Paul Sullivan – Orato

Posted on 05. Oct, 2007 by in International

Your work in networked/citizen/collaborative journalism.
After 35 years in newspapers, radio, TV, Internet and pr in Canada, I designed as a way for people with or without credentials to tell/report/share their stories online, making room for them in the scope of the news.

The rules are simple – register, follow the guidelines, post a story, get it through the banned words filter, and it’s online. On Oct. 1, we made it possible for registered correspondents to post video and audio stories. At this point, we’re not so much worried about balanced and accuracy as we are about encouraging people to post their stories.

Participation is free, and people aren’t paid for their pieces (although we are in the process of introducing tipping – visitors can make micropayments to authors if they choose to). In the 16 months that Orato has been online, more than 900 stories have been posted from 3,000 registered correspondents from more than 100 countries. We encourage the 1st person voice, sending the message that what happens to “me” is fundamentally news. We are currently logging 200,000 unique visitors a month.

What are your goals?
To empower people by providing a platform for sharing their news, to communicate the message that news is not the exclusive province of professional journalists, to increase the scope of the news to include non-traditional sources, to provide correspondents with final editorial authority, to democratize the public discussion, to make Orato self-supporting and even profitable.

What are some of your notable achievements?
Assigning two sex trade workers to cover a serial killer trial in Vancouver, which completely blew the minds of people who think you need a badge to cover a trial. Both correspondents worked the same streets as the killer’s victims and knew some of the victims personally. I think we have demonstrated that their coverage provides a legitimate and meaningful record of the proceedings. So far, there has been only one breach of the rules by a reporter at court, a professional—not one of our amateurs. We’ve also helped create a community of people around the world see Orato as their go-to news wire. We’ve harvested stories from amazing sources and places – including the musings of a former executioner for Kenya’s national prison system. Also: surviving 16 months! Logging 1 million unique visitors in 2007 by mid-September.

Lesson you’ve learned (including mistakes you’ve made)
It’s not YouTube, even now that we’ve introduced video. I’ve learned that encouraging people to report coherent stories instead of merely commenting or showing off raises the bar, and we need to work hard to entice people to write for little or no money. I believe that we should have introduced micropayments earlier in the development of Orato…it’s a relatively experimental element of the online information exchange but I see a lot of potential for the idea. Our correspondents are united in their desire to make a difference with their stories—it would be great to “network” their compensation.

Are you getting revenue for this? How?
Yes. Not much. Right now, it’s exclusively from Google ads. Soon, we hope to sell our own inventory.

What’s next? What do you need to get to the next level?
Video/audio is three days old, so it’s difficult to tell if it will be as technically pain-free as text and images were. This site is not just for ordinary people; it’s also for extraordinary people who feel they have a story to tell and don’t want it filtered through the mainstream media. We’d like to attract more buzzworthy stories and make a bigger splash in the MSM in order to bring more curious visitors to the site. We would like Orato to become top-of-mind for people who want to get a story into the public discussion, be they witnesses to traditionally newsworthy events or just want to share their experiences as news.

Anyone you’d like to talk with, learn from, or work with at the summit
So many! But I’d particularly like to talk to Mark Potts, as I thought Backfence was(and still is) pretty interesting.


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