Sunday, February 25, 2007
Toronto Globe & Mail profiles NowPublic.com after AP deal -- how to pay?
'We're here to report, be eyes, be ears'
NowPublic.com has ballooned to the largest participatory journalism website in the world
By JONATHAN WOODWARD
Special to The Globe and Mail
VANCOUVER -- It was a crisp morning last August when Web marketer Megan Cole snapped her first picture of something she thought was newsworthy: a high-stakes takedown of a man on a bike by eight police officers, all in her quiet Kitsilano neighbourhood. "I was just sitting with my two-month-old puppy on my porch and suddenly there was yelling, they pinned him down, they went through his bag," she recalled. "I ran in and got my camera."
She posted the picture to the fledgling Vancouver-based website NowPublic.com, where the story became crowd-sourced: Any reader could comment on it, submit a companion photo, or vote for its prominence with a single click. That was seven months ago. Since then, NowPublic.com has ballooned to the largest participatory journalism site in the world, a monster blog in the style of Korea's OhMyNews.com, with 60,000 camera-phone-toting users in 140 countries reading and writing their own news.
And this month, NowPublic hit another milestone in a deal with The Associated Press: The view is that a world thick with an army of self-described "citizen journalists" could be covered better -- and the volunteers may be rewarded with finding their material syndicated through the world's largest newswire. The NowPublic deal lets The Associated Press tap into NowPublic's 60,000 users, said AP vice-president Jim Kennedy. "We've been capturing content for many years, and some of the biggest news events have been captured by citizens: a cardiologist captured the breaking of the space shuttle, and powerful images from inside the collapse of the twin towers," he said.
Mr. Kennedy said AP would monitor the posts of NowPublic's users, and, if the site reported something new, that post would be vetted by staff and its substance would quickly find its way into AP copy. "We're going to take this through the mill as we would any contribution from staff or freelancers," he said. "Everyone's qualified to be at the right place or the right time."
Said Ms. Cole: "More than anything, [NowPublic] is a place that gave me a voice. It wasn't me talking about my own life and a bunch of silly jawing about my own life -- it was a chance to contribute."
The site is a free-for-all that has posted photos of a tornado in New Orleans, features on hunger in the Philippines, and water shortages in Australia. Although Vancouver is home to two crowd-sourcing news organizations, Orato.com and NowPublic, whose office is based on Alexander Street in Gastown, the founders say Vancouver has lucked out when it comes to being on the forefront. "As far as I'm concerned, NowPublic is based behind the computer screen," said Matt Eliason, a 47-year-old Web marketer who once worked at the town paper in Toowoomba, Australia.
Citizen journalists are a different breed from bloggers, he said. "Bloggers are ranters, they're writing opinion pieces," said Mr. Eliason via the Internet from Toowoomba. "We're here to report, be eyes, be ears." And bloggers face the risk of having no readership -- meaning they are often putting words into a "big black hole," he said. Just as blogs removed the technical barriers to putting a website up, participatory journalism takes marketing out of the equation, he said.
No one has determined how the NowPublic contributors would be paid, AP's Mr. Kennedy said.
But NowPublic co-founder Leonard Brody says it may not be important for NowPublic contributors to be rewarded financially. The reward may be seeing your contribution -- a scoop, an opinion, or a photo -- in newspapers around the world. "We don't call them 'citizen journalists,' " he said. "That's like calling someone a 'citizen dentist.' We refer to them as contributors, eyewitness reporters. "It's important from our perspective to say that from where we sit traditional journalism
isn't replaced by this."
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