When Andy Carvin launched reported.ly six months ago, alongside a team of five other journalists based across Europe and the US, he did so without a website.
Carvin wanted the venture to establish itself as making journalism from and for the social networks, rather than using them to drive back traffic to a website.
Now, the reported.ly team has built a community who is constantly engaging in conversation on Facebook and Twitter and, last month, it launched a beta website hosted under parent company First Look Media.
Malachy Browne, managing editor and anchor of reported.ly in Europe, spoke to Journalism.co.uk about how reported.ly has been approaching social storytelling, the importance of engagement and how news organisations should build relationships with their audience.
Reach audiences where they "naturally reside"
Browne said in the beginning, reported.ly "didn't really" need a website, as the aim was to publish and "reach audiences where they naturally reside", which is increasingly on social media.We're not breaking news, what we're trying to do is dig deeper into stories that are relevant and topical, stories that have a strong social element to themMalachy Browne, managing editor, reported.ly
The focus wasn't on driving people away to news on a different platform, but rather on using platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to publish in real time.
However, the reported.ly team had always wanted to build a "web destination", according to Browne and the newly launched website is also a way to organise an archive of stories that can be "resurrected" and put into a larger context.
"We wanted something that brought together all our output from social channels and our digest into one place, where people could get a sense of what we were up to even if they were not engaging in real time on social."
"Don't use your social presence to divert your audience elsewhere off those platforms, but rather engage with them within your timelines."
For their coverage of the Nepal earthquake, editor-in-chief Andy Carvin created a video visualisation of the destruction caused by the earthquake, combining a Google Earth tour of the country with pictures and video footage.
The video was published to the reported.ly Facebook page and, despite only having 2,500 likes, the video attracted more than 1.2 million views.
Reported.ly's video visualisation of the Nepal earthquake
Team communication and coordination are key
One of the challenges reported.ly still faces is the size and location of the team, according to Browne.
Because they are working from different countries and time zones, they have to "be patient and curtail the ambition of doing more" in terms of reporting, he said.
However, one advantage is that all team members have certain editorial strengths and knowledge, helpful when approaching stories.
The reported.ly team uses instant chats like HipChat and Google Hangouts as a "virtual newsroom" and although Browne said it's hard to reproduce the dynamic given by physical proximity, they "have been doing really well."
"We're not breaking news, what we're trying to do is dig deeper into stories that are relevant and topical, stories that have a strong social element to them."
Bring people into the conversation
Reported.ly's Twitter feed has 14,000 followers, but the team mostly interacts with the audience from their individual accounts, something Browne calls "participatory journalism."
"Bringing people into the conversation, asking them questions, finding out more information and then retweeting that to give a sense of the conversation that's going on, is one of our strengths," said Browne.
Reported.ly relies on social communities and Twitter lists to do the kind of journalism that "has an impact, represents people and disrupts conversations."
The third day after its launch, reported.ly published a story on Storify about Hamyd Mourad, the teenager who was wrongly accused of being involved in the Charlie Hebdo attack.
According to Le Monde, Mourad Hamyd hasn’t been charged but is being held in police custody. He turned himself late this evening.— reported.ly (@reportedly) January 8, 2015
It attracted 20,000 views which, according to Browne, showed that "people value representative stories" regardless of the platform they're published on.
By engaging with Mourad's neighbours and schoolmates, reported.ly was able to provide comprehensive coverage of events as they happened.
"If you have your sources organised well, you're able to spot events and conversations that are happening away from the main focus of attention," Browne pointed out.
He said with recent stories from Burundi, Yemen and Nepal, social media played an important role in identifying voices, eye witnesses and communities affected.
Reported.ly is not trying to compete with wire services, he added, but rather "find out those extra pieces that bring the story to life and find people who are there that can elevate it."
Browne said in the past six months he has learned the importance of cultivating relationships with people and finding out what works and doesn't work on social media.
"Ask people questions, bring them offline and ensure that you're communicating that you're looking out for their best interests."
He also explained that recognising and sharing good work done by others and not being competitive is something "people really respond to."
"Our feed is not just reported.ly trying to drive back traffic to the website. We are trying to identify the people who are engaging in the act of journalism, but also those who are disrupting the narrative, and bring them in."
Reported.ly also covered the air strikes happening in Yemen earlier this year, drawing on the relationships they previously built with people on the ground.The primary thing is to think of social storytelling as good, old, traditional journalism applied to a different source of information and a different means of communicating with peopleMalachy Browne, managing editor, reported.ly
"Some are journalists, some are activists, some of them are just regular citizens who are prolific on social media."
He said the fact that the community in Yemen noticed their interest and started engaging with reported.ly and suggesting other stories or angles, was a "measure of success."
Find your tools of the trade
Browne's advice for news organisations when approaching social storytelling and social media platforms is investing time in creating an adequate work station and organising sources to optimise the amount of information available.
He recommended adding bookmarks and folders of useful tools to your browser for quick access and circulating it among your team, which helps "build an intuition about what tools work in different circumstances the more you use them everyday."
Some of the tools Browne recommends include: If This Then That, Twitter lists and Twitter advanced search; Wikimapia, an online editable map; SAMDesk, for managing social media activity and workflow and Gramfeed, for quick searches on Instagram.
Think of social storytelling as "good, old traditional journalism"
Because news happens so fast on social media, some news organisations can sometimes be in a rush to be the first to publish and "just put [news] out there verbatim".
"I've learned that if you pause, think about it and anticipate how you can steer the conversation by critiquing it or adding some insight – that is what makes people react."
He argued that "true engagement is participation and getting people involved in your journalism" and gave AJ+, Guardian Witness and ProPublica as examples of news organisations that are doing "really good public service journalism."
"The primary thing is to think of social storytelling as good, old, traditional journalism applied to a different source of information and a different means of communicating with people."
- Malachy Browne will be speaking on a panel about social storytelling at Journalism.co.uk's news:rewired conference on July 16. Find out more on the news:rewired website.