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Breaking News as Social Media Mosaic

As newspaper revenues shrink and online news sites struggle to match the lucrative sales and advertising revenues of the broadsheet’s heyday, among the first downsizing casualties are inevitably satellite and foreign news bureaus. While global reporting is still available from newswires like Reuters and the Associated Press, or through partner and affiliate outlets, the end result is still a smaller pool of voices—a concentration of perspectives into the hands of a relative few number of large media organizations. Media concentration is nothing new, but as independent sources of information become more abundant and anyone on the scene with a mobile phone can break a news story, the notion of depending on news giants for one-sided reporting seems increasingly antiquated, and a new generation of news sites recognizes this shift.

Vocativ, a New York-based media start-up, mines regional social media and third-party content, as well as a network of local contributors, to develop a panoramic picture of breaking news stories. This approach allows them to create a unique mosaic of opinions and perspectives on relevant news, to crowdsource full-spectrum stories-in-the-round without relying on full-time correspondents reporting from costly remote news desks.

A look at Vocativ’s employment opportunities drives this point home. Rather than soliciting for old-school reporters and editors, the majority of the positions they are filling are for social media community managers, experts with a vast knowledge of regional social media communities, individuals capable of encouraging and mobilizing citizen journalists in their region. In a sense, these community managers are responsible for reporting the news by weaving various bits of citizen journalism into a coherent, multi-perspective narrative.

Though Vocativ has yet to officially launch, it won’t be the first platform to experiment with the format. Global Voices, an independent nonprofit launched by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society (and co-founded by former CNN journalist Rebecca MacKinnon) in 2004, sheds light on little-reported international issues and topics using a mix of original blogging, excerpted third-party editorial and social media accounts and reactions. But Global Voices, which predates Twitter and the meteoric rise of Facebook, mostly curates and organizes content after the fact, allowing events to unfold and then handpicking sources for a roundup of what has just happened.

Vocativ’s model appears to be more in line with today’s culture of instantaneous information. The organization has created tools to provide firsthand accounts in real time, giving the consumer unfiltered coverage of breaking news. They have also developed analytics that rate the credibility and reliability of sources, “to discover new insights and connections which accelerates your understanding by revealing the stories that are hidden in plain sight.”

Whether this new technology will pan out or change newsgathering methods in any meaningful way is anyone’s guess, but it seems to be finding supporters in high places: among Vocativ’s early hires are editor in chief Scott Cohen, previously a digital editor for the New York Daily News, and editor Versha Sharma, a former msnbc.com contributor and Talking Points Memo associate publisher.

Since personal blogging rose to prominence a decade ago, commentators have been saying some variation of “we’re all journalists now”—and while professional investigative journalism isn’t going anywhere, Vocativ’s attempt to augment traditional reporting with a full-picture patchwork of citizen voices is certainly worth a look.


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About Stone Hansard

Hansard is an associate features editor and features writer for Cision Blog, covering trends in journalism and content marketing, innovative new editorial platforms and more. He is also the supervisor of Internet Media Research at Cision, and occasionally covers jazz for ChicagoMusic.org. Prior to joining Cision in 2010, he was the music director at WVFS-FM, the alternative radio station at his alma-mater, Florida State University. Give him a bowl of fancy ramen and a Bulls game, and he’s a happy camper.

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