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June 16, 2015, 11:18 a.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

A central hub for social reporting: Why hyper-distributed Reported.ly still decided to make a website

The social-focused news organization from First Look Media created a destination for readers who don’t spend all day on Twitter.

If you jump onto Twitter at a random point on a busy news day, you may feel as if someone is shouting at you in a foreign language — it’s disorienting, hard to follow, and makes you look for the nearest exit.

This is the nature of Twitter and other social platforms now: News and conversation fly by without context, in a blur of words, images, and in-jokes. Reported.ly, First Look Media’s social-facing news team, launched into this atmosphere five months ago.

Initially, the idea behind Reported.ly was to use these existing platforms as a loudspeaker for news. Reported.ly would gather information and report it back. Editor-in-chief Andy Carvin and his team were making a bet on the idea of distributed journalism — reporting the news on Twitter and Facebook, where readers were already spending time.

The first big test for Reported.ly was the shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January. In the early hours of the attack at the French satirical paper, the six-person Reported.ly team scoured Twitter for reliable information on the victims and the pursuit of the gunmen. At that point, they found themselves using tools like Medium and Storify to pull together their coverage.

For Reported.ly to gain an audience outside of Twitter-obsessed news junkies, it needed to build its own space to follow stories at a less frenetic pace. “The ephemeral nature of what we’re doing makes it hard for people to see what exactly we do,” said Carvin. “If we solely focused on people following us in real-time on social platforms, we could create a perfect experience for them, but it would still be a small minority of people consuming news.”

Hence the Reported.ly website, where readers can find collections of stories on topics like Iran jailing a political cartoonist, an update on a plan to demolish homes in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, and a report on student protest in Chile.

Stories on Reported.ly’s site incorporate a variety of mediums. Embedded tweets, videos, and Facebook posts are mixed in with text; many pieces resemble Storify collections. The website is aggregation-heavy. Some pieces are roundups; other posts allow the staff to dive into topics a little more deeply.

The site is meant to act as a dashboard and an archive, giving readers a chance to see all the stories Reported.ly is following. Digests, for example, act as briefings, rounding up the day’s developing stories from around the world, complete with hashtags to follow and links to primary reporting by other outlets.

Digests were a natural result of having a staff that works remotely across several continents. As staffers go offline in different time zones, they hand off a rundown of stories they’re following to the next person on duty, Carvin said.

The “reported.ly now” feed, meanwhile, is a social media firehose of tweets and Facebook posts, tethered to a timeline. The site, built on WordPress, uses Iframely to integrate social feeds, said P. Kim Bui, Reported.ly’s deputy managing editor.

Live-tweeting can only go so far, and as most journalists on Twitter know, tweets have a very limited shelf life. In the first hours after events like the Boston Marathon bombing or the Nepalese earthquakes, Twitter lends itself to quick discovery and dissemination. But it becomes more difficult to reference all that material as time passes.

“If I cover the uprising in Burundi today, and four months later something happens and I need to go back to it, going through my tweets and finding it is really tough,” Bui said.

While Reported.ly’s staff members are used to tracking news as it breaks, Bui said they sometimes need to dig beyond tweets and videos. The website provides a home for that. “The challenge was to figure out how to showcase all those gears without it being chaotic,” she said.

Eventually, the site will expand to include content like photo galleries and longer reported pieces, Bui said. At the same time, Reported.ly’s staff members don’t expect to translate everything they do on social platforms into stories. Some coverage works best as a series of tweets over a limited time.

Bui knows that growing an audience takes time. The advantage of using social networks to report the news is the ready access to a crowd; it’s easy for people to find and follow you. Getting readers to the website will require a different strategy.

It’s all part of the learning and experimentation process for Reported.ly, and the site will be in beta as they continue to tweak things, Carvin said. That’s the benefit of being a new-ish news organization: Nothing is set in stone.

“We need to make sure the organic nature of the work now doesn’t become a liability in the future,” Carvin said.

POSTED     June 16, 2015, 11:18 a.m.
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