. Yet what I think will happen is gradually people will go to YouTube as their first destination for news. Right now, many people are using Twitter as a breaking newswire, but then they go to YouTube to see the videos that people are linking to. I think that as YouTube starts to develop itself as a destination, more people will seek out YouTube as the first place that they go.
YouTube’s vision of the future is very open and very collaborative. They want the best news organizations to come in and do what they have done with Twitter, which is to provide some authoritative sources and to have YouTube channels that people subscribe to and follow. I think what you will see is YouTube developing in the same way as other social networks by inviting other people to bring some order to the chaos, to bring some authority to where at the moment it can be very difficult to discover the best news videos. So when I say that YouTube will become a first destination, I think that will happen increasingly fast when the big news organizations realize their YouTube channels should be as important, if not more important, than their Twitter accounts or in some cases parts of their website. I think it is a win-win game for news organizations if YouTube develops as a news platform, and clearly Storyful is here to help them if they want to try to build those very engaging and compelling YouTube channels.
Can you give examples of how news organizations can implement a successful YouTube strategy?
A good example at the moment is ITN in Britain, who just launched a great channel called TruthLoader. It examines the stories that are developing on social media and goes behind the story to talk to the people who created that content in an innovative way. They have a great partnership directly with YouTube, and I think it is a great organization. The Wall Street Journal is another great example with their WorldStream feed. Their own corespondents shoot videos with their cell phones and produce content that looks like user content, which is posted directly on their YouTube channel. I think The New York Times is upgrading it’s YouTube channel at the moment, and it is very exciting to see they are putting up videos that are produced by their own reporters. Another example is Russia Today which is probably the most popular news channel. What they do is it grab the very best user content and post it on their channel, so they have realized that this great big crowd can be leveraged to build YouTube channels. I think news organizations have nothing to fear from YouTube. The problem is it’s not producing dollars but rather cents on advertising. But I think that you’ll start to see YouTube deliver actually commercial benefits for news organizations in the years ahead.
Photo: Screen shot of Russia Today's YouTube account
What is the relationship between Storyful and YouTube?
We have an existing direct relationship with YouTube in that we help them curate some of their own house pages, so for example CitizenTube is an initiative that was set up so Storyful directly works with YouTube to surface the best citizen videos everyday. We also work with the Human Rights Channel and YouTube Politics, so we are hoping to expand the relationship going forward. One initiative we are working on is to try to provide protection and help for ordinary citizens who are uploading really compelling news videos, we are trying to help them make some financial gain from that and protect their rights on YouTube. It is a little too early to say what the next step is with YouTube, but we are in constant dialog with them as to how to help both ordinary citizens and media organizations who use YouTube as a platform for news.
Photo: Screen shot of CitizenTube
As a social media visionary, do you have any tips for GEN’s editorial community?
The key issue right now for mainstream and traditional publishers to understand is they have to integrate third party content and user content into their web platform. The most important thing for established news organizations to do is experiment and take a few risks but not necessary with their reputation, yet certainly by applying some resources to finding out how they can engage new audiences on platforms like YouTube and Twitter. So yes, it is all about risk, but it is also about developing their own protocol and standards by which they judge user content. We do not have to drop our editorial standards or our vision of valuable journalism to engage with social media. We have to get over this false choice between doing things on social media which we feel are destroying journalism, and protecting some sort of idealized notion of journalism. There is no choice, this could be a golden age as far as I am concerned for journalism. Stop thinking as social media as new media because it is the next generation. Journalism will survive and prosper, that is my vision right now and hopefully I will be proved right in the years to come.
If you enjoyed this article and want to meet Mark Little, register to the GEN News Summit to see him speak in person on news aggregators, viral media, and audience building. If you register during GEN's Early Bird Special before 18 February, you will save 30% off your ticket.
Want more exclusive GEN interviews? Sign up for the GEN newsletter and get the articles delivered straight to your inbox, or check out previous exclusive GEN interviews here. Some other interviews you might enjoy are:
- Marianne Barriaux: Inside the AFP’s social media
- Paul Quigley: What you need to learn about social metrics