Revise thinking on social media: Future Forum speaker

Publishers need think about social media as a source of content and a destination for their product rather than simply a mechanism to drive traffic, says the founder and CEO of Storyful Mark Little.

Storyful, the social-media focused news aggregator that was purchased by News Corp last year for US$25 million, recently partnered with Facebook to launch the FB Newswire, essentially a wire service that will report news through the structured aggregation of relevant content posted to Facebook.

In August, Mr Little will be in Australia to speak at the Future Forum, the newspaper industry ideas conference hosted by The Newspaper Works.

A former journalist and foreign correspondent, Mr Little left the security of his job as a presenter for a current affairs program at Irish broadcaster RTÉ News and Current Affairs in 2010, and launched Storyful.

He said that over the course of his career, which began in the early 1990s for Irish broadsheet The Sunday Business Post, the role of journalists had chained significantly, as had their position in the media food chain.

“In my early years as a foreign correspondent, you could not create news without having access to all the tools of a professional reporter – the printing press or the satellite dish,” he said. “Back then, we delivered our news to passive consumers at appointed times. Now, because of social media and smart phones, everybody in the world is a potential reporter.”

“Our job now as journalists is to manage and filter the overabundance of content being created by the people we used to think about as our audience.”

Storyful is Mr Little’s attempt to see what a news agency would look like if it were to be started from scratch, knowing what we now know about the contemporary nature of journalism. The company seeks to satisfy both the need for publishers to more effectively and efficiently discover compelling content offered by the social web, and also for citizen journalists to be recognised and compensated for the content they create.

“I wanted to make sure the eternal principles of great journalism survived the age of social media,” said Mr Little. “I saw an opportunity in helping traditional storytellers adapt to the digital revolution by delivering content that would engage a very different audience. I knew no-one else was doing it because they saw disruption as a threat rather than an invitation to start again.”

A critical question is asked of this model; how does a news wire verify content shared online that has not been produced by in-house journalists and examined by their editors?

Mr Little say that the Storyful staffers work with witnesses, experts and primary sources around the world to confirm various pieces of reportage they find online, and “supplement this with a combination of geo-location, forensic journalism and vetting of the original creators of content”.

He said that the key is to find the wisdom in the crowd and to keep track of the people who have certain influence that allows the company to “verify content created by the online communities they are active in”.

Storyful sources revenue from several avenues – subscription fees to the newswire product, through partnerships with numerous significant media organisations (including YouTube, The New York Times,  BBC, News Corp and Google), advertising money brought in from videos the company manages on YouTube and other partner platforms (“the revenue is shared between the uploader, the partner and Storyful,” says Mr Little).

So far the start-up and its recent partnership with Facebook have met Little’s expectations. He says that success with the FB Newswire will be defined by how prominent and essential  a part of digital newsgathering Facebook content ultimately becomes.

“So far it has been a success, judging by the fresh interest of journalists in Facebook as a source of news,” he said.

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