A couple of months ago the team at social newswire Storyful took to Google+ with its Open Newsroom initiative to effectively carry out verification in public, and encourage participation in the process.
Using Google+, Storyful has built a community which currently consists of 178 members within its Open Newsroom, engaging with them around content which is yet to be verified and working together to gain a better understanding of the situation.
Not only does this help Storyful in its efforts, where it may otherwise have "hit a wall", but it also both supports other members with their verification needs, and showcases the different techniques available to anyone else watching, as managing editor of Storyful, Markham Nolan, told Journalism.co.uk.
"A lot of the time we would do a lot of work on verifying video, and you get to a point with some videos where you just can't go any further.Competitiveness doesn't get you anything if it leads to dead contentMarkham Nolan, Storyful
"We have an incredibly talented team here, but we're limited in numbers and obviously there's a big world of people online that you should be able to tap into," he said.
He added that while sharing content and techniques out in the open may not yet be totally comfortable for all journalists, "competitiveness doesn't get you anything if it leads to dead content".
"We'd rather put stuff out in the open in the hope that it becomes verified and useful, rather than hide it away in the hope that no one else gets it first."
There is a balance to be found here though, with Storyful also having its own clients to consider. But Nolan said the Open Newsroom is being used in relation to content which is perhaps already public and maybe even prompting discussion on social media, but which remains unverified.
"Our clients won't get any benefit out of it if we can't verify it, so we just take it to the crowd to help people do it," he said.
The importance of applying some filters
The first couple of months of Storyful's Open Newsroom have delivered some interesting lessons. First, the effectiveness of keeping control of who can become members of the community and contribute, as opposed to the rest of the world who can watch through "a clear window".
Members are those which Storyful considers "very pro-verification and very invested in not creating more noise", Nolan explained.It was an interesting dichotomy that you have openness but also some limitation on membership, which is actually really importantMarkham Nolan, Storyful
"So everyone can see the goings-on, everyone can see the process, but not necessarily jump in and muddy the waters."
He added that "sometimes, open crowdsourcing and just having everyone in can lead to more news than is useful".
"It was an interesting dichotomy that you have openness but also some limitation on membership, which is actually really important."
And even for those who are not active members, the community offers a useful learning experience, by showcasing first-hand the different tools and techniques being implemented, as well as the discussions which take place around this.
"As you go down through the conversation threads you'll see what they're using to basically triangulate the truth of any video, or any piece of information," Nolan added. "If you look at it and go 'well I could apply it to the content I'm trying to figure out', there's certainly a lot to be learned."
Another lesson was found in the value of applying some focus to how the content is organised. Currently it can be viewed in its entirety, or filtered into some of the key countries or issues being surfaced. Right now this is Syria, Zimbabwe and Egypt.
"We found that where we were actually seeing good results from the Google+ community was where we'd focused on something and we'd attracted a group of people who were invested in a particular topic and were knowledgeable on it, but were also really keen to get to the bottom of stuff," Nolan said.
The future of the project
Storyful's hope is that the Open Newsroom will continue to grow to the point where it becomes "self-sustaining", with a community of journalists who are "almost coming together spontaneously rather than us having to lead it all the time".
"So, in theory, the more people actually put into it, the less work there should be for everyone because you'll have more people sharing the burden of looking at stuff and verifying. If that becomes the case then it will be much easier for us to sustain."
Reflecting on how a platform like this could have been useful during events such as Hurricane Sandy, Nolan said the Open Newsroom has not yet been put into action in relation to a big news event in the west.
"That will be very interesting for us, once we see something along the lines of Hurricane Sandy, or just something of that magnitude, where there is stuff that needs to be verified."
But that does not mean interesting cases have not already emerged from the Open Newsroom. One particular example related to a video which appeared to show a protester being shot in Ismailia, in Egypt, which Nolan blogged about here.
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk he said that the verification process for this video involved a collaboration of Storyful's own team, other journalists and "a couple of people who weren't known to us before the Open Newsroom" who had "sources on the ground". The result was that the video was "verified as close as is possible without physically accompanying the cameraman onto the street", Nolan said in the blog post.
"We just got this fantastic picture of what was happening," Nolan added. "It was a terrible situation but I don't think we'd ever got so close to something so quickly."
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