It Had to Happen: Now There’s an On-Demand Economy for Photojournalists
A lot of reporters are gathering at South by Southwest this week. A lot. But the local Austin Fox affiliate isn’t taking chances. For this SXSW, the newsroom at KTBC will be experimenting with a service that lets them put out the call via smartphone for on-the-scene photos and videos when their own reporters aren’t available. And if they come through, these citizen stringers get paid. Yes, we’ll say it: it’s Uber for journalism.
“SXSW is famous and notorious for having stars just pop up at events,” says Michael Lewis, KTBC’s vice president and general manager. “We always hear these rumors, but by the time we get there, it’s too late. Now we can react to Twitter and Facebook posts. We can assign a citizen journalist through Fresco to cover that rumor, and hopefully get the shot.”
Anyone who’s signed up to be a citizen journalist with Fresco News will get an alert if they’re close enough to the scene. The citizen journalist is paid $50 per video and $20 per photo that a station licenses.
Jim Driscoll, the vice president and news director at Fox 29 in Philadelphia, says that Fresco News hasn’t replaced news crews or reporters. Rather, he says, the station uses Fresco to complement them—for instance, as a way to gather news from a distant scene they weren’t sure would pan out as a story. “This is another step in the future of TV news,” he says. “We can gather the news in a profoundly new way.”
At the same time, so-called citizen journalism has long carried concerns about accuracy and verification—the fear that one of these “citizens” might fabricate, say, a photo to make money or prank a news organization.
John Meyer, the CEO of Fresco News, says that Fresco has measures in place to prevent that kind of fraud from happening. All photos and videos are vetted by Fresco’s editorial team before being distributed to the news organizations. Meyer says Fresco uses geo-tagging to make sure the person took the shot where they said they did. The company also looks at time stamps to verify when they were taken. Still, the photos and videos are considered “raw” assets—it’s still up to the news organizations themselves to report the stories and fact-check the details.
Meanwhile, professionals who gather news for a living have long worried so-called citizen journalists might cannibalize the market for their skills even further. Driscoll and Lewis say this shouldn’t be a concern, arguing that there will always be a need for professional journalists. Citizen journalists, they say, are just one more way to meet the demands of an ever-hastening, multi-platform, 24/7 news cycle.
“Disruptive technology can kill a business,” Lewis adds. “But technology, if it’s used from the start, can take that same business and give it a great advantage over competition.”
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