This is the fourth installment of an IJNet interview series that takes an in depth look at the operations of various online news platforms, shedding light on the future of global media as envisioned by thought-leaders around the world. To read last week's piece, on GlobalPost, click here.
In a time in which citizen journalism and the new media is all the rage, a small percentage of organizations leave a highly visible impression in the news media industry. Alongside scope, consumer access and global presence lies the element of content quality, as well as the potential to make partnerships with other major players in the dynamic new field. The growth and survival of such organizations depend on how unique they are and how fast they can seize opportunities for further development.
Established in 2006, GroundReport is a citizen journalism platform that lays great emphasis on retaining a human presence in the editorial process. The site welcomes "breaking news stories and opinion on politics, business, technology, sports and the arts" from "locals and insiders" and anyone in the field.
To date, GroundReport has partnered with YouTube, PBS, Channel Thirteen, Aspen Institute Forum on Communications and Society, Mogulus, TalkBackTV and Huffington Post in areas of content syndication and strategy.
Last week, IJNet writer Zul Maidy interviewed Rachel Sterne (pictured at left), founder and CEO of GroundReport.com. A former political reporter on the Security Council for the US Mission to the United Nations, Sterne was inspired by her work at the UN during the Darfur crisis. She went on to launch GroundReport as a "tool that empowers people to share their stories and discover what's really going on in the world."
ZM: How do you maintain the overall credibility of GroundReport, given that it relies almost entirely on thousands of citizen reporters on the ground?
RS: Upholding GroundReport's credibility is our top priority. While we do have 5,000 mostly professional reporters on the ground, around the world, each contributor's work is vetted and approved prior to publication by a team of Wikipedia-style editors. We also have a contributor reputation system based on news item ratings from our community.
ZM: What criteria do you give for the best reporting? How are the news items rated?
RS: After news items are approved by editors based on basic standards of journalism and writing, the community can rate articles and videos up to five stars. Every contributor gets a reputation rating that is the average of all her news item ratings. It's a simple process that makes a big difference.
ZM: How do the incentives work? Do you have example of how an individual reporter is able to sustain a living by contributing to your organization?
RS: GroundReport shares profits with contributors based on unique traffic to their work. Incentives are an important, differentiating tenet of GroundReport's foundation that acknowledges the value created by our community, and our belief that our success is shared. Many of our contributors are freelance journalists, and thus contribute to a range of outlets, of which GroundReport is one. Looking at income, many of our reporters are based in the developing world, and thus the GroundReport revenue share represents a substantial contribution to their income. In addition to personal financial gain, we've seen GroundReport contributors gain exposure and full-time positions as a result of their work here. They always continue to contribute.
ZM: What is the extent of your responsibility over the safety of reporters?
RS: Most GroundReport contributors already live in the region they report on as natives, and know how to navigate the area safely. In countries where contributors may be at risk, GroundReport allows reporters to write under a pseudonym to protect their identity, even as we will independently verify their credentials. Since so much of our coverage comes from conflict areas, this is crucial.
ZM: Do you ever come across cases in which you have to withhold the reporter's whereabouts?
RS: Yes, chiefly in Africa and South America. We always explore and usually honor these requests.
ZM: Does GroundReport make suggestions as to what reporters should cover or how they should cover certain stories?
RS: More and more, but it's a mix. We realize the value of having 5,000 trusted reporters around the world, and in many ways are a modern stringer organization. Often if there is breaking news unfolding, our editors will reach out to active reporters in the area to get context from the ground, and updates ahead of the mainstream wire services. We've done this everywhere from Berlusconi's last election to the Mumbai terror attacks. For Mumbai, we broadcasted a call for reporters via Twitter, verified their credentials and over the attacks published over 100 text and video updates.
ZM: Does GroundReport offer some kind of training or assistance to new or developing reporters?
RS: GroundReport's editorial team provides hands-on guidance to our contributors, from style and approach to grammar and citing sources. During our editorial process, there is a back-and-forth dialogue, like a Wikipedia 'Discussion' page, that allows editor and reporter to communicate. Our new reporters are always thankful.
ZM: What is the extent of the work carried out by GroundReport itself? Do you have in-house staff selecting and editing the material, or is it fully automated?
RS: GroundReport places enormous emphasis on the value of a trusted human network, and combines this with efficient algorithms. I firmly believe that you will never recreate the newspaper experience with an algorithm, because consuming news and information is such an intensely human -- and thus social -- experience. GroundReport works like this: we have a "Contributor Whitelist" of sophisticated, trusted reporters, whose work is immediately published based on their track record of success. All reports by non-whitelisted contributors goes into a queue that is visible only to editors, and must be a approved piece-by-piece. Beyond that, the front page is determined by geographic diversity and the community, based on their ratings.
ZM: How do you feel the news media landscape will change in the future?
RS: It will become exponentially more efficient, powerful and vast. We are living in the midst of an information revolution. The next challenge of the news media is to integrate the best of both world's: learn from the wisdom of established journalistic news rooms, and apply their best practices to the explosion of content production, information access and connectivity. If we can do both well, and optimize our production and distribution, we will build a news system that is far more profitable and evolved than the the current landscape.
To visit Ground Report, go to http://www.groundreport.com/.