The business of foreign news reporting was once a time consuming and laborious one: Evelyn Waugh, hired as a foreign correspondent by the Daily Mail to cover Mussolini’s invasion of what was then Abyssinia, spent so long sailing to the story he was able to teach himself how to type.
Today, news reports from around the world can light up our screens instantly and increasingly foreign correspondents are being scooped by a public equipped with smartphones and social media accounts like YouTube and Twitter.
The application of ICT to news gathering has meant an explosion of opportunity and resources. Now even the humblest blogger can embed a livecam covering news events on their blog page and newsrooms are able to use social media to pick up newsworthy content that previously would have been missed.
The way social platforms work means that people using them to publish content bypass the editorial control of the legacy media. This can be liberating if that editorial control, whether state or corporate, censored or distorted the story.
But the same controls were also used to ensure accuracy and validity for news stories. Now with the market flooded with content from amateurs how can the reader or even editors ensure professional standards are met?
The Irish Scoop
One solution is proffered by Irish innovator NewsWhip. Founded in 2011 by Paul Quigley and Andrew Mullaney, it markets a web app to clients that utilizes “deep data” in social media around the world to find stories that have news value and and are beginning to get traction from social media users.
How NewsWhip Works
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk in 2012 about NewsWhip’s Spike application, Paul Quigley, the firm’s Co-Founder and CEO, said that an important feature of their product was its measure of the velocity of social media trending or the rate at which stories are spreading across the platforms. Crucially, this allows journalists to distinguish new stories that are going viral from old stories that have got traction in the media because they’ve been out longer.
Storyful is another Irish innovator working in the same industry as NewsWhip. Storyful operates very much like a traditional newsroom except their correspondents’ news beats are the world’s dense and darkening social media clouds.
Its founder, ex-RTE reporter and anchor Mark Little, originally saw social media as a danger to professional news reporting. He wrote on his blog, “in a world where everybody was a reporter news would ultimately drown in noise”. Just to contextualise those anxieties, in a typical day for Twitter more than 500 million Tweets are published world wide, with an average of 5,700 Tweets per second.
Storyful finds stories from around the world that have news value and then verifies whether these items, usually videos, are genuine.
A lot of the companies that work with Storyful are news agencies themselves, confirming that journalism might be entering a golden age but it’s getting much more complex.
The emphasis, as in so many other models in the new economy, is on collaboration. The techie-journo partnership in the company itself collaborates with content providers and publishers at their respective ends of the value chain. Little’s company was bought by News Corp for €18m in December last year.
In spite of this new technology, foreign correspondents still spend hours hunting for their story and even longer trying to get them verified before passing them onto editorial staff. So the job is still time consuming and laborious but it’s also done remotely now meaning that the chances of foreign assignments have dramatically receded.