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Speaker: Turi Munthe, Demotix

November 16, 2011

A bit about Demotix…

  • Background is politics and freelancing
  • Desire to create not just a socially-responsible business, but a “actively good” one
  • Basic idea was to create a safe platform for anyone wanting to upload stories not being covered.
  • “Free speech as soft power” — led to democratization of regions such as the Middle East.
  • “Mainstream media has been shedding jobs like a 70 year old man sheds hair.”

    • Both foreign correspondents and local reporters are being cut.
    • Only 4 US newspapers even have a foreign desk.
    • Even the BBC doesn’t have a full-time staffer in Latin America.
  • This enshrines “parachute journalism”.

    • Shallow knowledge of local issue.
  • Ever-increasing reliance on AP and Reuters for world news.

    • Ramifications for free speech.
  • Business model: instead of big networks of volunteers, Demotix receives content, sells it to newspapers and splits the take 50/50.

    • Launched in 2009; got scoops because of local journalists.

      • In June of that year, had several journalists in Iran when Ahmadinejad declared himself president after only one round of voting.
  • London-based sales team, global network of resellers, strategic partnership with Corbis

“What we realized we couldn’t do”

  • To build a model on citizen journalism, you have to get content that’s sellable.

    • Text is really difficult

      1. Most papers will tell you people can’t write
      2. Impossible to copyright data; can’t sell it as text.
  • Despite starting as a platform for free speech, platform is mainly used for photo and video.
  • Good at: bomb fallout, protests, Arab Spring, etc.
  • Some contributors are able to live off earnings. Would be breaking even if weren’t reinvesting at current pace.
  • People actually contributing journalistic content is a really small number.
  • “80/20 rule is actually 99/1 when it comes to useful content.” — Web 2.0 is a myth.
  • Very few people actually interested in newsgathering.
  • Built network by a lot of reaching out to groups like local camera clubs.
  • “The way you go out and build your community in the beginning is how your community will be forever.”
  • Example of Digg:

    • Used to be really cutting-edge stuff; lost their original users. Became free for all and lost its actual value.
    • Demotix, going for a specific demographic, has retained its user base.

      • One of its competitors (Citizen Site) sought to grow user base as much as possible and while they get the occasional good scoop, it’s not as consistent.

        • That said, they’re doing some interesting gamification stuff.
  • Gamification: “Web gurus treat human beings as children — and are right to do so.”
  • Temptation to use internal stats to gamify content filtering process, but feeling is it cheapens the process of journalism.
  • Worries about faked content. Happens to everyone and would be brutally bad if done early on. Use metadata and calling to verify.
  • Balance between speed and quality.

    • Quality of photojournalism has vastly improved over the last decade or so, with everyone taking photos.
  • Storyful: “opposite of Demotix” in approach. Acts as breaking story news curation service.

    • Both pushes highly-shared stories to the front as well as verifies the content.
  • No way around using humans for news
  • Contributors everywhere except Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Important points for communities:

    • Improving that communities news
    • Learning how to engage that community is very important

      • Community is who will decide your front page. Off-site, will write your content.

Questions to audience:

  • How has the relationship between journalist and audience changed?

    • Pew: “Views of the News Media 1985-2011”
    • Content quality has decreased
    • Culture of deference has lessened
    • Simultaneously adds new voices but decrease of trust in accuracy makes everything relative; what is true?
    • Liveblogging as a direct result of citizen journalism: “article without the stitching” due to the realization readers can “do the stitching themselves.”
    • “Downside is we have nobody to trust.”
  • How does a community impact the way in which you create news?

    • To drive engagement, repeat visits, etc.
    • Newspapers start from a negative position — inaccurate, partisan and influenced. The community is those readers who have overcome that.
  • What is UGC good/bad at?

    • Good at: news sourcing, accuracy, trust, speed, data crunching, content
    • Bad at: access, investigative work, writing = “lowest common denominator journalism”

      • “You cannot do citizen journalism without a professional journalism lead.”

        • The job of professional journalists now is to learn to manage these networks as effectively as possible.
    • Seymour Hersh at the New Yorker cannot be replaced by UGC — he has relationships, time/funding, exceptionally difficult work, verification. Writes 10,000 word articles that are read.
    • Hackgate is another example of something that couldn’t be discovered by UGC.
  • What are the implications for journalism? Can UGC address some of the bigger blindspots in journalism? What is the next phase?

    • Shift in trust from professionalism to authenticity.

      • “From Encyclopaedia Britannica to Wikipedia.”
      • Things better managed as communities will become communities (i.e., Craigslist). Things that need unique curation and authority will continue to be run by journalists.
    • How do you sell truth?

      • Stories are now “collections of subjectivities.”

Follow Turi Munthe on Twitter @turimunthe.

Ændrew Rininsland
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