Thursday, February 12, 2009

"You don't just read a newspaper: you are that newspaper" - Citizenside on why cit-j matters

LAST week saw the closure of Getty-owned citizen journalism site Scoopt and its founder cajavascript:void(0)lling time on the cit-j agency model.
Scoopt joined old ventures ScribbleSheet and Dutch site Skoeps on the cit-j scrapheap in a trend that would alarm most other companies in the field.
Not so Citizenside, the amateur photography and video platform backed by Agence France Presse (AFP), which launched a new iPhone app for its users in the UK yesterday and hopes to develop a Google Android platform by the end of March.
It's not all about the sales, Matthieu Stefani, vice president of, tells
The site, which gives up to 75 per cent of the sale price back to contributors, doesn't sell 95 per cent of images it receives, but this is the same ratio as a professional photographer, says Stefani.
In addition to its commercial aims for contributors, Citizenside is focused on sharing quality, amateur content and showing media partners the potential of user-generated content (UGC).
As such, the site is not just a receptacle for user submissions, but operates a two-way newsgathering process by mobilizing registrants to cover news events in a 'call to witness', explains Stefani.
During the national day of strike action in France on January 29, the site was able to contact users across the country to ask for footage. Submissions from 17 cities were made on the day and Citizenside was the first French website to have pictures of the event online - courtesy of an iPhone contributor in Marseille, says Stefani.
The new iPhone app will take this newsgathering further by tapping into an existing community of picture-sharers and amateur videojournalists, as well as promoting geotagged submissions, he adds.
A 'fact-checking' feature has been introduced to the contribution process, which asks users to confirm the location of an image using GPS or GSM. The site also plans to utilise this geolocation technology to offer news coverage at a very local level, says Stefani.
Yet he insists the site isn't advocating UGC as a replacement for journalists, but rather an alternative source and viewpoint on news. "You have a lot of journalists thinking amateur content is competition - [but] it is just a new tool for them," he says.
Media organisations, however, have made mistakes in the way they've handled UGC to date, he adds, errors which Citizenside hopes to address by offering its technology in partnership with news organisations.
Accepting submissions based on quantity not by quality is a primary problem: "You receive thousands of pictures, you don't know who sent them or where they are from and it is the best way to get misled or really trapped by some people. We say don't do that, get your own platform, whether it is Citizenside or someone else,” he says.
"You have to be very transparent. Lots of media houses when they get amateur content are just trying to promote the exclusive and they're not very clear [in labelling amateur content]. The more you say it's from amateurs the more your other readers will be concerned and will think they can also contribute.
"You have to make them understand that they are part of the news organisation. You don't just read the Daily Telegraph, for example, you are the Daily Telegraph. You can participate and it should be different for different papers with their own editorial lines."
Paying contributors for newsworthy content doesn't put amateurs in competition with journalists, he says.
A new trial of user-generated images on the AFP's online syndication site shows the value in amateur content that should be paid for, but also that UGC can work alongside professionally produced material, he adds.
"For a long time, because they were coming from TV, press or radio stations, media houses were thinking that the web was just the same [as other media forms] and that you just had to give information to people," explains Stefani.
"You do, but you have to ask for their information and opinion too."


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