Innovation Director Gavin Sheridan on the Future of Digital Newsgathering


imageGavin Sheridan, an Irish journalist and blogger, has spent the past two years working as innovation director at Storyful.

A social media newsroom, the teams of reporters at Storyful monitor and engage with communities on Twitter, YouTube, Google+ and any social media platform on which anyone with an Internet connection can converse. 

Within two years of launching, Storyful began cooperating with some of the biggest news brands in the world, including ABC News, Reuters and the New York Times, and social platforms such as YouTube.

Sheridan recently spoke with EJC about his vision for digital-first journalism and what role outfits like his will play in enabling it.

EJC: Coming from one of the first social media newsrooms, do you find social media helpful for journalists or, on contrary, they make your work more difficult?

Sheridan: Journalism, in some ways, is easier with platforms like Twitter or YouTube. It gives you direct access to an audience. For example if a journalist is doing a story on personal debt, he would often use his friends or contacts. But why not just put it out on Twitter? That process can be really fast and within 10 minutes you can have five people.

EJC: How well do journalists typically keep up with it all, in your opinion? 

Sheridan: Well, managing information flows on social media is not something many colleges are teaching yet. For example, normally you would get an email with a press release saying “This is news.“ Now you have a controversial tweet from a politician that causes news. How do you manage 100 politicians who tweet all the time? How do you track all of your colleagues and rivals? How do you monitor good stuff? 

With great difficulty. 

And this is my point. It is going to be a bigger problem. Governments and company tweeting. Information flowing. New accounts appearing. Journalists will need to get better at managing information.

EJC: How they can get better?

Sheridan: Journalists will have to do more. They need to set up systems and information technology that help them to manage information flows. It has to be efficient and fast. The systems haven’t been built yet.

EJC: When will they be ready?

Sheridan: We are already seeing some software and tools becoming available that assist journalists in managing digital information. Such as DocumentCloud for managing documents. Or Spundge for managing work at newsrooms.

EJC: Where does Storyful fit in this reformation of newsrooms?
Sheridan:  Storyful comes in at two levels. One is having a core team of journalists who are concentrated on one particular type of information, which is gathering news online: video and images. We are looking for content that is coming from the social web. We act on behalf of other journalists, because not all newsrooms can cover it all. 

The second thing is to provide tools for journalists to help them to monitor better the social web.

EJC: How does your workflow differ from that of a traditional newsroom?

Sheridan: Storyful operates 24/7 with journalists monitoring the world for events, and scouring the web for newsworthy content for our clients. 

After a user submits a query - by phone, Skype, email, instant message, Twitter or our dashboard - our journalists try to find the most authentic stories for them. 

When we discover compelling content - videos, photos, tweets, maps - we search for the key details and data that will help you use the content responsibly. After that Storyful delivers content feeds through a web dashboard or directly into the user‘s system. 

Obviously, we request permission to use content from owners on behalf of our clients.

For example, we developed a tool for journalists called Trailfinder for the White House race last year. It offered top tweets from 300 sources, curated Twitter lists tracking conversations of candidates, journalists and citizens and channels of content being shared by these sources.

EJC: So how much does all this cost?

Sheridan: Prices vary depending on clients‘ requirements. Our basic news subscription package starts from 500 euro per month. Subscription packages are often customised to cater for the specific requirements of each client. Prices scales upward based on the levels of content and services required, as well as the number of user accounts each news organisation requests. 

EJC: As journalists gain these skills themselves, where will Storyful fit into the landscape?
Sheridan: It‘s not just newsrooms that need information and content. It is also finance industries, governments and NGOs. 

For example, UN observers uploaded videos in Syria that were used by news agencies around the world. Two years ago you wouldn’t have seen that. In 2002 when UN observers went to check the weapons of massive destruction in Iraq, you couldn’t see anything similar, because there was no YouTube at that time. Now we are witnessing this shift, when everybody from NGOs, journalists and citizens are uploading and sharing content all the time.

EJC: So will journalists become sterile information managers and watchdogs rather than live observers and writers with sources?

Sheridan: The job of journalists will include monitoring information on a very technical level and that is not a bad thing. At Storyful, we do build relationships with people like any other newsroom, it just happens to be focused on social networks.

EJC: At the end of the day, does society need all these streams of Tweets, videos and Facebook posts? What about information overload?

Sheridan: We need people to help analyse this information on our behalf. 

For example, there was no user generated content from Srebrenica in the 1990s. What if there had been? Maybe it would have changed something. Maybe people would have been angrier about it; maybe it would compel the international community to act faster. Or perhaps not. I don’t know the answer. All I know is that when the massacre happened in Al Houlah and video appeared on YouTube pretty soon afterwards, it became an international news story. 

You can’t have journalists everywhere all the time, it is not possible. But people are everywhere all the time.

It is also a role of journalist to say: This is important.

I think the idea that this shift is happening now is very important. It is a good thing. It is an exciting and challenging time to be in journalism.

Tags: twitter, technology, social media newsroom, social media, observation, newsroom,