First Look Media’s A New Initiative in Social Media and Journalism

The news landscape is changing.  For Andy Carvin of First Look Media, this landscape will not unfold on paper and televisions in headlines and reports, but on computer screens and smart phones in tweets, status updates, and comments.  As part of First Look, Carvin is launching, a new initiative designed to utilize social media updates and conversations to provide real-time reporting, fact checking, and conversations about global events and situations as they unfold. is looking to be the forefront for accurate and timely news stories by being a proponent of new technologies and platforms.  HI is very interested in seeing how this initiative will fuse impact with journalism; will the kind of journalistic practice advocated by drive better stories that ultimately drive change? Will prove itself as an accurate and diverse news outlet?


Andy Carvin. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

During the Arab Spring in 2011, Carvin set up his Twitter account to serve as a virtual “newsroom,” where he reported on the events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt.  He had his posts fact-checked in real time and got members of the communities living in and involved with the protests to engage with the conversations and reporting. will attempt to do the same thing but using an international network of social media “anchors” to pull out facts, highlight conversations, do real-time fact checking, and most importantly, tell engaging stories about breaking news events. It will also expand coverage to include other social media platforms such as Facebook and Reddit.

The team currently comprises six members including Carvin himself.  The team will use a buddy system, where two members will work each shift so the team can cover as many time zones as possible.  While does not yet have a centralized web location, the team is using a Medium collection to discuss how the preliminary phase of the initiative is unfolding.  The Medium collection can also be used to check the time schedules the different anchors will be working and which twitter handles and hashtags to follow and utilize.  In the future, Carvin hopes there will be a website to act as a “central dashboard” where readers can see updates from multiple platforms in real time.

This initiative is not just limited to the activity of’s anchors, but also aggregates information from people living through these breaking events, the communities affected, and what is being said about them.  As Carvin has stated,

“We want to dive into some of the biggest global stories like ISIS and Syria, Ukraine and Russia, Ebola and public health. But we’re not trying to be a breaking news organization that will cover every breaking story around the world — and one of the things we want to do is get a sense from these communities of what they want covered and what they think isn’t being covered well.”

This push for serving readers where they are, or native journalism, is part of the “news as a process” approach that Carvin feels is a strong part of successful journalism.  This approach not only involves crowdsourcing reporting of an event in real time, but also constantly updating with new information and corrections from readers.

“So many media organizations just use social media as a way to promote their content,” Carvin notes. “Not many people are thinking of these places as living and breathing spaces where they can discuss the news directly with the people who are there. We want to try to serve those readers where they are, and do native journalism on those platforms.” is another example of a new media outlet driven by social media.  According to a report released by the Pew Research Journalism Project in March 2014, both field reporters and high-profile journalists are shifting to digital news ventures.  Pew has pointed out that growth in new digital full-time journalism jobs has compensated for some of the lost legacy jobs in the newspaper newsroom over the past decade.  These new outlets aim to fill the reporting gaps created by the strain on resources at traditional outlets, looking at niche topic areas that might interest specific constituents as opposed to putting together content for a broader audience. Other digital news producers are focusing on cultivating new forms of storytelling.  Yet whether these new business models are successful enough to sustain these jobs and this industry remains to be seen. 


Audience is another factor that will determine how will compete with the traditional news outlets.  A report from the Pew Research Center in conjunction with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, News Use Across Social Media Platforms,  analyzed the characteristics of news consumers and their size populations across 11 social networking sites.  They determined that as a pathway to news, Facebook is at the forefront, servicing about 30% of the general population.  YouTube follows this at 10% and Twitter at 8%.  For readers who get their news from multiple social platforms, more likely than not Facebook will be one of the ones they consult.  Yet there are still many news agencies that mainly use these platforms as secondary means, whether to harvest content from them for generating new stories or engage reader conversations around published content.

Whether or not the approach will be groundbreaking remains to be determined.  As stated by the Pew report, less than half of the general population is using social media to engage with the news.  Also, using these platforms for news varies by demographics such as age, gender, and socioeconomic standing.  Two interesting points to observe are whether will reach individuals who are not engaged with traditional news platforms, and if it will draw news readers away from traditional news outlets and directly onto social media.  However, there is one void might be poised to fill.  In recent months, many popular news sites have removed their comment sections.’s commitment to serving an engaged audience, both for discussing ground-breaking stories and providing real-time fact checking, might be able to serve as a new outlet for discussions and reactions to news content. still raises a lot of questions: will this type of coverage increase the diversity of voices who are conversing about social issues? If it catches on, how will traditional news sources respond? How will compete with media outlets that employ different content strategies such as long-form journalism which are less compatible with social media?  We’re looking forward toseeing what effects might have on the utilization of new technology and methods of media distribution in relation to news media.  Ultimately, the only way to see what kinds of effects and influence will have is to observe them after the initiative is launched.

Interested readers can follow @reportedly, where they can also find links to the handles of the other anchors.

Featured image | Medium Collection.

Chart | Pew Research Center Report “News Use Across Social Media Platforms.”

January 22, 2015
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A new perspective on documentary film

As we observed in a 2012 blog post, the last 14+ years have seen a substantial rise in the number of documentaries produced, particularly documentaries that focus on social issues.

Given this trend, we wondered: what issues or topics are most prominent among filmmakers working in the field? Does coverage of a specific issue ebb and flow over time? What can we learn from looking at the field in aggregate?

We turned to the growing database that will fuel StoryPilot to find out. (At the time of writing, the collection includes detail on 433 social impact documentaries released between 2000 and 2014.)

This post kicks off a series in which we’ll share some of our early findings about the social issue documentary landscape, in order to put data about documentaries and social issues into the hands of storytellers. Our goal is to help everyone find meaning in the data, and shed light onto the intersection of film, social issue campaigns, and society.

On Social Issues

In order to get at the social issue topics covered by films in our database, we developed a classification scheme of seven overarching social issues: Economics, Human Conflict, Rights and Liberties, Crime and Justice, Health, Environment, and Education. To select these categories, researchers reviewed the documentaries’ content, public opinion polls, funders’ interest areas, and other categorization schemes describing social issues. These social issue tags helped us distinguish among the films we were interested in studying. Social problems are complex, and there are myriad points of entry into a given issue; this led us to place some films into more than one category if they had strong connections to two (or even three) social issues.

Each category is very broad and can be further broken down in more detail than we’ll discuss today.  Of course many other social issues exist—this is just a first step toward understanding the content of the films in our sample.

Once tagged, we can see films cluster into issue areas. For example, Economics is (currently) the most common topic among films in our database, with 80 in all. At the other end of the spectrum, only 37 films fall into the Education category, making this the least common topic among films in StoryPilot.

The Economics of Everything

Many documentaries tackle multiple issues; 96 films (or just under a quarter of the films in our database) address more than one issue category. The most common issue-pairing among these is of Economics and Environment topics, with both labels assigned to 13 films.


Economics was also the most highly interconnected issue—about half of films tagged with this label were also tagged with a second issue. (By comparison, films on topics within the Environment category were tagged with another issue only a quarter of the time.) Looking at this in another way, every social issue category had at least one film that used an Economic lens.

What does this say about social issue documentaries’ coverage? Among those in our database, although most focus on one issue, a substantial subset tackle more than one issue at a time. Some topics, like Economics, Crime and Justice, and Rights and Liberties, are closely connected to other topics, but others like Education and Environment take a more siloed approach. When they do widen the lens, it’s especially interesting to see where the connections lie. For Environment, that’s Economics; for Education, it’s split between Economics and Rights and Liberties.

Tides of Change

Does interest in (and filmmaking about) specific social issues come in waves? In some cases, it does. We looked at the number of films in each social issue category between 2000 and 2013 (since the numbers aren’t in for 2014 yet).


In general, the number of films for every social issue increased over time—more films were released in 2013 than in 2000. After accounting for this baseline, Environment, Rights and Liberties, and Human Conflict, were the fastest-growing social issue content categories.

Some social issues showed significant spikes in number of films per year.  Environment showed a surge in 2009 (22 films), Conflict in 2010 (17 films), and Economics in 2012 (16 films). We suspect these spikes happen in response to world events and peaks in interest in ‘hot’ issues, plus a delay for the time it takes to create and release a full-length film. Until now, Education films have been growing very slowly—at a rate of about one additional film every two years. Is Education due for a flood of films?


Social issue documentaries are being released at a rapid pace, but each social issue category has its own peaks and valleys. The popularity of social issues is only the tip of the iceberg of what we can learn about film using data. We’ve also been collecting information on how much and how often films use social media, how people connect on social media for different issues, and the conversation associated with specific films, critical reviews, film festivals, and are adding more data to our database all the time.

In the future, we’ll be updating with new findings and insights and we’re always looking for more questions to ask about documentary film. Leave your big questions in the comments section below.

Top Image | Still from We’re Not Broke (Onshore Productions)

Graphics | Sher Chew

December 10, 2014
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What is data?

We often talk about “data” at the Harmony Institute — previous blog posts have discussed “data-driven storytelling,” and our forthcoming web platform StoryPilot (formerly ImpactSpace) will feature data and impact metrics on films and social issues. In presenting our work, we’re frequently asked,“What is data, really?” In response, we’ll be addressing this question in a three-part blog series. This first post defines data in the context of storytelling. The next post will delve into work at the intersection of art and data. The third and final post will introduce HI’s StoryPilot platform as a tool that that can help users navigate rich datasets to inform future creative projects.

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August 11, 2014
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Building and analyzing issue-focused social networks on Twitter

For media makers with aspirations of social change, we at HI have established a number of best practices for assessing impact. An important first step is to know yourself: set concrete goals for change along with realistic time frames for accomplishing them. The next step is to know your audience: identify the audiences that you hope to reach, as well as those most likely to be receptive to your message, and who can help facilitate your objectives.

Let’s consider a hypothetical film about the American healthcare system (see our previous case study). Although this issue affects all Americans, those already interested in and engaged with the issue are a more likely audience, not to mention potential influencers. How do we find such individuals? They may comment in one or many forums—on social media sites, in newspapers or the blogosphere, on television. As a first pass, we can look to a public forum that comprises overlapping interest networks in which healthcare is actively discussed: Twitter.

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May 22, 2014