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Founder of Hacks/Hackers and Storify helps journalists and technologists collaborate

By Erik Silk | 25 Feb 2011

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Burt Herman spoke Thursday, during Stanford's Entrepreneurship Week, encouraging journalists, technologists and business people to work together on media solutions in the digital age. (Photo: Solly Mirell)

Burt Herman is founder of Hacks/Hackers – a worldwide organization that brings together journalists and technologists. He also is co-founder of Storify, a company that tells stories using social media. On day two of Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford, he returned to his two-time alma mater to discuss the ideas behind his work at an event sponsored by Stanford’s Graduate Program in Journalism.

The former Associated Press correspondent, who attended Stanford both as an undergraduate and later as a Knight Fellow, Herman spoke to a diverse audience of students and professionals about his efforts to integrate media and technology in the modern digital world to effectively tell a story.

“How can we better bring together journalism people, businesspeople and technology people, to improve the media landscape before us?” Herman asked.

This question is at the core of both of his organizations. Hacks/Hackers is a group that now holds meetings across the globe, but it began out of Herman’s experiences at Stanford. He spoke of hearing media giant Rupert Murdoch criticizing groundbreaking technologies like Google, using terms such as “tapeworms” and “leeches.”

Herman considered that uniting the two sectors, “hacks,” which refers to the reporters who make up the media industry, and “hackers,” which refers to programmers and other technology innovators, would be a more productive solution than watching them push each other away.

“The fundamental idea behind this is that ink is to newspapers as code is to the web,” said Herman of Hacks/Hackers.

Herman also discussed his company, Storify, which recently received $2 million in its first round of funding from Khosla Ventures. Storify is a storytelling platform, which facilitates the use of various social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Flickr in journalism.

The main concept behind Storify is “object-oriented storytelling,” Herman said. “We’re creating a story that’s more than just words and pixels—the story has elements.”

Herman demonstrated his product by putting together a timely story using Tweets and images, which he found by using the single search term “Libya,” referring to the ongoing political upheaval in that country.

He then fielded various questions on numerous facets of the young company.

With respect to issues of verification in reporting with Tweets and Facebook updates, Herman responded that much of the impetus is still on the writer of  the story. “It’s still important to preserve these values of journalism—maybe that word has too much baggage at this point,” he said.

Regarding a planned business model, Herman pointed out that, despite now being substantially funded, Storify is still working on perfecting its interface by offering a free product which is still undergoing beta testing. He mentioned that advertising  and sponsored sources may be a source of revenue later on.

Herman was also emphatic about the value of Storify in preserving important social media-delivered information that might otherwise be lost in the constant stream of data throughout a day or news event.

“What happens to people who aren’t in the moment? It’s all gone,” Herman said.

“We all are splitting ourselves into all these different networks, the idea is that Storify could be a place where you can glue it all together,” he added

To bolster the idea behind Hacks/Hackers and Storify, the audience – comprised of journalists, technologists and businesspeople – participated in a collaborative innovation exercise done in the style of Stanford’s Design School. The exercise involved reinventing the process of taking in the morning news.

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