How Storyful Is Shaking Up News Reporting with User-Generated Content

What if your startup was trying to position itself as an online gateway for the world’s news outlets to find user-generated content?

Geeknet Senior Editor Nick Kolakowski and Storyful’s Erica Berger discuss user-generated content.

How do you vet, distribute, and monitor an Internet’s worth of that material without losing focus on accuracy ? How do you keep your company above the editorial fray? How do you do all of this at the pace of the news itself?

Carefully, very carefully, said Storyful’s Erica Berger.

Berger, director of product partnerships for Storyful, spoke at the first fall installment of Content Conversations on Oct. 8 at Contently’s New York headquarters.

User Content: Fact-Checking

Storyful delivers user-generated content to news outlets in two ways: Content is provided in front of its paywall and content is supplied through its subscription service: Storyful Pro. You get the one via platforms such as Twitter (two accounts, actually) and YouTube. You get the other content by buying in as a subscriber.

As for how it works on the curation end of things, Berger suggested one scenario in which Storyful might vet a piece of information that came in from a (hypothetical) source.

“All right, ‘Nick’ found this, who’s Nick?” she said, running through the steps she would take with a submitted photo. “He took this photo here, at this time, on this day. How long has he had a social-media account for? Is he sharing this information in the correct language?”

The next steps are almost like forensics: Google is used to check images against street-view mapping, and weather reports are consulted to match conditions in an image. Even the shadows thrown by the sun can be telling. Ideally, sources are backtracked. E-mails and phone calls are made.

But what happens when the news is coming too fast for all of this verification?

Vetting User Content at the Pace of News

However deep the fact-checking process, Storyful’s methods, at times, can stand in opposition to the speed and intensity at which online stories are in demand. Where’s the threshold between fact-checking and supplying wanted content to a client, quick?

A crowd of about 60 listens to Berger speak.

Take for instance the Aug. 24, 2012 Manhattan-sidewalk firefight between a gun-wielding suspect and several police officers. Video and photos and tweets, these things flooded the Internet during and after the fatal drama outside the Empire State Building.

“With the Empire State Building example,” Berger said, “We were uploading a bunch of stuff in realtime and we were indicating to our clients that this is pending contact information; we haven’t been able to get in touch with these people, yet. Here’s the witnesses willing to talk to right now.”

Impartiality and Indemnity in Front of the Firehose

Another question that came up: What editorial impact might Storyful  have upon the news agencies that use it? Is their curation something like pre-editing?

“We want media companies to make their own editorial decisions,” Berger said. “We don’t want to make those decisions for them. We try to present every side possible of an argument by putting up content, even when we’re not sure what” the argument will develop into.

Storyful provides context along with its content, from a few sentences to thousands of words.

“We acknowledge, however, that content can be inherently political,” she said, speaking of a case in point — material emerging from the conflict in Syria: “These people have a stake in this civil war, if that’s what we’re going to call it. How do you present that to your clients? Well, that’s the New York Times‘ job, and that’s the Wall Street Journal‘s job.”

On its website, Storyful posted this: “Storyful accepts legal responsibility for the editorial guidance provided to clients. It will not be liable for any legal difficulties arising from the use of content in a manner which contravenes that guidance.”

Another question was about liability. Which organization carries the burden of a copyright infringement, should rights and clearances prove a complication after a client has taken and purposed a piece of  content?

“If we know that something is public and or cleared, and our client gets in trouble, then we’ll take the blame for it,” Berger said.

It all depends on the circumstances. Berger and others said during the discussion that when it comes to content and the news, it’s still a bit like the Wild West.

Meetup images courtesy of Erica Swallow.

Image by Flickr

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