We now live in an era of instant information, and nowhere is this phenomenon more visible than in the news business. As the volume of digital information propagating social channels continues to grow, journalists are finding it more and more difficult to manually sort through a tsunami of data and hone in on the exciting, relevant stories they want to share with their audiences. For smaller local newsrooms in particular, the challenge is even more pronounced given their limited resources.
In response, local news organizations are turning to technology to help them pinpoint relevant signals amid the social media noise and get to the job of reporting faster and more efficiently. Two types of technology are empowering today’s newsrooms in this endeavor: real-time alerting and collaboration systems.
The Power of Real-time Alerts
It should come as no surprise that journalists are relying on social media as an opportunity to both discover and share stories. According to the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) 2017 survey, 71 percent of newsrooms use social media to find new story ideas, while 83 percent rely on it to find breaking news. These numbers reflect a sea change in the way that journalists uncover developing events that can become the news. In the past, they relied heavily on tips from sources cultivated over long periods of time, often restricting them to specific topics that might allow reporting opportunities to slip by unnoticed. Social media – and more specifically real-time alerting technology that constantly monitors social channels – now allows reporters to harvest tips from a wide variety of on-the-ground sources, even in areas that they are not actively tracking. Many participants on social media act as a vast network of early warning sensors, distributed broadly across geographies and news segments.
This gives a small, resource-constrained newsroom more eyes and ears on the ground than would ever be possible using only its own staff. The real-time nature of social media gives reporters immediate insight into those tips as they emerge, affording them more time to verify, investigate and craft a quality story. A small team with a big idea and access to the right technology can optimize its resources to engineer dramatic and compelling reporting.
Irish public service media organization RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) experienced the effectiveness of such alerting technology first-hand when Dataminr's real-time alerts signaled an attempted coup in Turkey. The first Dataminr alert arrived 27 minutes ahead of major news reports. "Dataminr gives us more time to understand what's going on, to marshal resources and invest in our storytelling," explained RTÉ's Managing Director of News and Current Affairs Jon Williams.
The Benefits of Collaboration Tools
Technology can also lend powerful collaborative capabilities to small, local newsrooms by helping reporters work together faster and more efficiently after a news story breaks. With the rise of low-cost, subscription-based collaboration tools such as Slack, small news teams can quickly create a single "watering hole" for their own reporters and other news partners to pick up on new tips and evolving information. Reporters can easily see what facets of each story others are working on to avoid duplicating efforts and creating repetitive content. They can also quickly coordinate on verifying facts on group message boards. A collaboration platform can become a shared knowledge repository for source material and contact information, enabling small teams to expand their own capabilities and enhance their newsgathering.
A good example of collaboration tools in action can be seen with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), a group of more than 70 public broadcasters that enable over 1,300 journalists around the world to connect via its Social Newswire. The EBU uses a dedicated collaboration platform coupled with the Trello online project and task management system to empower its large network to share information on developing stories.
"With social newsgathering, you're working in a real-time environment, so it's very important that your team is also of that mentality," explains Derek Bowler, Head of Social Newsgathering at EBU. All new updates across the Social Newswire's members feed directly into Trello, keeping everyone on the same page and enabling their reporters to react quickly to developing events.
Innovative newsrooms are going a step further to make their reporting more effective by using collaboration tools and real-time alerts in unison to create a digital reporting pipeline. Integrating collaboration platforms with real-time alerting tools like Dataminr enables teams with relatively few resources to gather news tips early and disseminate them quickly. They can then pool their knowledge and divide up the reporting work between different reporters to keep track of the story as it evolves and mitigate redundant efforts.
The pervasiveness of social media has created an unprecedented opportunity for small newsrooms. Along with other revolutionary technology developments such as mobile and cloud computing, real-time alerting tools and collaboration platforms are changing the way journalists discover breaking events and share their knowledge with their news teams. By making the most of these accessible and easily deployed technology platforms, small newsrooms can dramatically improve their effectiveness and better match the capabilities of larger teams with greater resources. In the rapidly evolving journalism industry, technology is leveling the playing field for local news teams