The New York Times wants your smart phone footage

By James Cook on October 14th, 2013

Amateur video has become a mainstay of television news. CNN and Fox News often feature short recordings, often vertically-filmed by a lucky bystander on a mobile phone. But there’s a problem: the internet age is also the age of the prankster and the fantasist. How can a news organisation ever know that footage is genuine?

Blottr, a well-known London-based start-up, has found a solution that allows major news organisations to verify the authenticity of user-generated content. With Blottr announcing last week that its content will now be syndicated to the New York Times, The Kernel asked founder Adam Baker about the problems facing large newsrooms and how Blottr is making sense of raw online video content.

In order to verify a video claiming to portray a news event, the staff at NewsPoint, Blottr’s video syndication service, use algorithms and unique technology to assign reliability points to content. Any locations and landmarks seen in videos are automatically analysed and cross-referenced with Google Maps to easily identify the location that the video was taken.

In addition to automatic software, Blottr’s team of journalists works to verify videos using experience and conversations with video authors. According to Baker, “the human element is massively important.” It’s this combination of technology and research that has lead to Blottr’s verified content being used by outlets such as The Huffington Post, Fox News and Global Post.

If verifying and sharing amateur news videos is so important, why aren’t large organisations doing it themselves? Firstly, the time required for journalists to verify content can mean that attempting to do it in-house simply takes too much time. Add to that the resources and expertise required to contact the video’s source and it becomes clear that user-generated content is a tricky news source to manage for large companies.

So outsourcing the hard work to smaller companies that specialise in source verification means that the New York Times‘s syndication network can embrace amateur video while retaining its high standards.

As the proliferation of UGC continues, even graffiti artist Banksy recently attempted to create his own user-generated amateur news video. Though it wouldn’t have taken the team at Blottr to work out that this video isn’t strictly accurate.

Services like Blottr, CNN iReport and Storyful allow serious news organisations to harness the power of citizen journalism and social media while delivering content in the steady stream their viewers now demand. But the race to produce and distribute ever-more news, analysis and entertainment at a time of journalist redundancies and cutbacks is only made possible by third-party services.

Outsourcing, for so long a buzzword in the world of business, has finally arrived in newsrooms.