A lot of journalists are going to conferences and being told to use Storify, a site that lets you curate loads of social media on a given topic and present them in a narrative or timeline: you can, for example, pull tweets and YouTube videos, urls and Facebook posts.

That is generally a good thing, providing they do it right. But, unfortunately, like a lot of things related to social media, people end up doing it just to say they’re doing it and don’t spend too much time thinking about how to do it well.

Here’s a great example of a Storify done by one of my writing students that covered yesterday’s March Against Hate at Bridgewater State University, and here’s a not so great Storify done by a reporter covering the same event.

What the student did right:

  • She broke up the tweets with narrative and text boxes that gave readers a sense of what was happening and what the content she was curating referred to.
  • She used tweets from the journalists covering the event, including the student newspaper she works for, but she also made sure to include loads of content from the people attending the rally. That is the biggest value for journalists using Storify: it’s a way to quickly show readers what kind of reaction an event or topic is getting on social media.
  • She made sure she gave enough background to readers who were just joining the story, but didn’t get bogged down too much in the back story. Readers were primarily going to her Storify to get a quick snapshot of the day’s events. Most knew about the attack on a student journalist that prompted student leaders to organize the rally and were looking for what was happening at the event itself.
  • She worked with an editor. Classes meant she didn’t get the Storify until several hours after the event ended (and several hours after the Brockton Enterprise reporter threw his up for public viewing). But before she sent it out she worked with an editor to identify the focus and the purpose of the Storify and to get the wording right in the narrative transitions she wrote. Our instinct when we use social media is to do it fast, but taking the extra time to do it well only benefits readers.

What the pro did wrong:

  • Aside from a brief introduction, there were no text breaks to put the content pulled from social media into context. In addition, there were only a handful of photos to break up the long line of tweets, which made it difficult to read.
  • He relied heavily on his own tweets and tweets from other reporters covering the event. The tweets from students and faculty members who attended the event were limited to a handful of students and failed to capture the views of the participants.
  • There wasn’t enough background: Storify is about telling a story, and there needs to be a narrative. Readers who hadn’t heard about the story (it did, after all, break over a holiday weekend) would have been lost if they relied solely on his Storify.
  • He posted his Storify first, which is important in journalism, but that didn’t necessarily mean he told the story better. It reads like a link dump – lots of information, some of it redundant.

Full Disclosure: I’m most likely biased in my critique. I’m the faculty adviser for the newspaper the student works for. Kaitlin Wallace, the student in question, had never even heard of Storify until I required her class to use it for a project last semester.

Photo by Mary Polleys.