Fergus Bell, who helped the Associated Press develop standards for verifying user-generated content, will become the head of newsroom partnerships and innovation at Social Asset Management Inc. SAM sells software to newsrooms that helps them build verification of UGC into their workflows.
“Moving to a startup was something that was pretty difficult, but I think it was a natural extension of the work I’ve been doing,” Bell said in a phone call. He’s SAM’s first employee with a news background and will visit newsrooms considering its product, as well as help his coworkers figure out what newsrooms need.
Bell will remain in London. He said SAM’s small size (he’ll be its sixth employee) was a major enticement to move from AP, where he was international social media and UGC editor — “I’m really excited to be a part of a team where an idea can come up in the morning and be executed in the afternoon,” he said.
At SAM he’ll also apply some of the thinking he’s developed as co-leader of the Online News Association’s ethics working group, which examines the ethical dimensions of gathering content from outside traditional news sources. He intends to help the company “build an ethical product” that will be mindful of both those sharing content as well as people sifting through it.
One issue: “Vicarious trauma,” he says, when journalists have to look at disturbing content. Newsrooms working with SAM can “tag that content in a newsroom so perhaps junior staff don’t have to see it if they don’t want to,” he said. Another thing: Making sure the originators of content are credited — SAM makes it easy to “bake in” credit to originators — and making sure newsrooms can communicate with them.
Yet another dimension: Considering the impact that sharing content may have on its creators. “That’s something that I’m thinking about in my ethics working group, but it’s also something I can bring to SAM,” Bell said.
SAM is not a direct competitor to Storyful, Bell said: It doesn’t verify content for newsrooms; it gives them the tools to do that themselves, and Bell may be able to help them design workflows. (One nice feature: the software allows people in the same newsroom to see what others are working on, so they don’t all descend on someone with a killer piece of UGC.)
“This is the first time that I’ll get to work with newsrooms that have audiences as well,” he said. He looks forward to seeing “how the UGC best practices that I’ve been preaching can be used.” Read more