Jay Rosen’s thoughts on NowPublic

Update (Aug. 3):

Leonard Brody of NowPublic posted a response to Jay’s note on Facebook saying: “Jay, thanks so much for this…great analysis. We really would love to have you as an advisor to the company. Interested?”

Original post:

Given that New York University professor Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment.net is at the forefront of “citizen journalism” (or “crowdsourced” journalism or “networked” journalism, or whatever you choose to call it) it’s probably not surprising that he has some thoughts on the recent announcement by Vancouver-based NowPublic that it has landed $10.6-million in venture funding and is also expanding its relationship with the Associated Press — all of which I wrote about in a Globe and Mail news story and a blog post.

Jay recently wrote a Facebook note about the deal, in which he said that he sees great potential for NowPublic to evolve from what it is now into a true “networked journalism” site with full-fledged news reports as well as photos and videos — but he says that doing so will likely take more co-ordination and editorial oversight than the site is currently doing (at the moment NowPublic has no staff editors, although it does have former CTV reporter Mark Schneider overseeing things).

Jay has been through his own experiment with networked journalism in the Assignment Zero project, which was a co-venture with Wired magazine writer Jeff “Crowdsourcing” Howe and a host of others (more on that in this post by Jeff and a follow-up here) and is currently engaged in another with HuffingtonPost.com — a political reporting effort called OffTheBus. Jay did an interview about Assignment Zero here.

After I read his note, I asked Jay whether I could excerpt some of his thoughts here (for you non-Facebook types), and he graciously agreed.

One of the points he made is that NowPublic has so far been “most effective as a spot photo site.” Its distribution deal with AP, he says:

“Was mostly for the network of photographers who can get to sudden news events (like the proverbial plane crash in a cornfield) more quickly than AP could dispatch one of its pros…

This is the continued unfolding of a sudden realization that struck with the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, and again with the London train bombings, two events that put “user generated content” on the map of the world’s news.”

Jay quotes a comment from Reuters CEO Tom Glocer about the tsunami, in which he said that the news agency had 2,300 journalists and 1,000 stringers around the world but none near the site, “so for the first 24 hours the best and the only photos and video came from tourists armed with 1.3 megapixel portable telephones, digital cameras and camcorders. And if you didn’t have those pictures you weren’t on the story.”

But so far, Jay says, NowPublic hasn’t really done much in terms of organizing an editorial team that can be mobilized for such events, perhaps in part because the site is hoping people will spontaneously organize themselves.

“There’s a tendency to think that citizen journalism will happen by itself if you build a good platform and let the community emerge because a) it sometimes happens, usually around crisis events, and b) if it did arise ‘naturally’ the elusive dream of radically reduced labor costs might be around the corner, and c) it’s appealingly bottom-up logic to say: give people the tools and get out of the way.”

Rosen says that if NowPublic is going to go beyond just supplying photos or videos and the occasional eyewitness report, it will take a change in focus.

“It will have to decide that it’s a content (editorial) company with an open participation platform. And then it will have to figure out how to make its contributors into an editorial community, or news-breaking social network. Head down this path and pretty soon you’re needing editors.”

And not just editors but editors who can do some hand-holding and outreach, as Jeff points out here. In the end, Jay says that NowPublic is “something of a sleeping athlete, ready to compete in the worlds when it wakes up.”

I think there’s some truth to that — and that the company’s expanded arrangement with Associated Press gives NowPublic an incredible platform for distributing what its members produce to traditional media. It’s like the world’s largest network of “stringers,” as newspapers and other media outlets call them. That could be an amazing resource.

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