News Corp, Storyful and Acts of Journalism

One of America’s biggest news and media companies, News Corporation, just announced it was buying the 5-year-old social newsroom Storyful. Storyful has been on the vanguard of combing through the social web - from YouTube to Instagram - to surface and verify critical first hand reports of news events around the globe. Newsrooms call this “User-Generated Content” and Storyfull has built a business helping journalists tell fact from fiction and put this new content to use.

The New York Times, CNN and others are heralding this news as sign of the increasingly important role of user-generated content in journalism today. I even suggested that the deal is a huge investment in the values and practices of verification, which I hope sends a strong message to the entire industry (Storyful will remain a separate company within News Corp and will continue to serve clients across the media landscape).

However, I think this deal symbolizes more than the growing prominence of user-generated content — it should also be a reminder of the critical role of the people who are on the ground creating those videos, photos, tweets and more.

The News Corps/Storyful deal raises important new questions about how we understand, support and protect the acts of journalism that are increasingly a critical part of reporting.

As C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell, and Clay Shirky have argued well, we are in a post industrial age of journalism. Today the fourth estate is made up of a network of actors, institutions and platforms but creating strong networks and protecting them is very different than defending a monolithic institution or industry.

As such, we have to ask questions about how we verify user-generated content and get consent to use it. This is Storyful’s area of expertise, but we also have to ask other questions:

  • What are news organizations responsibility to people whose content they use if their safety is compromised? Or if they face legal threats?
  • How can we support and work with communities and audiences who are committing acts of journalism to help them do so safely and responsibly?
  • How does policy and law need to adapt to changes in how people participate in journalism today? How do we protect new kinds of newsgathering and the people do it? 

I tackle some of these questions in a report published earlier this year:

"In today’s climate, it makes no sense for press freedom protections to apply only to a narrow class of professionals. Everyday Americans are central to the future of journalism as news consumers, distributors and creators. We need to push for policies that protect these new participants.”

I hope News Corp and the rest of the industry can think, not just about how they can leverage user-generated content, but also about how we empower and support the new media makers who are on the front lines with mobile phones and digital cameras, capturing history and telling their stories.

Timeline: One Year in the Debate Over Press Freedom

One year ago today I published a blog post entitled “Why I’m Tracking Journalist Arrests at Occupy Protests.” The next day, police raided New York City’s Zuccotti Park, where they arrested 12 journalists and blocked many others from documenting the raid. Here is a look back at the year in journalist arrests and debates over press freedom in the digital age.

This is part of my new post: Why I Won’t Stop Tracking Journalist Arrests.

Sept. 17, 2011: Occupy Wall Street begins in New York City

Sept. 24, 2011: John Farley of WNET/Thirteen is the first journalist arrestedwhile covering Occupy Wall Street.

Oct. 1, 2011: The Occupy Wall Street movement crosses the Brooklyn Bridge, leading to mass arrests, including the arrests of three journalists.

Nov. 15–17, 2011: The New York Police Department raids Zuccotti Park right before the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Twelve journalists are arrested, with two more arrested on the actual anniversary two days later.

Nov. 18, 2011: The NYPD admits to arresting journalists with NYPD press credentials.

Nov. 21, 2011: New York media demand a meeting with NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne about abuses of press covering Occupy Wall Street.

Nov. 23, 2011: The NYPD issues a formal memo ordering officers to avoid “unreasonably interfer[ing]” with journalists. (Ten days later the NYPD arrestanother journalist.)

Dec. 1, 2011: Forty-thousand people send letters and call their mayors, asking them to defend press freedom in their cities.

Dec. 8, 2011: The Committee to Protect Journalists releases its 2011 global census of journalist imprisonment, and finds that “the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide shot up more than 20 percent to its highest level since the mid-1990s.”

Dec. 9, 2011: Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York calls on the Justice Department to investigate the NYPD’s raid on Zuccotti Park and its treatment of protesters and journalists.

Dec. 12, 2011: The NYPD arrests nine independent journalists, livestreamers and photographers at the Winter Garden in New York City. Video also revealsofficers blocking a New York Times photographer as he tries to cover the arrests.

Dec. 13, 2011: A series of “Who is a Journalist?” posts appear herehere andhere.

Jan. 3, 2012: The NYPD raid the Brooklyn studio of, one of the central livestreaming groups covering Occupy Wall Street, and arrest six citizen journalists.

Jan. 18, 2012: The SOPA Internet Blackout spreads across the Web in protest of a piracy bill with broad First Amendment implications.

Jan. 25, 2012: Reporters Without Borders releases its yearly press freedom ranking. The U.S. plummets 27 spots to 47th in the world.

Jan. 28, 2012: Oakland police detain or arrest nine journalists when Occupy Oakland attempts to take over an empty building.

Feb. 2, 2012: Some cities respond to journalist arrests with apologies and police reprimands. Documentarian Josh Fox is arrested while trying to film a public hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Feb. 9, 2012: Sixteen-thousand people send letters of support to journalists who have been arrested.

March 3, 2012: Bay Area journalists and press organizations meet with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan about ongoing press suppression and arrests in the city.

April 30, 2012: A coalition of elected officials and members of the press file a civil rights lawsuit against the NPYD seeking redress for police misconduct during Occupy Wall Street protests. The National Press Photographers Association joins the lawsuit later in the year.

May 3, 2012: On World Press Freedom Day, a coalition of press freedom and digital rights groups send a joint letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the Justice Department to protect all people’s “right to record.”

May 14, 2012: The Justice Department releases a lengthy memo providing guidance to police departments and asserting that people’s right to record is protected under the First Amendment.

May 20, 2012: Four journalists are arrested while covering the NATO summit in Chicago. Other journalists and livestreamers complain about being targeted and harassed by police.

June 8, 2012: NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne tries to rewrite historyand denies the NYPD arrested journalists the department had earlier admitted to arresting.

July 25, 2012: Researchers at NYU and Fordham law schools release an eight-month study which finds the NYPD “consistently violated basic rights” by using aggressive force and obstructing press freedom.

July 31, 2012: Twitter bans journalist Guy Adams for revealing an NBC executive’s work email address during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. (Adams was later reinstated.)

Aug. 27–Sept. 6, 2012: The Democratic and Republican conventions included a significant police and security detail, but there are relatively few incidents of press suppression.

Sept. 15–17, 2012: Eight journalist arrests occur on the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. This leads to another set of letters from the Society for Professional Journalists, the National Press Photographers Association and 13 other media organizations.


Hint: US is way lower than most would assume, and for good reason. We need to stand up to the ongoing erosion of press freedom at home and abroad. 


Press freedom rankings from the Newseum and Freedom House

The most free?  Finland, Norway and Sweden.  The least?  North Korea.  Where does the U.S. rank?  Find out here at the Newseum’s website.



“I had journalists who were poking fun at me, while I was in jail, on Twitter and social media” ~ journalist Susie Cagle

As the landscape of journalism changes, we need solidarity amongst journalists struggling against the slow grind of institutions that have not adapted to how journalism is done in a digital age. As more and more journalists on the front lines, covering our communities are from small newsrooms or independent, we have to rely on each other. See more on my thoughts about journalist support networks here

There was no reason to detain Ferral, other than police didn’t know what to do with her. In this country, that’s not a good enough reason to force a citizen to lie face down and be cuffed.

- John Drescher, editor, Raleigh News & Observer.

via Romenesko, “Town Apologizes for Arresting News & Observer Reporter”

(via practicalobscurity)

Me: So far very few cities have taken this important step. Of the 13 cities where journalists have been arrested over the past year only a handful have stepped up and apologized. Fewer have taken proactive steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

"The business of verifying and debunking content from the public relies far more on journalistic hunches than snazzy technology. While some call this new specialization in journalism “information forensics,” one does not need to be an IT expert or have special equipment to ask and answer the fundamental questions used to judge whether a scene is staged or not."

I genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen to freedom of speech as we enter into a networked world, but I suspect it’s going to spark many more ugly confrontations. Rather, it’s not the freedom of speech itself that will, but the visibility of the resultant expressions, good, bad, and ugly. For this reason, I think that we need to start having a serious conversation about what freedom of speech means in a networked world where jurisdictions blur, norms collide, and contexts collapse. This isn’t going to be worked out by enacting global laws nor is it going to be easily solved through technology. This is, above all else, a social issue that has scaled to new levels, creating serious socio-cultural governance questions. How do we understand the boundaries and freedoms of expression in a networked world?
New post on ground truthing and what journalists can learn from Apple’s map mishap.
"If we are going to measure our impact in the world we have to get out in our world. We have to join community conversations, we have to be better listeners, and we have to ask different kind of questions. Our journalism shouldn’t be seen as something that happens to the community, but rather with the community. More than ever, as the ground beneath journalism shifts and our newsrooms adapt, we need to be testing our assumptions and ground truthing our data."
Read more here. 

New post on ground truthing and what journalists can learn from Apple’s map mishap.

"If we are going to measure our impact in the world we have to get out in our world. We have to join community conversations, we have to be better listeners, and we have to ask different kind of questions. Our journalism shouldn’t be seen as something that happens to the community, but rather with the community. More than ever, as the ground beneath journalism shifts and our newsrooms adapt, we need to be testing our assumptions and ground truthing our data."

Read more here