Storify CEO talks to ‘hacks’ and ‘hackers’


“Social media has more eyewitnesses than ever, recording the voices of people on the ground,” said Storify CEO and co-founder Burt Herman to an audience in McClatchy Hall yesterday afternoon. “There is so much amazing source material out there that we can’t just passively look at what people are saying, but we have to drive through social media and see what people think.”


As part of Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford, the Graduate Program in Journalism hosted “Hacks and Hackers” Thursday afternoon to bridge the gap between journalists, the “hacks,” and computer scientists, the “hackers.” The program invited Herman–a Knight Fellow at Stanford during the 2008-09 academic year, a former correspondent for the Associated Press and co-founder of international grassroots journalism organization Hacks/Hackers–to talk about his experiences with journalism.


Following Herman’s presentation, the event featured an exercise with the audience to brainstorm solutions to simplify the morning news experience for consumers.

Burt Herman, CEO and co-founder of Storify and co-founder of Hacks/Hackers spoke to journalists, ‘hacks,’ and technologists ‘hackers,’ Thursday afternoon about bridging the two groups. (KRISTIAN DAVIS BAILEY/The Stanford Daily)


Herman began the event discussing the conditions that led to the founding of Storify, which he said is meant to “bring together social media, make it more readable and curate it.”


While working for the Associated Press, Herman said he noticed how social media was becoming more and more important.


“We had 3,000 staff, but there’s no way they could have someone everywhere,” Herman said. “Now everyone with a smartphone is essentially your supporting staff. What this means is that those people are more important than ever, and instead of running around trying to catch events, journalists can just find information in social media. Storify is a way for journalists to do that.”


Storify’s main goal is to make social media more aesthetic and understandable, Herman said, mentioning the appeal of Twitter in particular.


“There’s really compelling stuff there, and my question was, ‘How do you bring that to a larger audience?’” Herman said.


Herman described all the information in social media as one continuous “real-time stream” and called print newspapers “old media.” He said that now, as journalists are struggling to figure out what to do online in addition to publishing articles, the challenge on the Internet is to figure out how to organize all the information that is out there.


Mission and passion drive journalists and technologists, he said. They exist for the public, be it to write an article that everyone reads, or to make a mobile app that everyone uses. Both care about freedom of information and transparency and “do what it takes to get the job done.”


However, Herman said, there are some challenges based on the different thinking styles of the two groups.


“Journalists try to simplify ideas and put in a way the general audience can understand, but technologists get more excited the more complex challenges are,” Herman said. “Journalists want to make sure that everything is perfect after editing–and after the article is done, there are no more changes to it. But technologists have to debug and change their software according to how their audience reacts to it.”


Herman also mentioned that journalists and technologists think of competition and collaboration differently and that their styles of work contrast with one another.


Herman used the analogy “ink is to newspaper as code is to web” to explain the bridge that he said journalists and technologists need to build together.


“Just as much as journalists are realizing that they need technologists to publish their work online, technologists are realizing that they need journalists to sift through all the information and see what is relevant,” Herman said.


Herman then discussed his experience with Hacks/Hackers.


According to Herman, there are currently more than 9,000 members of Hack/Hackers meet-up groups, which host talks and hackathons, among other events. These groups are in cities all across the United States, including San Francisco, New York and Boston. They have also spread to five countries outside the United States.


Ann Grimes, director of the Graduate Program in Journalism, said she had been to one of the workshops held in San Francisco.


“It’s really amazing how much curiosity there is on the part of the technologists on what we hacks are all about,” Grimes said. “We’re bringing these groups, which are usually operating in their own silos, together. After all, you have to know what can be done online in order to be able to be published online.”


Herman concluded his presentation by commenting on the largest differences between Storify and traditional journalism.


“As opposed to quoting experts, instead we are using the audience as a way to create the story.”

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Catherine Zaw was formerly the Managing Editor of News for Vol. 245 and Vol. 246. To contact her, please email [email protected]