While covering Occupy Wall Street, many news sites have used Storify to capture on-the-ground reports from journalists and protesters. Storify, they say, gives them a way to help their audience make sense of the stream of information flowing out of social networks. The social news curation tool also helped news sites thwart last week’s media blackout.
Storify CEO and Co-founder Burt Herman said there’s been a surge in the number of people using Storify to capture the protests. But he’s also seen news sites use it in interesting ways for a variety of other stories. I talked with Herman and journalists at Mother Jones, The Washington Post, Daily Beast and elsewhere to learn what stories it captures best.
Several news sites have used Storify to enhance their coverage of Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. Al Jazeera, for instance, created Storifys about protests in Egypt and Tunisians’ struggle to keep the reform movement energized.
About two-thirds of the Storifys that Mother Jones has created have been about Occupy Wall Street. Many feature tweets from Mother Jones reporters who are covering the story, including Josh Harkinson, who has been tweeting mini serialized vignettes of people he meets at Zuccotti Park.
“I almost think of Twitter as Josh’s notebook,” Tasneem Raja, Mother Jones’ digital/interactive editor, said in a phone interview. “We use Storify to go through his notebook and take out the best stories we’ve found and preserve them when they might otherwise end up on the cutting floor.” Unlike other news sites, Mother Jones creates Storifys as standalone articles rather than embedding them at the bottom of other stories. Some news sites embed them in reported stories.
The Occupy Wall Street Storifys that have worked well are the ones that offer context for readers, Herman said.
“We did not intend for people to just throw together social media and create a scrap pile of tweets,” he said. “The name is ‘Storify’ because it’s about making stories. It’s about changing how journalism works to acknowledge the fact that everyone on the ground is potentially your eyewitness, and it’s about empowering journalists to draw from that source material.”
Several news organizations used Storify to show how news about Osama bin Laden’s death unfolded. The Washington Post, for instance, used it to capture tweets from Sohaib Ath, the IT consultant who tweeted the secret operation that killed bin Laden.
“Because we tend to use Storify most for breaking news, we generally find that it helps us enhance stories that are already getting substantial traffic,” Katharine Zaleski, the Post’s executive director of digital news, told me. “We have found that our readers are even more engaged when we incorporate social media and interactive tools to enhance Washington Post reporting.”
The Daily Beast tries to start collecting tweets and other social media elements within the first 30 minutes after news breaks so that it’s easier to track information back to its original source. This can be harder to do once information has been retweeted and reshared multiple times.
“It’s a shame because an event will happen and a little later we’ll say, ‘We should do a Storify.’ But really, it’s more a case of, ‘We should have done a Storify,’” said Daily Beast and Newsweek Social Media Editor Brian Ries. “We’ve always thought it’s best to get one up quickly, just like a reported story.”
When compiling breaking news Storifys, Ries tries to identify three key players (often journalists) who are reporting on the event via Twitter. If their tweets are interesting, he’ll use them as the backbone of the Storify. Then he’ll search for tweets from what he calls “the second wave of witnesses” (non-journalists on the ground) by looking at whose work the key players are retweeting, searching the hashtag for the event, and going to search.twitter.com.
Ries typically tweets out a link to breaking news Storifys on Twitter and lets people know when he’s included them. “We get a lot of retweets from people who we include,” Ries said. “A lot of our growth has come from social, and we find that when we throw a Storify out there during a breaking news event, we get an instant traffic boost.”
The Daily Beast has also used Storify to add new angles to breaking news stories and show emotional impact. After Steve Jobs announced his resignation, for instance, the Daily Beast created a Storify of Apple employees’ tweets. The site did the same thing when Jobs died.
Internet humor, memes
Some news sites have used Storify to capture Internet humor and memes. The Daily Beast, for instance, created a Storify that poked fun at “crying Harry Potter fans” and another that highlighted “hilarious Irene survival kits.”
Last month, Mother Jones created a “Herman Cain Pizza Jams” Storify in reaction to a widely circulated video of the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO singing “Imagine There’s No Pizza” to the tune of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
The Storify featured Lennon tributes on Twitter (“All You Knead is Love #HermanCainPizzaJams”) and other music-related tweets, such as “You’ve Lost that Oven Feelin’ #HermanCainPizzaJams” and “Oyo Como ‘Za #HermanCainPizzaJams”
Mother Jones’ most viewed Storify was about the Occupy Sesame Street meme. “That thing got passed around the Internet like hot cakes,” Raja said. “Now it’s like a race here to see who will be the first one to curate an Internet meme.”
Raja, who taught the Mother Jones editorial team how to use Storify, thinks one of the reasons why that Storify was so popular is because it was well-written. Having a mix of people in the newsroom who know how to use Storify can help add more variety to them, she said.
Reaction stories, highlighting conversations
Hanna Ingber, GlobalPost’s breaking news and social media editor, said GlobalPost often lets people know via Twitter when they’ve been included. Doing so, she said, can help people feel rewarded for contributing to conversations about the news.
“It’s important to let people know that you are following up on your word,” Ingber said by phone. “You put out a request and asked for information and now you can say, ‘We’ve published the most interesting and insightful comments.’ It encourages both the people who are included — and other people — to respond next time.”
At Poynter.org, we also use Storify to capture reaction and conversations. Earlier this year we posed a question about whether journalists should verify information before tweeting it and then captured the best responses in a Storify. Most recently, we used it to show a Twitter dialogue between Brian Stelter and @NYTFridge as part of a story about whether reporters undermine their employers’ scoops by tweeting them first.
Some journalism organizations, such as The American Society of News Editors, have also used Storify to pull together tweets from Twitter chats they hold. Storify helps preserve the chats and makes them easier to follow.
The Weather Channel regularly uses Storify to compile videos, photos and graphs that show the path of storms and any destruction they may have caused. Similarly, The Toronto Star has used it to cover stories about weather and natural disasters, including the tornado in Joplin and the tsunami.
“People love talking about the weather (at least Canadians do), so I have seen a much greater response rate when we do a Storify on the weather and tweet out a question for people to answer,” said Toronto Star Social Media Editor Sarah Millar.
When people want to talk about the weather or natural disasters, they often turn to social media — as we saw during the East Coast earthquake earlier this year. And stories that generate a lot of conversation on social media are naturally a good fit for Storify.
“Eye-witnesses to storms provide such vivid content and more often than not, because it’s such a communal experience, share it on Twitter or Facebook or YouTube,” The Daily Beat’s Ries said. “Yet everyone’s experience is unique, so it makes a great mix for compiling on Storify.”
While journalists could create a Storify for just about any story that plays out on social media, they have to decide whether it makes sense for their coverage. The key is figuring out how you can use Storify to not just tell a story, but enhance people’s understanding of it.