Students in my “Social Media for Reporters” class have been working with Storify this semester, most recently on an assignment to cover University Day — UNC’s birthday. This year, the usually low-attention affair was interrupted by the news of the death of one of UNC and higher education’s most influential people of the last half century — Bill Friday.
Here’s what we learned about using Storify as a reaction piece:
- Students agreed they would be inclined to use it primarily as a tool for summarizing reaction or public sentiment, rather than a tool for replaying the tick-tock of a breaking news event. That may have been because of the nature of the assignment.
- Don’t write a placeholder headline for your Storify. Once you save it, it permanently becomes the URL of your Storify.
- If possible, lead with a photo. Perhaps this is a visual convention that comes over from news article Web pages. But images often set the scene for reaction pieces. Images can quickly show the reader the “what” in what might otherwise be called the lead of the piece, allowing tweets and other content to focus on the “so what”. The images that work best are also images with some text on top of them.
- Transitions are critically important, making the difference between a narrative and what otherwise is merely a spreadsheet of quotes. The transitions you write between Storify elements must introduce the immediate next item. If you describe a state of shock at the news of Friday’s death, the next piece of content can’t be a photo of students standing in line for waffles, which is then followed by a tweet reacting to Friday’s death.
- Transitions are the paragraph that sets up the quote. Be sure not to repeat in your transition all the information in the quote. Your writing is the “what” and the following tweet is the “so what”.
- Tweets work better than Facebook posts as content components of Storify, perhaps because of the visual nature of Storify and the brevity of the tweets.
- Also, we found the interaction between Storify and Facebook to be both unwieldy and unreliable. For example, Storify links would disappear from Facebook pages as we navigated through the site, increasing significantly the amount of time it took us to add content from Facebook. We also experienced unpredictable reliability of Storify links on Facebook — sometimes they would work and sometimes they wouldn’t. We tested across browsers, platforms, privacy settings of content and types of content. But we couldn’t discern a clear pattern.
- We had two reports of students who said they had to essentially do the assignment twice because of technical difficulties curating and editing the pieces of content in Storify. One had to do with inability to arrange a YouTube video within Storify once it had been added. Solution was to close the browser and re-open Storify.
- Note that there’s an important ethical issue to consider when using Storify on Facebook content — you can Storify any content that you can see and then make it public — not “Friend” public, or even Facebook-only public. But Everyone public. You cannot do this with tweets.
- The ending of your Storify is critical. Good endings seemed to be a tweet that either spun the story forward, summarized public sentiment or drove the reader to further interactivity and engagement — a place where the reader could react to the story.
- As in any reaction piece, you have to be aware of the diversity of your sources. First, consider which kinds of diversity might contribute to different viewpoints. Sometimes it’s racial diversity and sometimes geographic and sometimes political, depending on the story. When journalists mix personal and professional uses on their social networks, they are more likely going to see content that looks like them. Compounding that social and cultural bias is the algorithmic bias — Facebook and Twitter are going to try to give you content its algorithms think you will like. This will be based, presumably, on your previous interactions with content as well as your demographics and the demographics of the people you follow. When using Storify to create a reaction piece, journalists have to go out of their ways to look for different viewpoints. Using custom lists on Twitter and Facebook, geo-targeted searching in HootSuite, and following partisan hashtags or accounts can help mitigate against algorithmic and personal tendencies toward homogeneity.
- It’s an old conversation, but one worth bringing up again in this context — understand that reaction pieces on Storify are inherently anecdotal and not a valid survey of public opinion. That said, consider whether you should give an equal amount of space to competing points of view regardless of how frequently you see each perspective. Or, whether you should instead try to weight the balance of space in your piece to reflect the frequency of each point of view you found in your search for content.
- Finally, the mix between “inside” and “outside” sources can dramatically change the tone of your Storify piece. In our case, we had reactions to Friday’s death from both University officials as well as students and alumni. Reaction from officials adds the news value of prominence to your piece, but broad public reaction can increase the news values of magnitude and impact.
We didn’t discuss these in class, but here are a few use cases for Storify I’d like to see:
- Virtual debate between two or more people on opposing sides of an issue. Take unprompted content from a community and splice it together to create the kind of conversations that seem to be less common in our disaggregated media world.
- Fact checking of what people say on social media. Use tools to determine assertions that are both common on social media and appear to be based on fact. Even better would be to find assertions made by different sides on an issue, but based on the same set of facts. It might be interesting to note whether we spin each other just as much as our candidates do.