As user-generated content gains an increasingly prominent place in the media ecosystem, Newzulu has an ambitious goal: to become the go-to company for this type of content.
Sourcing work from both professional freelancers actively scouring for news and citizens who happen upon it, Newzulu is now trying to develop a profitable business around content coming from outside newsrooms. So far, the company has grown from one bureau and one client to multiple bureaus and 25 major media clients.
Newzulu Editor-in-Chief Laura Placide says the company’s aim isn’t to replace the Associated Press or Reuters, but to supplement them. She talked to IJNet about how she hopes to do that.
IJNet: How do you describe Newzulu and what it does?
Placide: We describe ourselves as a crowd-sourced news wire. We have thousands of contributors who send us content, both spontaneously and on request. Once we have that content, we verify it with technology we’ve developed internally for verification purposes. This helps us do technical verification as well as journalistic one-to-one verification: Did that happen? Did it happen where the person said?
Once we’re satisfied, we distribute the content on our site. We have about 25 partners ... if a client buys the content, the content producer gets half.
What was Newzulu’s origin? How and why did it come about?
Newzulu started a year after the  London attack, because that was the first time we were seeing user-generated content. Verified content from the crowd was really the idea. It was to be able to really deliver that to newsrooms.
That’s what we’re still doing. We have a network of contributors in a lot of countries. We know them and have ways to reach them. When something happens, we’re usually able to get content rather quickly and can deliver it to clients.
You currently have about 100,000 contributors. Who are they and how are they finding Newzulu?
The community is divided up into two categories. We have the freelancers. Those are either professionals or semi-pros who have professional gear. Then there are the amateurs — people with a smartphone who might see something in the street and take a shot. [Between the two] it’s about 50-50. Amateurs find us by searching on Google for things like “selling news content” or “selling news footage.” We also do a lot of outreach on social media.
For the freelancers, the market has really been disrupted. They see us as another agency to which they can send their content to generate revenue. They also like the verification that we do, because that’s adding value to their content. For the amateurs, sometimes it’s about the money. A lot of the time, people just want to share what’s happening around them.
What kinds of stories do contributors cover? Do they typically send in stories they come across, or do you request specific materials?
I’d say 60 percent of the content is spontaneous and the other 40 percent we reach out for.
On the events they cover, it really varies. We have a wide range of partners. We cover a lot of protests, weather and politics, but we also do entertainment and sports in some countries. We’re always trying to match what all of these diverse partners want, because we’re here to fill a gap.
If I’m a citizen journalist and I want to submit something, how do I do that?
There are a few different ways. We have the website. We also have an app where people can share photos and videos; there’s also a livestream feature. If you witness something, we get [the video] sent directly to the newsroom and we can share it immediately. It’s like a verified Periscope.
Contributors get 50 percent of sales and Newzulu gets the other 50 percent. As a company, you’re making money from this, but on a bigger level, how does the business model work and how do you stay sustainable?
Content is generating some money. We also have a technology side of the company. We develop platforms for media, brands and organizations to engage their audience to generate content. We work with The Wall Street Journal, Hearst Media and others. We rent them the platform for a monthly fee, essentially, and then give them widgets and let them customize as they wish. That’s the other part of how we make money. It’s important because the content business is thriving — everyone has a huge appetite for content — but it doesn’t generate enough revenue itself.
Is that duality, then, what sets you apart from other similar ventures?
Rarely are companies that are doing content doing technology also. We have our own community; we deal with content on a daily basis, so we have that expertise of what’s needed and the tools that are necessary to have a quick, efficient and verified workflow. I think that expertise sets us apart.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Tony Webster.