Live News from the Ground Up

Storyful and Firechat Team Up

by Mark Little, Founder and Director of Innovation, Storyful.

There’s no news organization in the world that is not actively considering its relationship with a new generation of messaging services such as Snapchat and WhatsApp. If there is, a silent alarm bell is ringing in their newsroom.

As Storyful tried to make sense of the staggering value (and valuations) of these new entrants, and the parallel rise of Asian superpowers like Line and WeChat, we identified two distinct challenges.

Firstly, distribution: how do newsrooms find traction for their content with communities who lack the connectedness of platforms like Facebook? Their conversations tend to be more intimate, fleeting and self-contained than on traditional social platforms (forgive me, I think the exponential growth of the social sphere renders the word traditional appropriate). Messaging services don’t lend themselves to the broadcast approach favored by most newsrooms. So far, Snapchat’s Discover feature stands out as a shining example of a possible solution (a possible solution — by no means a done deal).

A second challenge is how journalists gather news from communities not designed for interaction with outsiders. Here, the pioneering work of the BBC’s Trushar Barot shows us what is possible but what still eludes us. Newsrooms cannot engage with these communities by sitting back and waiting for them to say something important. They can’t be treated as content sources to be farmed.

Journalists need to take a proactive stance on messaging services, creating chatrooms designed to become meeting places for news-bearers and news-gatherers. For now, this is a primarily manual effort requiring a far greater greater degree of trust-generation and engagement than even the most social-media savvy journalists are used to.

Storyful has decided to take on the newsgathering challenge first. We decided not to begin our experiments with the obvious candidates. We wanted to find an early-stage messaging network that was aware of news as one of its critical applications and was willing to consider product and business development with that in mind. This kind of ground-up opportunity is something we can only wish we had back in the early days of Twitter.

Storyful found a partner in Firechat, a mobile peer-to-peer network that allows users to build their own communities even if they are not connected to the Internet. That gives traditional newsrooms the ability to engage directly with the crowd in real-time. It has the potential to become an essential tool for journalists seeking to separate the news from the noise of social conversations.

Firechat has already proved its value as a gathering point when big news breaks. It was hugely popular among pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong and was the app of choice for newsmakers like Russian dissident Alexei Navalny when he faced incarceration.

Storyful’s first goal is to create an incentive for journalists to migrate to Firechat. Our plan is to create a Firechat Newsroom, acting as a portal through which journalists can engage in live conversations with communities making news on the platform.

Storyful’s mission has always been to help find the most authentic voices on the social web and connect them to the world’s newsrooms. A huge challenge for us has been reaching newsmakers who face repression and potential persecution when they exercise their right to free expression. From our collaboration with Firechat, we believe the platform has huge potential to overcome that challenge.

Storyful will begin its partnership with Firechat by inviting social journalists from across the globe to join the Storyful Newsroom on Firechat. We hope to develop parallel chat rooms focusing on specific events and locations and develop live conversations with newsmakers and news gatherers where appropriate.

We invite news gatherers and newsmakers from across the world to join us and Firechat in this unique and hugely exciting experiment in open journalism. The key word here is experiment: the tough, thankless task of trial and error — the very best place to be if you have a stake in the future of journalism.

Join us on Firechat.