As social networks direct news traffic, startup curates web’s most-shared stories

Today’s front page of The Guardian contained stories about Facebook’s new cell phone, internet privacy and an arrest in Operation Yewtree. But none of those stories was among the newspaper’s top four most-shared this morning. What did make the list? A blog about the discovery of paw prints on a medieval Italian manuscript.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | April 5, 2013

Data from Ireland-based startup NewsWhip shows that the most viral stories are not always those curated on page one. Founder Paul Quigley told The Editor’s Weblog that this realization will challenge the mission of some news organizations, as social distribution favors emotionally-charged and unusual stories over traditional news.

As social networks become omnipresent, newspaper front pages are losing their lustre. A Pew Foundation study showed that social networks are now the greatest distributors of news, with 33 percent of young adults accessing news via social networks and only 13 percent through print and web newspapers. With more people sharing stories on Facebook and Twitter, fewer and fewer discover news stories through newspapers’ homepages and front pages. Quigley said this trend will likely be permanent, so news organizations need to learn to adapt a “social edge” to stay relevant.

“If we’ve got a story to tell it’s that social distribution won’t go away,” said Quigley, who will present NewsWhip at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Europe conference in London, 15-17 April. “Maybe Facebook or Twitter might go away, but the web of people is going to be how information is going to spread.

“That’s the way of the future,” he said. “I think it would be in the best interest of media companies to really focus on that.”

With this trend in mind, NewsWhip has become a sort of “front page” based on social sharing rather than editorial judgement. The platform tracks the number of tweets, “likes” and comments related to about 150,000 news stories every day and ranks them in order of their web “velocity.” Paid-for add-on Spike allows professionals to filter the list by region, publication and time for a focused image of which stories are trending.

“What sets us apart is that we are not an analytics company,” Quigley said. “We’re not looking at a specific person. We’re trying to look at the whole web conversation and pull the signals out from that.”

News organizations including The Huffington PostThinkProgressNews Corp. and the Toronto Star are among 23 current Spike subscribers, Quigley said. The platform allows editors not only to see which stories are most popular worldwide and thus which are worth pursuing, but it also provides valuable information to develop a formula for social success. Newspapers are stuck catching up to social natives such as ThinkProgress and BuzzFeed, Quigley said, and NewsWhip can help speed up that process.

“It’s not the only tool in journalists’ dashboards, but it’s a useful one,” Quigley said. “It’s showing what the whole billion people who are on social networks have decided is worth sharing and talking about today.”

Spike is now in beta testing and is available for 30-day free trials. Monthly subscriptions to the service start at $39.

Hear more about NewsWhip at Digital Media Europe 2013, which will take place in London from 15-17 April.

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