Citizen Journalism Website Gets Multimillion-Dollar Boost

SAN FRANCISCO ~ NowPublic announced this week that the fast-growing citizen journalism website has scored US$10.6 million in financing to fuel its drive to become the world’s largest news agency.

The Vancouver-based start-up says it is growing at a rate of 35 percent monthly and has nearly 120,000 contributing “reporters” in more than 140 countries.

In part of a trend referred to as “citizen journalism,” NowPublic lets anyone with digital cameras or a camera-enable mobile telephones upload images or news snippets for dissemination via the internet.

Time Magazine lists NowPublic among its top 50 websites of 2007.

“I promise you, in 18 months NowPublic will be, by reach, the largest news agency in the world,” startup cofounder Len Brody said.

“The most exciting thing for us is this started as an experiment in a garage behind a house and we are breaking stories and changing the news business.”

The financing is led by Rho Ventures in the United States and Canada.

Uses for the money will include ways to reward people that upload stories or images, and developing a system to “geo-locate” contributors so they can be found if they are in range of developments deemed newsworthy.

“We are moving to geo-locating people so we can do some cool stuff,” Brody said.

“For example, if there is a bomb in a subway station in London or a virus breaks out in Google’s cafeteria and media can’t get there fast enough, we can identify people on the scene already and get their content,” Brody said.

Contributors own stories they post on NowPublic, which does not pay for submissions.

“This is really going to help us start compensating those folks,” said Brody.

NowPublic is “putting the pedal to the metal in partnerships” with newspapers, magazines, television networks and news wire services, according to Brody.

NowPublic was posting pictures from a deadly cyclone strike in Oman in June by the time the region’s Associated Press bureau chief was setting out from home to cover the story, Brody said.

NowPublic contributors filed reports from inside London’s Heathrow Airport during a 2006 terrorism lockdown and from the US Gulf Coast when it was pounded by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“This isn’t YouTube with video of guys doing pranks in their dorm rooms,” said Brody. “This is real stuff, real news. More and more people are seeing more and more things, carrying mobile devices, and that creates a new army.”

Participatory journalism is expected to influence traditional news operations as reporters get tips or ideas from people online or respond to news broken by people in the right places at the right times.

“We become the early warning system,” Brody said.

“Breaking news will be owned by organizations like NowPublic, while the analysis side will be owned by AFP and other organizations. That is the big change we are making.”

Content at the NowPublic website is completely user-provided, with about half of it being original and the rest links to other online news stories.

Volunteer “deputy editors” filter inappropriate material and let contributors know when stories are incomplete, inaccurate, or unauthentic.

NowPublic makes its money predominately through syndication of content and fees charged to connect established news organizations with citizen reporters.

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