NowPublic: The ultimate newsroom

Written by Rick Spence

Hey, you€¦ the one with the camera phone. How'd you like to be a reporter? The next time you see news happen — say, a fire or an unexplained delay at the airport — don't just sit there. Take a photo or video, or write about it, and post it to You, not some overcaffeinated journalist, will set the news agenda for a growing online audience. You might even get paid for it, if a mainstream media outlet wants to include your item in its newscast or newspaper. NowPublic, a Vancouver-based online news site, isn't the first to turn ordinary folks into on-the-spot reporters. But it's taking citizen journalism further by building an army of street-corner correspondents that, says CEO and co-founder Leonard Brody, will become the world's largest news organization. To fund this project, NowPublic raised US$2.5 million in venture capital last year, and Brody is now seeking another US$6 million. A bold dream, but NowPublic is off to a good start. Founded in 2004, its baptism of fire came in 2005, when several hundred members in Louisiana provided inside coverage and photos of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina. Last summer, five NowPublic reporters inside London's Heathrow Airport reported on the chaos as authorities broke up a terrorist plot while keeping mainstream media locked out. "We're building the Reuters of the future, based on the premise that more news is going to be captured than ever before by people on the scene," says Brody. "Our goal is to connect and distribute this material, and break news." Leading that charge are NowPublic's 60,000 members worldwide — a figure growing by 10% a month. Not all of them contribute news. NowPublic also encourages members to post stories and photos from other media outlets, making it a community-aggregated "best of" news site much like Digg or Newsvine. But what differentiates it is its determination to keep a 50/50 mix of original and reposted content. On one recent day, that policy yielded a "front page" story on a U.K. anchorwoman who had discussed a friend's affair on-air, a report on U.S. plans to attack Iran, a member's shark photos and a video of an Ottawa teacher drawing a perfect circle free-handed. This eclectic mix reflects NowPublic's goal: to emerge from the crowded citizen-journalism niche, not just as an alternative to mainstream media but as a partner. Brody says NowPublic will play the middleman for newspapers and broadcasters wishing to buy its members' content, or hire them to cover breaking stories. Technology observer Mark Kuznicki of Remarkk Consulting in Toronto says this syndication model "has been very good at galvanizing a community, which is what a lot of this stuff is about." Serial Web entrepreneur Michael Tippett founded NowPublic to match up the work of bloggers and digital photographers. But the project grew more ambitious once he was joined by Brody, who has several high-tech startups to his credit, and Michael Meyers, former director of Web development at domain-name registry Their focus is on building tools for bloggers, photographers, passersby and other accidental journalists to post and share content, easily and fast. Each submission gets a unique digital thumbprint so the creator can be reimbursed if it's reused. NowPublic will use an auction to set prices from competing news media; Brody figures those will range from $25 to $200 for a story or pictures on a local fire to thousands for rare celebrity sightings. NowPublic's cut: 30%. Upcoming innovations include a system that will track members' locations (using GPS signals from their cellphones), which will help paying media hire them for on-the-spot coverage. NowPublic is "pre-revenue," but Brody says it will make money in four ways. It will take a cut on content deals between its newsgatherers and mainstream media or consumers. (A reader interested in, say, the Iraq war could commission a reporter in-country to take photos or comment on events.) It will charge commercial contributors to post promotional content. Brody says the likely cost is $50 to $100 — far below the $500 or $1,000 that news wires charge to distribute press releases. NowPublic plans to run ads, and will urge advertisers to enlist writers and videographers from its community to help craft ads that will meet members' needs. In return, they'll receive press passes to help them access more-newsworthy events, and NowPublic will rank their news items higher due to their trusted relationship with the site. Brody says NowPublic will start earning revenue this year. By the end of 2009, he predicts, it will have annual sales revenue of US$20 million, news bureaus around the world and more than a million members —5 0,000 of them regular contributors. After that, he says, the mind boggles: by 2010, there will be a billion camera phones in the world.

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