By Markham Nolan
managing editor at Storyful
Many of the techniques we use daily at Storyful to find & validate video content that clients can potentially use on-air were honed during the various revolutions in the early days of the Arab Spring. The way we search, the terms we use to do so, and even the way we think when we see content was largely defined by how we found imagery during these conflicts.
When it came to video, we learned to look beyond the action in the foreground for geographical pointers in the background, because the first step in validating a video is often to geolocate it. We spend so much time matching video backgrounds to satellite imagery that by the time the unrest in Cairo was a week old, several members of our staff could have given you a guided tour of the city centre without ever having visited it.
On 28th of January 2011, we were watching one location closely. The Kasr Al-Nile bridge across the Nile in central Cairo became the scene of a pitched battle between police and protesters, with water cannon and tear gas deployed in an attempt to disperse a determined and swelling crowd.
While we were watching Al-Jazeera film this battle from their office balcony, their journalists’ feeds were telling us that they were in danger of being stopped from broadcasting, with authorities pounding at their door.
We were running persistent searches for related content on all social media platforms. All of a sudden, a video popped up on the Facebook page of Mohamed Ibrahim ElMasry. ElMasry appeared to be an Egyptian academic, whose profile said he worked in a university in Canada. Delving back into our maps, we figured out that the angle from which he was shooting suggested that he was near Al-Jazeera’s vantage point, but slightly further along the river, which placed him at Cairo’s InterContinental hotel. In town for a conference, perhaps? Home to visit relatives?
Whatever the reason for his visit, we realized that ElMasry may have captured one of the most important videos of the revolution, scenes of tear gas grenades being lobbed in smoky arcs at protesters, and a to-and-fro waltz between the security forces and the angry Cairo residents. With Al Jazeera, the only broadcaster serving western audiences, under threat, we decided to make contact.
We tried contacting Elmasry via his contact details on his Facebook page, but in the end simply rang the Intercontinental to see if we could get through. We got his room, and ElMasry gave us permission to download and pass on his videos (he had posted several more in the interim).