How to Craft Higher Quality Journalism

28 May 2015


Innovation is back in the newsroom. Today, journalists, developers and graphic designers are able to set up prototypes and test new editorial services internally. At the GEN Summit in Barcelona next month, Adam Thomas, Chief of Product at Storyful, will be discussing how media innovators are creating prototypes in order to craft better quality journalism. In this interview, GEN talks to Adam about new tools for journalists and the place that social justice and ethics occupy in the new media world. 

What has been the impact of Newswire since it was rolled out to 150 news rooms in August last year?

Newswire’s main aim is to help our clients cover breaking news and trending social stories with speed and accuracy. Since we rolled out last year, our editorial team has used the Newswire to deliver verified social content that has become synonymous with some of the most important stories of recent times, from the Charlie Hebdo attack to Nepal’s tragic earthquakes. We hope to help our partners be 100% accurate in telling the world’s stories in the first person, but also to be safe in the knowledge that uploaders have been treated ethically.

From the feedback Newswire has received from organisations like Vice, Mashable, People, The Wall Street Journal, BBC and Al-Jazeera, what features have you found to be popular?

Our editorial chat function is proving to be a game-changer for many organisations. Through the app, journalists can engage with our newsroom 24/7, which gets us closer to their editorial agendas and allows us to alert them instantly when we have content that may be of interest. Data tells us that the download button is the fastest growing part of the interface in terms of user engagement, while user interviews are indicating that it’s important to engage with a journalist’s workflow as frictionlessly as possible through content collections and notifications. This combination of data and feedback has provided us with a long list of things to improve  - our work is never done.
Storyful pic

Storyful’s Newswire showing rights-cleared video from Syria and live Twitter feeds.

The tools a journalist needs are changing. Would you say that the traditional skills of shorthand and touch typing are no longer as important as the new technologies?

That all depends on what you’re trying to achieve. At Storyful we’re big believers in using the best tools for the job. Ultimately, journalists are still professional storytellers. If using Timeline.js or Scraperwiki or Tin Eye - or indeed our own Newswire - help journalists engage with their audiences, then those tools are important. If shorthand allows them to interview eyewitnesses without breaking the flow of their comments, then there’s huge value in that too.

What does the creation of online communities around a news story mean for journalism?

From day one, Storyful’s founder Mark Little has said that every news event creates a community. The implications of that for journalists are far-reaching and change the way they work. Modern journalists need a deep understanding of social networks, how eyewitness content is shared and how to deal ethically with sources online. They also need new technology to help them deal with increasingly complex digital workflows.

Storyful - data journalism

Storyful network map of all UK General Election candidates, illustrating connections with Tom Watson.

Do you think that digital media plays an active role in social justice issues in a way that wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago?

Storyful partnered with WITNESS back in 2012 to address the growing need to discover and verify online content that dealt with human rights issues. Platforms like YouTube, or more recently Weibo or Firechat, have become distribution mechanisms that help us understand social justice in new ways. So digital media has accelerated content delivery to a vast audience, but poses interesting ethical and legal questions too - questions organisations like the Eyewitness Media Hub are helping organisations to navigate.

With more and more news feeds growing out of social media platforms, do you think that traditional news outlets feel threatened? Or do you think there will always be a need and a demand for established media organisations, like the BBC?

News organisations are great partners for social media platforms. Storyful has always found collaboration with them to be valuable for all concerned, whether we’re discovering content, building apps to extend their ecosystem or giving advice on improving APIs. Journalists from all of the world’s newsrooms offer the ability to harness data and content, and create stories from it - the need for storytellers has not been eradicated by social media, it has been vastly increased.