From covering the uprising in Egypt to gauging the public’s reaction to a proposed Toronto transit fare hike, Storify allows journalists to aggregate social media as a means of storytelling, writes Adam Vrankulj.

From covering the uprising in Egypt to gauging the public’s reaction to a proposed Toronto transit fare hike, Storify allows journalists to aggregate social media as a means of storytelling, writes Adam Vrankulj.



As the subway train I was on slowly chugged
out of the underground tunnel and into the open air to cross the Don Valley
Parkway in Toronto, everybody made a move for his or her cell phone. This is
one of the few places on the subway line where cell phone reception is feasible
and cell reception is a rarity underground.
For the few minutes that the subway is
within cell reception, passengers frantically text, tweet, e-mail and tag
friends in pictures with their phone, but for what? Much of the information on
the internet is fragmented, and much of the content we upload falls deep into
cyber obsolescence in vain.

If journalists are going to use social
media to tell a story, it’s about time we find a way to access it all and truly
capture the collaborative benefits of crowdsourcing online.

Inspired by the revolution in Tunisia,
demonstrators gathered peacefully in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Jan. 25 and
demanded an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. Social media tools
like Twitter and Facebook were a major organizing tool for these protests and
used to send out messages with specific locations and times for protesters. But
it wasn’t long before the Egyptian government stifled this online
democracy. 

When the government shut down the internet
in Egypt on Jan. 25, and then cell phone service a few days later, the process
of getting any information in or out of Egypt became complicated. People in Egypt
came up with creative and inventive ways to establish an internet connection
despite the blackout, but even then, communication was limited.

As time passed, communication improved and
Twitter was slowly coming alive with tweets from the ground in Egypt.

Covering this story for CBCNews.ca, I made
use of a an online tool called Storify to curate social media content and craft
a narrative to report this story. Curation tools aren’t new online,
but what separates Storify from many of the rest is its ability to find content from a
number of various social media websites and incorporate them all into an
easily-digested, cohesive and linear format.

To curate content and report news with
Storify, it’s as simple as selecting a social media platform, determining how
you want to search for content — by user or by keyword, for example — and then
it’s just a matter of dragging your selected media into your workspace and
arranging it in an order that makes sense for the story you’re trying to tell.
All of the pieces to your story are embedded into Storify, and maintain all of
their original assets.

Often, an issue with social media curation
for reporting news is that as a reporter, you are essentially limited to
gathering content from Twitter, leaving much behind. Storify fills in those
blanks: you can access YouTube videos, Facebook, RSS feeds and
Flickr photos, among others.

The ability to draw from a number of
different social media resources allows for greater access to user-generated
multimedia content and provides a deeper understanding of the story, lending
greater credibility to social media reportage, and allowing us to truly reap
the benefits of crowdsourcing in a digital age.

Though its most obvious use is to remotely cover
breaking and developing stories like the recent uprising in Egypt or the
flooding in Australia, the flexibility of Storify gives it a number of
other uses as well. In early January, at the hint of another
transit fare hike, the Toronto Star used Storify as a tool to track online reaction to the proposed hike,
combining articles from the Star, tweets and Facebook messages from users and reports from the TTC. The Star‘s story displayed Storify’s value for gauging online and social media reaction to an issue, but also indicates that it can be a great collaborative tool.

Drawing from popular systems combining
social media and restaurant culture sites like Yelp, people at NYU’s Studio 20
journalism program used Storify to create Social Dining NYC, a website in which users can look up a restaurant to see what the online community
thinks about the fare. Currently there are only five restaurants listed, but the
prevalence of social media food reviews and the versatility of Storify make
Social Dining NYC a service to keep an eye on.

Currently, Storify is available by invite only, but gaining access is easy: Log on to Storify.com, enter your e-mail
address, and an invite will be sent to you by e-mail.

Adam Vrankulj is a journalist with a focus on social media and online development. He works as an Associate Producer for CBCNews.ca Social Media and is in his final semester of a 4-year journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter @adamvrankulj.

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