In the case of the supposedly Syrian video, they worked and worked but in the end couldn’t vouch for its authenticity. What’s most important is to be able to live with the shades of gray, and to communicate that reality, according to Little.
“Number one, it’s as good to debunk a story as it is to be the one to break it,” Little said. “And number two, don’t be scared of ambiguity. Don’t be scared if at the end of a process of verification you just have to say to your partners ‘I’m sorry, we cannot stand over this.’ It’s just old values with a new boss.”
Who’s the new boss? Little says it’s the community.
“The most important piece of the puzzle is what we call the human algorithm, where every news event creates a community,” he said. “First, it tends to gather on Twitter and it has members who are original sources and it has amplifiers and a whole range of filters; and then you have a whole lot of mainstream journalists joining in, people like Andy Carvin who will become the gatekeepers there. What we are relying on is that community to call bullshit. To basically say, ‘This is something which you should discount.’”
The earlier you identify that community, the sooner you understand the reality of the news that’s emerging. Along with the concept of the “human algorithm,” Little has a term to describe the moment when the community begins to gather: the inflection point.
What if a journalist could have connected the dots between a tweet about a helicopter in Abbottabad, Pakistan and a raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound?
This is the holy grail of real-time news coverage: being able to match context with content in a way that reveals hidden truth. Or events that are just now becoming newsworthy.
That’s the inflection point, and here’s how Little previously expressed it:
Real-time stories challenge the old rules of news. We believe every story starts with a single voice, not a conversation in a newsroom. There is no such thing as a scoop, just a story before its inflection point. Storyful’s golden rule is there is ALWAYS someone closer to the story.
Their job is to find those people, to see what they’re sharing, and to then pass the credible information and material along to Storyful’s partners. The big push within Storyful right now is to find better ways to bring technology to bear.
“Our next step is to create systems and software,” Little said. “If you think about TweetDeck, [it would be great] if we can improve TweetDeck to provide us with the ability to not just to build lists but to interpret them and really just track conversations and communities that are evolving.”
The dream, he said, is to find a way to capture and identify “the moment at which a community beings to gather.”
A New Kind of News Service
Inflection point. Human algorithm. Outsourced verification. Dead bodies. It’s a lot to process.
The biggest takeaway for me is the emergence of specialized organizations like Storyful that focus on discovery and verification of information on social networks.
Other news organizations also engage in this activity; but it makes sense that there’s a need for specialists. The tools and discipline are advancing at such a fast rate that it requires a specialized focus. It’s also not always viable for big media brands to insert themselves into the communities that emerge around news events, or to dedicate resources to verify the content flowing in on social networks.
I see the need. The question is, can verification form the basis of a viable business? Storyful provides a test case, but as of today there’s only one answer.
We don’t know.
Correction of the Week
“On Monday, 26 September, we published an article which claimed that Katie Price was involving her son, Junior, in violent pursuits and that this was of deep concern to her ex-husband, Peter Andre. In fact our story was incorrect and Katie has simply taken Junior to a noncontact fun fitness class designed by MMA trainer Sol Gilbert. We apologise to Katie.” — Daily Star (U.K.)