‘More than PR’: reported.ly’s Andy Carvin talks social media


While reported.ly shut down operations in August, the unique social newswire project hasn’t completely gone away.

Founder Andy Carvin and other reported.ly staffers are the featured speakers at  ONA’s Saturday 2:30 p.m. keynote. The ONA16 Newsroom talked with Carvin about how journalists can use social media for real-time news reporting and applying journalistic techniques.

What was your first step in utilizing social media for reported.ly and for real-time news reporting? Not long after I got out of college, I began developing online communities focusing on various policy projects. I landed in NPR in 2006, where I started playing around with the newest generation of social media tools to see how they could be used for news gathering.

For a lot of people today, when they hear “social media” and “journalism,” what they’re really talking about is audience development. But I was really more interested to see how I could interact with different online communities to tell stories better. When I launched reported.ly, I wanted to do something very similar, but through an entire news team rather than just backing one person.

I hired a group of people who already had strong social media communities supporting their work. It allowed us to cover a wide range of stories around the world that otherwise would have been really difficult to cover from the confines of an office in the U.S.

How does social media affect fact checking while journalists are covering news events in real time? When you look at social, there’s an enormous amount of information floating around at any given moment, especially during breaking news. Often, a lot of it is either inaccurate or intentionally misleading.

When you’re trying to report in real time, it’s very easy to fall into a trap where you think someone is tweeting from the scene or got photos that no one else has ever seen. If you take all of that at face value, you’re asking for trouble.

What about the times when social media amplifies wrong facts and speculation? News organizations need to be more responsible for what they’re saying online. One of the reasons I discuss rumors very publicly is because there’s a pretty sizable portion of the social media communities where this information is already out there, and no one else is attempting to mediate it or mitigate it. It’s easy to sit back in a newsroom and say, “These idiots are sharing something, but since we’re not going to publish it, we’ll let them keep posting it.”

It’s naïve to assume that discussing rumors in the context of debunking them is wrong because if you stay out of that conversation, it’s just going to spread anyway. Ask yourself what your job even is. Is your job to disseminate inaccurate information? If you’ve got information or you’ve got the skills to nip that rumor in the bud, then I think it’s your responsibility to do so. If you see inaccurate information and do nothing about it, then you’ve made an active decision to dismiss one of the key things that journalists should do.

Do you see journalists doing debunking false rumors? It’s not universal but there are really talented folks that will call BS on stuff when they see it being circulated. Not everyone does it — it’s more the exception than the rule. I honestly would have thought we would have been further along at this point.

Reported.ly has shut down operations due to a loss of funding. What’s your advice for organizations facing financial uncertainty?  Ask me in a couple months when I know the outcome. There’s been a lot of goodwill and people wanting to see us continue. But there are a lot of logistics that need to be sorted out before that happens, and there’s a limited amount of time in which we can do it.

I’ve got such wonderful people working with me, and we all basically agreed as a group that we’re going to set aside a certain amount of time to make this work. We want to keep doing this. We want to keep working together. So I’m doing everything I can to explore every possible avenue to see if it’s realistic to do that.

This interview has been condensed and edited.