Now Public and Ground Reports Info Session

Posted on 10. Oct, 2007 by in Uncategorized

Merrill Brown, Chairman of Now Public interviewed by Rachel Sterne of Ground Report

Organized, assigned citizen journalism

We start with mic troubles…

It’s better now and we’re off.

Brown is addressing, “this whole business model question.” Says that Now Public just completed a $10.6 venture capital fundraising effort, not because they’re well connected or have rich parents or are particularly good at fundraising, but because the category of citizen journalism is expanding all the time and there’s lots of interest.

For those who don’t know, NP is a 15-person, Vancouver, B.C.-based business. Founded almost two years ago with the idea that there is an enormous amount of citizen created content around the world and it offers opportunities for information and for entrepreneurs. Np has 1 million unique users a month. Maximizes connections between wire services and other large news organizations with local outposts and citizen journalists through tips, info, content, what have you.

“We are about trying to create the largest network in the world and how to maximize that network,” says Brown. “We really believe whether it’s local national or global people are going to come to appreciate and value the citizen’s view of the news.”

Stern puts Ground Report Website up on the screen, which is showing the panel we are watching on a live feed. Super meta. Started Ground Report because she wanted to disseminate information in response to Dafur. Wants to democratize media by allowing contributors to post print, video, photo to site, readers determine most popular stories, “front page stories.” “We think people are looking for an authentic voice and that’s what we deliver.”

Brown: How do you see your relationship to your contributors around the world?

Sterne: We’re a tool giver, we want to avoid top-down editorial structure.

Brown: We have a lot of creative tension at NP, are we Digg or are we the New York Times and of course we’re somewhere in between. We’re figuring out how to be out of the way and not dictate the coverage, but to also galvanize coverage. And that’s a difficult challenge.

Sterne: Another question is how do you establish credibility over the Internet.

Brown: We like to point out that last summer Reuters published a doctored photo, bad journalism can come from anywhere.

Now they’re talking about creating brand identity and distribution outlets but I want to dwell for a moment on that last idea. That’s the crux of citizen journalism, isn’t it? Bad journalism can come from anywhere, but can good journalism?

Sterne: Do you think different citizen sites can work together?

Brown: I think that’s a great idea.

Sterne and Brown agree that small, independent sites like theirs are more nimble and have an easier time finding good citizen generated content than big traditional organizations like Yahoo and msnbc. Brown is not crazy about how works at the Times.

Jarvis interjects to ask Brown how he thinks a smaller, citizen-based site could work better inside a large company. They’re talking about Newsvine and MSNBC. Brown says the big company has to be hands off and the small site has to maintain identity and lend eyes to the parent.

The crowd wants to know what the role of a citizen journalist is versus a traditional journalist. Sterne says that moderators on GR are passionate users. NP has a producer who works to determine an editorial calendar and to quality control content. Both comment on training contributors, mentioning spell check and contributors’ ability to edit one another. They discuss creating a mini-curriculum for contributors, lifting some lessons from J-schools, with the idea that these contributors wouldn’t become professionals.

Oooh, now we’re talking money. Has there been compensation with other organizations or contributors? Yes, NP have sent people digital cameras and done ad shares with organizations they have received photos and content from. At GR they pay contributors sometimes, especially in exotic locales. GR is currently raising money to support a staff of seven. They currently have two staff members.

In terms of marketing, GR uses social networking, digg, delicious, other socially driven sites to propel their content forward. Many of their users/contributors are in South Asia. NP has a more North American readership and does much of the same.

As an aside, I’d like to mention that networked journalists are perhaps the rudest people ever. The guy in front of me is writing an email and editing a story during this conversation and this morning was a non-stop webs-urfing fest as panelists spoke. Oh, now the other guy in front of me is checking his iPhone. I know, they’re all multitasked and busy. But really. Oh, iPhone guy is actually taking pictures, not checking email. I take it back about him.

Dean Shepard wants to know if the AP raised the issue of credibility with NP when they made a deal. Brown says that any company that works with them is responsible for determining standards and enforcing them. Another NP guy says that they actually add another layer of quality, because they’re all professional journos and keep an eye on content, looking out for doctored photos and the like.

Emily from wants to know how they deal with rights for contributors. At NP contributors retain their rights and then they check back about content distribution. Brian from NP says no one has said no to distribution. Sterne says GR uses creative commons to license contributor work.

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