Google News Lab launches three new projects focused on crowd-sourced journalism

June 18, 2015, 5:00 PM UTC
People pose with mobile devices in front of projection of Youtube logo in this picture illustration taken in Zenica
People are silhouetted as they pose with mobile devices in front of a screen projected with a Youtube logo, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica October 29, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: BUSINESS SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS LOGO) - RTR4C1AK
Photograph by Dado Ruvic — Reuters

The News Lab at Google, run by former YouTube executive Olivia Ma, launched three interesting projects on Thursday, all of which are focused to some extent on crowd-sourced or networked journalism. The first, known as YouTube Newswire, is a joint venture between the video platform and Storyful, the News Corp.-owned service that specializes in verifying content that comes from social media.

The newswire will be a feed of verified YouTube videos that news outlets and websites can choose from and/or embed in their stories. Storyful launched a similar sort of newswire project last year with Facebook, called FB Newswire, which is composed of content that has been uploaded to the social network and verified by Storyful.

The YouTube project is an expansion of the relationship that Storyful—which was founded by Mark Little, a former foreign correspondent from Ireland—has had with Google’s video unit for some time. The two have worked on previous projects such as CitizenTube and the Human Rights Channel, with Storyful helping to provide fact-checking and verification for videos that are submitted by YouTube users around the world.

Since the company began in 2010, Storyful managing editor Aine Kerr says the service has verified more than 100,000 YouTube videos, using its teams of social-media analysts and journalists. And the challenge of doing so in real time has only increased, Little says: When Storyful started working with YouTube, about 48 hours of video was uploaded to the service every minute—now that number is closer to 300 hours.

As Little notes in a post on Medium, the explosion of user-generated content and citizen media—in which YouTube has played a key role—has changed the face of journalism forever, whether it’s live video from Tahrir Square during the Egyptian revolution, or clips of black men being gunned down by police officers in the United States.

The Google News Lab also announced the launch of another interesting project on Thursday called the First Draft Coalition. This is a working group of agencies focused on crowd-sourced journalism, including Storyful, the Eyewitness Media Hub, Bellingcat, the unit of First Look Media, Meedan, Emergent and Verification Junkie. All will be contributing to a new site for verification and ethics training, which will feature tools and research.

Many of the partners in the coalition have been doing something similar themselves already: Storyful, for example, has had a Google Plus group called the Open Newsroom for some time, in which journalists and non-journalists share resources. And Bellingcat, from the British blogger Eliot Higgins—formerly known as Brown Moses—regularly produces case studies in which it looks at how it used social media and crowd-sourcing to report on a story like Russia’s attacks on Ukraine.

Bellingcat also open-sources all of the data that it generates, including photos and video, using a database tool called Silk, which allows anyone to contribute their own content to the project or update information, and also allows other media outlets or sites to embed the content easily on their own sites.

The third project from Google is called The WITNESS Media Lab, and is a partnership with a non-profit group called WITNESS that trains non-journalists in how to report on injustice and human-rights violations around the world. Google says the lab will produce a series of in-depth projects focusing on human rights, and the first will use bystander video to explore the issue of police brutality in the United States.

Google gets a lot of criticism on a number of fronts, including its somewhat complicated relationship with traditional media outlets, but it’s good to see the company partnering with so many excellent crowd-sourcing and citizen journalism projects. As NYU professor Jay Rosen has said, journalism gets better when more people do it.

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