Data is a huge asset for news organisations and can provide valuable insight into a story, whether it comes from documents or eyewitness footage.
But because there are so many platforms where people share their experiences, it can be challenging for journalists to track all the information relevant to a topic or event and put it into a larger context.
This is where a new project funded by the Knight Foundation is hoping to help. CrowdVoice.by, due for launch in October from citizen journalism platform CrowdVoice, is a new open source tool that newsrooms can personalise and use to collect, distribute and embed crowdsourced news and data.
CrowdVoice was set up in 2010 to increase awareness of protests and social justice movements worldwide by collating and verifying multimedia footage and reports under the same umbrella.We were looking for a tool that would help us curate and contextualise this data that was available throughout the web and sitting across too many different platformsEsra'a Al Shafei, CrowdVoice
"We were really struggling to find news on a wide range of issues, from current events and human rights abuses to social movements around the world," said Esra'a Al Shafei, co-founder of CrowdVoice, "and we were looking for a tool that would help us curate and contextualise this data that was available throughout the web and sitting across too many different platforms."
Initially, CrowdVoice was set up to pull in media feeds only, showing what news organisations or bloggers were writing or sharing about a particular topic. But as the amount of crowdsourced material expanded, for example on issues like Syria, the website had to reinvent its structure.
Al Shafei said people can now access not just the media feeds, but a wealth of material divided into categories like 'featured voices', 'know the facts behind' or 'understand the events behind'.
Everything is 100 per cent crowdsourced and can include timelines that give a better understanding of the subject and how it started or infographics on issues like forced evictions in India and how many people have disappeared in Mexico.
Al Shafei said CrowdVoice.by is an "off-shoot" of what CrowdVoice does now, but in the shape of a more personalised and embeddable platform.
How CrowdVoice works and what kind of material it collects
She believes CrowdVoice can help journalists gather data and material in a quicker and more organised way, to ensure they tell a story "as best as possible using citizen media and verifiable images".
A journalist writing an article about an ongoing protest, for example, will be able to set up a topic or 'voice' on CrowdVoice.by, with a couple of hashtags to work as aggregators in the background and pull in everything people are sharing on that topic.
This stream can then be embedded on their website, but it will not be published until the journalist or a moderator has verified the content is accurate.
Al Shafei calls this "crowdsourced curation", but another feature of CrowdVoice.by will be "crowdsourced verification". Using a software called PyBossa, an open source framework designed especially for crowdsourced projects, the platform will let people actively participate in verifying the content.
"As the journalist, you can pick who's doing the verification, it can be just you or you can harness the power of your community.
"If you're a large organisations like Reuters, you definitely have the resources to do it yourself. But people who write for the HuffingtonPost or citizen media generators like Global Voices don't have the resources to put in. But they do have a huge community of readers and loyal visitors who can help."As the journalist, you can pick who's doing the verification, it can be just you or you can harness the power of your communityEsra'a Al Shafei, CrowdVoice
The team behind CrowdVoice.by is also building a feature that will help both with filtering information and engaging with people in certain communities.
"You will be able to block someone who is taking advantage of the platform in an inappropriate way, but also choose if you want to crowdsource information only from your Twitter followers or specific groups of people," Al Shafei told Journalism.co.uk.
Because CrowdVoice.by streams will be embeddable, readers of a given publication will see all the material posted without having to go back to the CrowdVoice.by website.
They will also have different options of engaging with the content, such as posting text, URLs or existing photos (for copyright reasons they won't be able to post original images) and it is up to the journalist to approve or disapprove of the material, or follow up on it.
"The journalist can turn it off, they can decide if they want to allow readers to engage or say 'no, actually, I'd prefer to give them the information, not necessarily receive it'," Al Shafei pointed out.
She said they are also considering some potential paid-for features, such as news organisations adding their own branding or self-hosting on their own websites.
"The Knight Foundation grant allows us to at least experiment with the model and develop it based on the value people see in it and the feedback they give us."
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