CNN launches website for citizen journalists

By : |February 12, 2008 0

Mike Shields

NEW YORK, USA: Since CNN embraced the citizen journalist movement in August 2006 with the launch of its iReport initiative, the news organization has received nearly 100,000 news-related photos and videos from viewers.

Yet fewer than 10 per cent of those submissions have appeared on CNN.com or the cable channel.

That’s all about to change, as CNN this week will enter YouTube territory with iReport.com, a new site built entirely on user-produced news.

And unlike CNN’s own properties — where only iReport submissions that have been handpicked by editors and checked for accuracy ever make it online or on air — the new site will be wide open, allowing users to post whatever content they choose, CNN said.

The new site looks and feels much like YouTube and other video-centric destinations.

Aspiring Anderson Coopers can upload videos, photos and audio files through an easy-to-use interface.

Visitors to the site can search for specific clips or sift through various news categories, such as politics or weather. Users also can rate and share clips and even embed them on their own sites.

CNN executives acknowledge that iReport.com’s openness is something of a departure for a news organization that prides itself on accuracy and editorial judgment.

But iReports have become increasingly popular, and in many cases have even proved beneficial in the reporting of breaking news.

Some of the most compelling footage from last April’s shootings on the Virginia Tech campus came from the 420 user-generated video clips CNN received, while last year’s California wildfires yielded more than 11,000 submissions.

So a user-generated site is the logical next step, said Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide.

"It starts with the audiences, who are more and more comfortable participating in news. It’s a natural extension for us."

Walton acknowledged that he and others at the news net don’t quite know how iReport will evolve once users warm up to the site.

But CNN officials are banking on the Web’s community aspects to boost the venture, as well as to determine which content belongs and which doesn’t.

"The community will decide what the news is," said Susan Grant, executive vice president, CNN News Services.

"We are not going to discourage or encourage anything… iReport will be completely unvetted."

CNN will, however, monitor the site for objectionable content.

Grant explained that iReport content will be clearly labeled as not necessarily reflecting the editorial views of CNN.

"We’ll be telling people in lots of different ways that it’s a post-moderated site," she said.

To encourage participation, the network has begun reaching out to frequent iReport contributors such as Rick Ebrecht, whose clips of violent storms and a recent space shuttle launch ran on CNN.

Regulars like Ebrecht, who estimates that he’s submitted seven or eight photos to CNN, with five or six making the cut, will be able to use iReport.com to establish profiles and possibly develop a following among other users.

"It’s great that people can submit whatever they want. It engages them," he said.

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