Thursday, March 29, 2007

SF CHRONICLE: Listing some of the volunteers changing news media landscape
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Volunteers changing news media landscape

By Vanessa Hua
San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

While South Korea's OhmyNews has been the most successful citizen journalism effort so far, online startups in the Bay Area and elsewhere, as well as old-line media, are getting into the game. seeks to create "open source" reporting, via the Internet, with volunteer writers and professional editors collaborating on stories.

"We don't know how it will work yet but we don't have to know," said Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University who heads up the project. "It's a fruitful hybrid of the discipline of professional journalists and the animation of volunteer participants. We think it will be productive." NewAssignment is backed by a $10,000 contribution from the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to open government and community site guru Craig Newmark of San Francisco's Craigslist, as well as $100,000 from Reuters. More than 450 volunteer reporters have signed up so far, and the project is seeking professional editors to donate seven or more hours per week.

Citizen journalism is attracting attention not only because it engages consumers of information in new ways, but also because much of the content comes cheap, or free, in an industry faced with declining readerships, less advertising and cost cutting. "There are a lot more people willing to write for not much money than there are places to pay," said Dan Gillmor, a citizen journalism evangelist and former tech columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. That's not to say success is guaranteed. Gillmor's citizen journalism startup, Bayosphere, received an "underwhelming" response, as he puts it. In April 2006, Backfence -- a startup in suburban Virginia with $3 million in funding -- took over the site. In January, Backfence's chief executive quit, and the company's staff shrank from 30 to single digits.

Among the more recent examples of citizen journalism:

-- Yahoo's You Witness, begun in December, invites people to submit photos and video for a chance to appear in Yahoo News. More than a thousand people have submitted, mostly driven by the desire to share, to get an "ego boost" or to advocate political issues, said Neil Budde, editor in chief of Yahoo News.

He's working on a partnership with Reuters in which people whose submissions are picked up by the wire service will receive payment. User submissions could also become a bigger part of Yahoo's local news, he said.

-- Started in July 2005, London's Scoopt acts as a middleman, selling submissions of photos, video and blog articles to publications such Rolling Stone, Newsday and People magazine.

Breaking news and celebrity photos are in the most demand, commanding $100 to several thousand dollars. Blog sales are slow, but the site plans to expand its efforts. Scoopt has about 13,000 members in 100 countries, about half in the United Kingdom and one-fifth in the United States. "We verify the content as much as we can. If there's a picture of Paris Hilton doing something extraordinary we have to stop and look with journalistic cynicism. We either just walk away from it or get in touch to ask what are the circumstances or have them sign a contract -- this is genuine and they own the copyright," said Kyle MacRae, Scoopt founder and chief executive.

-- Palo Alto's, begun in 2002, provides users the ability to
find targeted news on the Internet, organizing information by locale. Gannett, McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co are backers. The site took off a little over a year ago -- doubling in monthly unique visitors, to 10 million -- after it began allowing people to comment online. Each day, the site logs 35,000 posts, with people offering first-person accounts of traffic accidents, hurricanes, and their reaction to the news.

-- Virginia's Gannett is rolling out plans to involve more readers in news gathering. "We have to enlist the help of communities to cover communities. We have to establish a conversation," said spokeswoman Tara Connell. Last summer, the chain's News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., called on readers to pitch into an investigation into the high prices charged to connect water and sewer lines to new homes. Readers analyzed documents, the paper's Web traffic soared -- and ultimately, the city cut its utility fees by more than 30 percent. Called crowd-sourcing, the technique is being
tested at other Gannett papers.

© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.


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