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.