UPDATE: More changes to Storify in October, 2011. This post now reflects those changes.
Storify helps aggregate citizen journalism efforts via Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and other sites. It creates an embeddable object where you can display only the reactions that you curate, which can be particularly useful in situations where there is an emergency and also a lot of easy access to people with smartphones.
The value for us as a newsgatherers is that we get a lot more photos and first-hand accounts from the scene of the news. The value for our readers is that we are curating it — and leaving out the crap.
At the Camera/Colorado Daily, we’ve used it a bit and had particular success with it on two fire stories.
Here they are, so you can see what we’re dealing with:
- “Heartbreaking” fire damages new Boulder restaurant on Pearl Street
- BOULDER FIRE: Social media response to wildland fire burning in Lefthand Canyon
The two in question worked well in part because:
- they were close to town or in town
- they occurred during the day, specifically during working hours
- one was highly visible from a distance and the other was in a spot that everybody knows
There are plenty of other ways to use Storify — like for a timeline or an Instructable-type how-to — or all kinds of other things.
So let’s keep an open mind and get to the business of covering a story with Storify.
Log in to Storify. Visit storify.com and log in with your Twitter credentials or create an account manually.
CREATE A NEW STORY
You land on a page with featured stories. Take a look through to see what Storify is highlighting at the moment — you might get an idea or two!
The “Create story” button is located at the top of the screen.
Storify will now walk you through giving your story a title, a description, searching for elements and adding text. But just in case, see the screengrab below. The blue arrow points to the headline fields. The red arrow points to the description field — think nut graf. The green arrow points to the most important field — the search field.
Here, you can search hashtags or keywords (which are sometimes more useful in emergency situations where hashtag use is not exactly consistent) on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Google and some other stuff.
The default is set to Twitter, which is a good place to start if you’re doing a breaking news story. If you’re not, well, switch to whichever platform you’d like!
SEARCH FOR CONTENT
Enter a search term — maybe it’s just the phrase “Boulder fire” or “Boulder Halloween” or if you’re searching Twitter, maybe it’s a username like @oakatfourteenth or a hashtag like #Boulder.
In the screen above, I’m searching Google News for Boulder Halloween so I can easily grab content from my company’s sites and throw it into my timeline of the Halloween weekend in Boulder. Our previews of rock shows, stories on police strategies for keeping crowds under control and other miscellany will form the backbone of my Storify timeline.
From there, I’ll add reactions to the events as they unfold on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and wherever else I can find them.
While searching Twitter during the fires, I found that it was almost essential to exclude retweets, which you can do by unchecking a box you see just below the search field. This just eliminates most duplicate tweets, so you just get original stuff.
Also, I found that while searching Twitter yields the most stuff, after a little time has passed, it’s definitely worth searching keywords on Facebook, Flickr and YouTube, as people will eventually be reacting on those sites as well.
In fact, some folks have taken to using hashtags on Flickr, so you might search that site much as you would Twitter (in addition to just looking for keywords).
SEARCH FOR MORE CONTENT
In the screengrab below, I’ve changed my search to YouTube. Also, note that I’ve changed my search to “Halloween Boulder 2011.” When building these things, it’s really important to try a variety of search terms because there’s no reason for people on the web to be consistent in what they’re calling things — even things as simple as Halloween in Boulder. There’s Boulder Halloween, Boulder Halloweekend. Boulder Hallowfreakinween, Boulfreakinder Hallowfreakinweekend…
Anyway. I’ve searched YouTube, because Halloween in Boulder invariably turns up a few video-worthy items. So far, this search hasn’t done me too well in terms of what’s happened in celebrations, but I did find another video to put at the beginning of the timeline — a sister paper has produced a rehearsal video of a local band that plays well liked shows around New Year’s Eve and this year they’re doing a Halloween gig.
So I’ll drag it into my timeline exactly where I want it.
In the case of the fires, I added any photo that showed smoke, firefighters, fire trucks or flames.
Other times, like if you were Storifying the Conference on World Affairs, an annual event in which many smart people sit behind tables and talk for an hour, you would want to be very picky about what you use. You’ll see below that I have chosen a captivating photo of a man gesturing. “Hold on a minute,” he might be saying, “I have a dissenting opinion!”
Aha! Conflict! The heart of … OK, OK, we’ll move on. Jeez, you try to get romantic about journalism just once….
Storify has delightfully decided to emphasize text that you place into your stories. You can provide sort of a running commentary if you’d like. Maybe you want to separate photos out into categories, or give chronological headings. Or maybe something else! Very easy.
Just position your cursor over an item in your Storify timeline and click:
PUBLISH YOUR STORY
So you’ve got a bunch of content ready to embed, right? Look in the screengrab above — at the top right is a blue button. It says “Publish.” Hit that.
Now look at the screengrab below, because that’s where you’re headed.
The red arrow points at a pretty cool function — Storify has collected the Twitter handles of everybody whose stuff you’re aggregating, and you can type a little customized message in there to let them know you’re using their stuff. This is immensely useful and, in the case of the fires, really helped publicize not only our little Storify efforts, but the concerted reporting and photographing efforts of our whole news team (which won an award!).
People would retweet these messages, trumpeting that they’ve contributed to the newsgathering effort, and send their friends to see our story on our websites. Not only does that lead to more people checking out your site — it leads to more people contributing. Very cool, Storify.
It’s important to change the link provided to a link to your site.
The default link just goes to the Storify embed on storify.com, but the real magic is, of course, happening on your own site with all of that original reporting you’re doing anchoring the community engagement part of things. So copy and paste the URL of your actual news story and take it to a link shortener like tinyurl.com. Make a custom URL that is short and easy to remember. These are what we used for the fires:
Once you’ve crafted your tweet to say something like “Thanks for your first-hand reports! We’re aggregating them here: http://tinyurl.com/pearlstfire,” copy and paste it to an open document somewhere, because you’re going to be using it a lot.
Now you’re ready to embed. Grab the embed code (blue arrow). Copy it and paste it into the bottom of your actual news story.
- In emergencies, include absolutely everything from official sources, like in our case @BoulderOEM (Boulder Office of Emergency Management)
- Include most, if not all, of your own tweets on the subject
- Re-order (by dragging and dropping) the content to be mostly chronological, so that the most recent content is at the top
- Continuously search new and different combinations of keywords, accounting for confusion or just laziness… (#Boulderfire, Boulder fire, Lefthand fire, Left Hand fire, Boulder smoke, #Boulder, etc.), because you’ll find stuff that nobody else is aggregating — most of these types of feeds are automated and just pointing to one hashtag or keyword, so ours will look dynamic and feel like it is actually being curated
- Use the Storify bookmarklet as shown in this tutorial