Merrill Brown – NowPublic

Posted on 27. Sep, 2007 by in Citizen Network, Social Networking

Introduction and Narrative: Inspired by usergenerated sites like Flickr, NowPublic is a citizen journalism news network with contributors from across the world. As other legendary startups, it was founded in a garage by Michael Tippett, Leonard Brody and Michael Meyers in 2005. At the time the group believed there was no space on the net to empower citizen journalists. Today NowPublic is one of the largest networks of participatory news-gathering in North America. In spring of 2006 Merrill Brown was brought on board as a consultant for strategy issues. His relationship with NowPublic grew until he was part of the board and eventually elected chairmen.

Recently NowPublic has gone through significant growth in contributors and financing, raising $10.6 million in venture capital. The crowd-powered media site is looking to expand on its range of tools that allow citizens to upload content to their site, whether it’s photos, videos or even audio reports from their cell phone.

Main Goal of NowPublic: “To become the largest citizen news agency in the world and the foremost home through NowPublic.com of citizen traded content,” says Brown.

In a recent move towards this goal, NowPublic brokered a deal with the Associated Press that allows the wire service to purchase and syndicate content that NowPublic users create. “What we are trying to do is empower members of the public to create news content of all forms and provide them with the capabilities to distribute that content to millions of people,” says Brown.

Notable Achievements: NowPublic has registered over 100,000 members in 140 countries. Today, NowPublic has relationships with various news organizations, including the Associated Press, brokering its citizen journalism content to a wider audience. NowPublic is growing “faster than anyone else and I think we’ve added a lot of visibility to citizen journalism,” says Brown. Despite major success in covering stories and rapid expansion, Brown is quick to point out that NowPublic doesn’t claim to have “figured it out in some ultimate way.” The young organization admits it still has a lot of learning and growing to do.

A Surprising Realization: How people all around the world have surfaced, since the launch of the site in 2005, with some level of interest in contributing. Over 10,000 people have sent in content at one point or another. “The numbers are exciting, surprising and really encouraging — that this obscure little thing was able to get this much traction, not just from financiers and media but from people around the world,” says Brown.

Biggest Practical Lesson/Mistake: The critical component that NowPublic has yet to figure out is how to make the entire process incredibly easy and seamless. The consumer or creative experience is not as easy or intuitive as many other popular user-generated sites like Flickr. “Our site is complicated,” says Brown. But NowPublic is currently working to make the process of contributing as simple as sending an email or posting a photo.

Money: NowPublic just finished a round of venture capital financing that raised $10.6 million. By the end of the year the site will also be selling advertising and sponsorship. Another revenue stream is through business customers for its services and access to content, such as the deal with the Associated Press. NowPublic helps news organizations at a number of geographic locations spot and cover breaking stories. Contributors get compensated and credited for their work.

Future Goals: To be successful in terms of audience and profit growth in addition to becoming a global brand, says Brown. To be part of people’s news diets when they want a citizen’s view of the new news. The venture capital money will be used to hire new people and invest in software development for building better tools and a tighter site experience. “The big focus is on technology and building a world class team,” says Brown.

What do you hope to get from people attending this conference?

The key thing for me and the company is figuring out how to best utilize citizen contributors. We figured out how to grow a big network and get them to contribute frequently, but how do you engage with people so they will be frequent, satisfied, contributors? I don’t think anybody has figured that out. Brown is also interested in discussing the larger issues of journalism in relation to citizen media, such as: How j-schools should teach journalism in the online world? What is an approach to citizen media that makes sense for different businesses? How is the profession’s job description changing? These are important to the future of traditional news organizations, says Brown. “They need to engage their audience in a way that they haven’t in the past, and if they don’t figure it out, they will suffer.”

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